Russian has announced that it would most likely host the first high-level Russia-African Union Forum next year, signalling its readiness to deepen its economic engagement with Africa.
This would be along the same lines of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the European Union–African Union summit.
Working on a new paradigm collaboratively with African Union, Russia hopes to fill up pitfalls and cracks in the existing relationship, reinforce diplomatic ties and raise its staggering economic profile on the continent similar to the levels of China, India, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, U.S. and Europe.
On his official visit to Rwanda early June, Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov hinted at rolling out a comprehensive strategic roadmap for more economic cooperation and wide-range of investment possibilities.
The Forum would also find effective ways of addressing regional security issues and that of improving public diplomacy in Africa.
“We discussed Russia’s idea of holding a large African Union business forum with AU member states and Russia to be attended by entrepreneurs and politicians, possibly next year,” Lavrov said at a media conference after meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and East African Community Louise Mushikiwabo in Kigali, Rwanda.
“We have agreed to prepare a framework political document that will set out a concept for cooperation in the next few years and also several practical projects for implementation in the near future. We are now preparing for a meeting of Russian and AU experts,” he added.
Just before his African tour early March, Lavrov also told Hommes d’Afrique magazine “we carefully study the practice of summits between African countries and their major partners abroad.
At present, Russia’s relations with African countries are progressing both on a bilateral basis and along the line of African regional organisations, primarily the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.”
In the interview posted to MFA website, he said “our African friends note the need for Russia’s active presence in the region, and more frequently express interest in holding a Russia-African summit.
Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues. However, it is necessary to bear in mind that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over 50 Heads of State and Government requires most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content.”
Lavrov acknowledged in the interview: “The economic component of the summit has a special significance in this relation as it would be of practical interest for all the parties.
As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition.
Equally important are African business people who are looking to work on the Russian market.”
On May 16, Lavrov chaired the Foreign Ministry Collegium meeting on the subject “Cooperation with Sub-Saharan African countries as part of implementing important tasks of Russian foreign policy.”
The meeting noted that the consolidation of versatile ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries remains a major part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, which is acquiring special significance in the context of deep changes in the global arena.
Some experts and researchers have identified low enthusiasm and lack of coordinated mechanism as key factors affecting cooperation between Russia and African countries, and suggested that this trend could be reversed if both Russian authorities and African governments get down regularly to serious dialogue with concrete business agenda.
Nearly a decade ago, Themba Mhlongo, Head of Programmes at the Southern Africa Trust, said in an emailed interview that “there is no effective Russia-African dialogue or mechanism for dialoguing with Africa”.
“Russia has not been as aggressive as China in pursuing opportunities in Africa because Russia has natural resources and markets in Eastern Europe, South West Asia. Russia’s key exports to Africa might only be dominated by machinery and military equipment which serves their interest well.”
He suggested that Africa must also engage all BRICS members equally including Brazil and Russia in order to build alliances and open trade opportunities including finance and investment.
African countries must not seem to show preferences in their foreign policy in favour of Western Europe if they wanted to benefit from trade relations with Russia.
Vadim Trofimovich Kirsanov, an African Affairs Advisor at the Regional Projects Department of Russkiy Mir Foundation, (non-profit Russian NGO that promotes Russian language, literature and culture abroad), in an interview with Buziness Africa media, discusses the significance of developing bilateral ties not only in economic sphere but also in culture, exchange of people and ideas in the social sphere.
“We must use the full potential interest in Russian culture, Russian language, mutual sympathy and interest between the peoples of Africa and Russia, a great desire of Russians and Africans to visit each other to make friends, establish new connections.
That’s where public diplomacy becomes an effective instrument for supporting business dialogue.”
Professor 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.
“Given its global status, it ought to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, the United States and China are – it is all but absent, playing a negligible role.
Experts and researchers have recommended one new initiative that will largely interest African leaders, that is for Russia to create a Russian Development Fund for Africa (RDfA) as an agency to manage and run projects as business for Russia in Africa while Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) could become the key organiser and coordinator of future Russia-African Union summits.