Date: Sunday, 08 July 2018
From Kester Kenn Klomegah, Moscow Bureau Chief
MOSCOW (Russia), July 08, 2018cGNA – Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has signalled a shift towards strengthening trade and investment cooperation with African countries.
“We will do our best to raise trade and economic ties to a high level of political cooperation.”
Russia’s trade with Africa had over the years been on a decline but Lavrov said things were beginning to change.
The European nation’s trade with the sub-Saharan countries amounted to US$3.6 billion in 2017, compared with US$3.3 billion in 2016 and US$2.2 billion in 2015.
He added that, Russian companies were working in the exploration, mining, energy and petrochemical sectors in Africa.
“They conduct exploration, develop oil and gas deposits, take part in building gas pipelines and gas storage facilities, provide technical maintenance for hydroelectric power stations, as well as carry out feasibility studies for the construction of nuclear power plants, nuclear research and technology centres.”
Despite warnings about the dangers of nuclear energy - the Hiroshima and Nagasaki catastrophe, and Chenorbly, that left millions of people suffering from radiation and radiation-related diseases, the Foreign Minister announced that Rosatom, Russia's nuclear giant, was considering a number of projects that were of interest to Africans.
He said Zambia was considering the creation of a nuclear research and technology centre, while Nigeria had a similar project.
There were also good prospects for cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Talks were underway on the construction of a nuclear power plant in South Africa.
Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Founder and Executive Director of Danquah Institute, a non-profit organisation that promotes policy initiatives and advocates for Africa’s development, in an email comment said “Africa is certainly not looking for finished products from Russia.
Africa needs expertise, knowledge transfer and the kind of capital imports that can assist Africa to develop its physical infrastructure, add value to two of its key resources: natural resources and human capital.”
He noted that Russia had respectable expertise in one key area for Africa - energy development.
“But, has Russia the courage, for instance, to take on the stalled US$8-10 billion “Inga 3” hydropower project on the Congo River?
This is the kind of development project that can vividly send out a clear signal to African leaders and governments that Russia is, indeed, ready for business,” he added.
Reports indicate that Egypt had pushed back the construction of its first nuclear power plant, to be built by Russia. It would now begin in the next two to two-and-a-half years.
Moscow and Cairo signed an agreement in 2015 for Russia to build a nuclear power plant.
“All these demonstrate a response to the renewed engagement efforts by Russia on Africa, said Dr. Alex Vines, Research Director and Head of Africa Programme at the Chatham House in London.
“It also reflects the ongoing trends of African states diversifying their own international engagements – renewed historic ties or deepening new ones.”
According to Vines, “Russia will not be able to compete directly with China, India or indeed the United States.
“It will look at niches such as defence and investments in extractives and cultivate broader support for some of its international efforts especially at the UN Security Council and other international bodies.
This is not zero-sum and Lavrov’s Africa trips are part of a broader effort of African re-engagement that has become visible over the last 24 months.”
Professor Irina Filatova from the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said, Lavrov 14 years as Foreign Minister, had seen Russia’s engagement in Africa focused primarily in arms sales, nuclear technology mining and energy.
Its economic involvement generally, and particularly trade had been negligible – trade in manufactured goods virtually non–existent, she added.
Filatova told GNA: “I am not sure of infrastructure. It has certainly not built any bridges, ports and roads.
In this same period of 14 years, China’s involvement in Africa has increased exponentially, starting with trade in manufactured goods and then going into everything: energy, mining, agriculture and other sectors – but not arms, as far as I know.”
Prof Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria in South Africa, noted that Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remained marginal.
So far, it was all “paper diplomacy we talk about”, he wrote in an email reply and added that “the gap between what the EU, the US and China have achieved in Africa and what Russia tries to do is really and irreversibly vast. The cultural gap (language in particular) is a great handicap. The official visits are mainly opening moves and symbolic and have little long-term concrete results.”
“Russia has to do more, particularly, in the cultural-intellectual field (like China, EU and US) with a view to the longer term and work on its image problem in Africa”, Prof Olivier, who previously served as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1996, added.