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ModernDiplomacy.eu: Russian and African Legislators Meet, And What Next?

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Thursday, 09 February 2023

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The Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Duma (the lower Chamber of Parliamentarians) have agreed to hold the next International Parliamentary Conference “Russia – Africa” in March. In several official reports, this International Parliamentary Conference was considered as an important stage and integral part of the preparation for the Russia-Africa summit planned for late July.

Under the chairmanship of Boris Vyacheslavovich Gryzlov, the first Russia-Africa Inter-Parliamentary Conference and a special business forum with the theme “Russia – Africa: Horizons of Cooperation” was held on June 15 -17, 2010. The Federation Council and the State Duma still remember the final joint declaration made at the end of the gathering. Absolutely, nothing was pursued and nothing was achieved after that conference in 2010.

Significant change only appeared when Vyacheslav Volodin became the Chairman of the State Duma. The urgent revival of the idea to bring together African parliamentarians appeared on the political scene – a prelude to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019.

The State Duma then with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation held a preparatory meeting to brainstorm for views and opinions for consolidating the future of Russia-Africa relations. The meeting was also aimed at preparing for the proposed Inter-Parliamentary Conference Russia-Africa planned in 2019.

Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma, stressed the importance of regular meetings to shape the future relations between Russia and Africa. “We have great expectations for the inter-parliamentary conference Russia-Africa which we are planning to hold in 2019. In our opinion, it will serve as a stimulus and initiate some processes aimed at the development of relations between our parliaments,” said the Chairman of the State Duma, opening that meeting in April 2019.

“We are going to provide support through the parliamentary dimension for the development of inter-parliamentary contacts in terms of the preparation of the Russia-Africa conference. It was initiated by President Vladimir Vladimirovich during the 10th Anniversary BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in July,” the Chairman of the State Duma emphasized.

During that time, it was believed that such a format would allow to productively discuss the agenda on intensifying relations, bring together approaches on a number of issues and contribute to the preparation of the conference in the framework of agreements reached at the level of heads of state. Still, various agreements are undelivered as noted in the authoritative report titled ‘Situational Analytical Report‘ complied by 25 policy experts headed by Professor Sergei Karaganov. That report was presented publicly in November 2021.

Leonid Slutskiy, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs, expressed the hope that two-sided parliamentarians meeting would become regular and would be constantly held in Moscow. With the primary aim of creating the basis of a long-term cooperation and the intention of supporting the steady growing interest of Africans in geopolitical developments, Russia now plans to invite heads of African parliaments in March 2023 to Moscow.

The parliamentary platform could be used to exchange views on common problems, common issues for the African continent and the Russian Federation. In addition, as it is always noted and a standard approach, the line-up speeches and presentations full of anti-Western and anti-Europe confrontation instead of concentrating on development-oriented and business initiatives with African countries.

The State Duma, through constructive discussions with African parliamentarians, could possibly increase the efficiency of interaction on issues requiring joint decisions, including sustainable development, international security, environmental protection, fighting poverty and inequality and countering terrorism.

The State Duma has to outline Russia’s priorities for mutual cooperation and further offer useful comprehensive programmes, proposals for cooperation with African countries, with the regional economic blocs and with the pan-African Union. Majority of the African countries are currently looking to improve on their economies and consequently ready to welcome potential external investors with adequate investment funds, regards of political underpinnings. Understandably, geopolitical neutrality is a pragmatic approach for not dispelling potential genuine external players.

As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, in his speech delivered in July 2019 at parliamentary forum held in the World Trade Center (WTC) overlooking the Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya in Moscow, that the State Duma has to bring parliamentarians together for a common purpose of deliberating on the widest range of topical issues, such as global security, sustainable development, the fight against poverty and environmental problems. 

Parliamentary diplomacy has to make significant and in-depth contributions to supporting trust and mutual understanding between countries in their search for compromises and balanced solutions to acute international problems, according to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Interesting to note along these lines of our discussion that since that gathering in 2010, Russian and African parliamentarians have been interacting, mostly chatting over global and regional questions. Reports we have monitored show that many African legislators have visit Moscow. And in terms of reciprocity, Russian legislators have paid a number of working visits to Africa. That is highly commendable, but what African regions, what African countries and what were the results? What have been the achievements aside raising collective voices against “neo-colonialism” and “hegemony”  and further make numerous pledges and promises.

Concretely aiming at strengthening further mutual bilateral parliamentary relations, Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko headed a group of Russian senators on a reciprocal visit from May 30 – June 01, 2022, to Maputo, Mozambique. The Chairperson of the Federation Council delivered speeches to the deputies of the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique and had a separate meeting with the Russia-Mozambique Parliamentary Friendship League.

She expressed satisfaction with the dynamic development of inter-parliamentary relations, the legal basis of which was the protocol on the development of inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Federation Council and the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique.

“Today we will take a new important step towards strengthening the legal framework and sign a full-fledged agreement on inter-parliamentary cooperation between the Federation Council and the Assembly of the Republic of Mozambique that meets modern realities. This will allow us to bring our inter-parliamentary contacts to a higher level, and open up broad prospects for the exchange of experience in legislative activity,” Matviyenko emphasized.

In this context of bilateral economic cooperation, the Mozambican Head of State, however, expressed satisfaction with the openness that Russia has been showing high interest to expand bilateral cooperation with Mozambique, especially in the economic and social sectors. Reports monitored from local Mozambican media as well from both Russian and Mozambican government websites indicated that Russia has still been looking for feasible and viable economic sectors to strengthen and broaden cooperation with Mozambique.

Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, during discussions with the Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi, referred to the need to increase trade between Russia and Mozambique, which amounted to approximately $109 million, and described trade figure as well below its potential. Senator Matvienko, then, invited the Mozambican government to identify more priority areas in which cooperation could be expanded, if Mozambique so agrees on this significant assignment or policy task.

After the Soviet collapse and throughout these three decades (30 years) of Russia-Mozambique relations, Russia and Mozambique have been appropriately described as “reliable and time-tested” partners in Africa. Reviewing the evolutionary processes of bilateral relations, it is about time to highlight development projects undertaken or are currently in progress. But for the Highly Respected Speaker Valentina Matviyenko requesting the Mozambican government to identify priority areas for expansion of cooperation, especially at this time in their bilateral history, seems completely out of place. Completely out, especially during the meeting with President of Mozambique Filipe Nyusi. 

Long before the Russian delegation’s visit to Maputo, Mozambican leader Filipe Nyusi was in Kremlin in August 2019, held business talks with President Vladimir Putin and then went on to deliver and answered several questions during a special business meeting with Russian entrepreneurs at the World Trade Center. According to several reports, there again bilateral agreements were signed between Moscow and Maputo.

Earlier during the month of February 2020, Chairperson of the Federation Council (the Upper House or the Senate), Valentina Matviyenko, headed a delegation of legislators on a three-day working visit aimed at strengthening parliamentary diplomacy with Namibia and Zambia. This visit showed Russia’s overwhelming commitment to pursuing its strategic interests and supporting its African allies.

According to an official release from the Federation Council, the visit was within the broad framework mechanism of parliamentary consultations between Russia and African countries. The key focus were on political dialogue, economic partnership and humanitarian spheres with Namibia and Zambia. In Zambia, there was an in-depth discussion construction of nuclear plant.

The Zambian Government hopes that upon commissioning of this project, excess power generated from this plant could be made available for export to neighbouring countries under the Southern African Development Community Power Pool framework arrangement.

Under the agreement that was concluded in December 2016 on the construction of the nuclear plant estimated at $10 billion. The processes of design, feasibility study and approvals regarding the project concluded. Russia was unprepared to make financial commitment, and Zambia lacks adequate funds to finance the project.

Russia and Zambia would find options for financing nuclear science and technology in the African country, Chairperson of Federation Council Matvienko said at a meeting with Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu. “Now the start of the construction of a center for nuclear science and technology has been suspended due to financial issues. I would like to say that the request submitted to the Russian president is being carefully considered by the ministries and departments. I’m confident that we will jointly find options to promote funding to roll out the construction of a center for nuclear science and technology,” she re-assured.

While the significance cannot be under-estimated, it is also not worrisome that the trip, full of symbolism and promises, concluded without any new major policy announcement. On the other hand, it signals another bid by Moscow to boost relations with the southern Africa region. Without doubt, both Namibia and Zambia still have full-fledged commitments to scaling up traditional diplomatic ties with the Russian Federation.

Despite its highly praised global status, Russia has still lagged far and far behind, in practical terms, economic engagement in Africa. Moscow should begin to count its achievements in Africa, rather than so loud on confrontation. This confrontation approach negatively impacts on Africa’s dream of continental unity. Reports show that Africa is noticeably divided and its “unity” largely seems unrealizable. Chinese have also emphasized that Africa is a field for “cooperation” and not for “confrontation” – this position has been reported in media over the world. Waging war on “neo-colonialism” should rather be actively demonstrating investment capabilities, especially in economic sectors in Africa.

For these few years, in strengthening and expanding relations with African parliaments et cetera, African representatives have, often times, reminded that the relations between Russia and Africa have a long time-tested history, all that concerning Soviet-era assistance to Africa and lined-up on the principles of equality and mutual respect, and that Moscow supports the principle formulated by the African countries – “African solutions to African problems” –  and yet Russia’s policy objectives seems far from the African Union Agenda 2063.

 


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