By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov begins his four African nations tour, Russia’s future is what matters the most especially in the emerging multipolar world. Russia continues to enlist African leaders’ support for its ‘special military operation’ in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, expresses overwhelming support against the growing neo-colonial tendencies in Africa and, at least, intensifying efforts to strengthen its hyperbolic political dialogue with Africa.
Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt, Congo-Brazzaville, Uganda and
Ethiopia last year and attempted to justify Russia’s correctness of
waging war on Ukraine. As he embarks on another round of lecturing tour
to Southern Africa (South Africa, Eswatini, Botswana and Angola), the
popular focused themes include geopolitical changes, growing
neo-colonialism and creating multipolar world order. After Southern
Africa, Lavrov would return to North Africa in February to visit
Tunisia, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco.
his appointment on 9 March 2004 by President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov has
occupied this position for nearly two decades (20 years). Throughout
these several years of his official working visits to Africa, unlike his
Chinese counterparts Lavrov hardly cut ribbons marking the completion
of development projects in Africa. Most of his trips were characterized
by impressive policy rhetorics full of many pledges and countless
initiatives, and geopolitical lectures.
marathon three-hour media conference, summing up foreign policy
achievements and way forward on 18 January, Africa only appeared at the
bottom of the discussions. And yet Africa is considered as a priority in
Russia’s policy. Lavrov made little response, reminding of the
forthcoming summit planned for late July 2023. He mentioned that there
were drafted documents to reset cooperation mechanisms in this
environment of sanctions and threats, and in the context of geopolitical
“There will be new trade and investment
cooperation tools, logistics chains and payment arrangements. The change
to transactions in national currencies is under way. This process is
not a rapid one, but it is in progress and gaining momentum,” he told
the gathering in closing the media conference that day.
African leaders are consistently asked for support for Ukraine. Since
the symbolic October 2019 gathering in Sochi, extremely little has
happened. With high optimism and a high desire to strengthen its
geopolitical influence, Russia has engaged in trading slogans, and many
of its signed bilateral agreements have not been implemented, including
all those from the first Russia-Africa summit. The fact-files show that
92 agreements and contracts worth a total of $12.5 billion were signed,
and before that several pledges and promises still undelivered.
his appointment in 2004 as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian
Federation, Sergey Lavrov has succeeded in building high-level political
dialogues in Africa. He will, during the first quarter 2023, engage in
his geopolitical rhetoric and anti-Western slogans, often unremittingly
smearing and attacking other countries especially the United States and
France. His political lectures have largely overshadowed Russia’s
achievements in Africa.
These three decades,
hardly Lavrov cuts white-ribbons marking the handing over or completion
of concrete development projects in Africa. Of course, Russia could
choose to maintain its state-centric approach since it is also an
admirable foreign policy instrument to push for influence in Africa.
While currently, Russia seems to be soliciting the support of Africa to
lead the emerging new multipolar world, Russia does not still recognize
that it needs to adopt more public outreach policies to win the minds
and hearts of Africans. Its economic footprint on the continent is
Historically Africa has
attained its political independence and currently need to transform its
economy to provide a better living conditions for the estimated 1.3
billion population. That’s the factual situation now for Africa. The
fight against growing neo-colonialism requires investing in the critical
sectors, building needed infrastructures, modernize agriculture,
production facilities for manufacturing, and add a bit of value to
products by industrializing. That’s the main reason and the conditions
necessitated the creation of single continental market.
monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays
attention to the significance to, and makes little efforts in leveraging
unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a
unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated
African market of over 1.3 billion people. Nevertheless, Russia brings
little to the continent especially in the economic sectors that badly
need investment. Undeniable fact is that many external players have also
had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and
social ties in the continent.
Almost all African
countries are looking for building and creating new incorporated
economic situation that takes care of the growing young generation.
These further involve the availability and accessibility to necessary
technologies and innovations. In order to realize these novel
transformations, African leaders need credible external partners with
funds to invest, external partners to support large-scale projects in
the continent. Days of political sloganeering are long ago gone.
has taken three decades to finally make its return journey back to
Africa. It is still at the crossroad, and worse thinking indecisively
which way to turn in order to reach its the final destination. At the
crossroad, there are truly four options: turn left, move ahead, choose
right or go back especially this time, in the context of dramatic
Russia has to concretely
design its comprehensive policy with Africa. It has to show, in
practical terms, its great confidence, powering strength and clean
determination in various ways to support economic sectors, to win the
minds and hearts of Africans. Multipolar in its basic meaning, is
creating an integrative conditions. Today’s Russia is a closed country
in the world. For years, Africans have heard of ‘neo-colonialism’ and
‘Soviet-era assistance’ through lectures, speeches and official
statements from Russia’s officialdom. These are archaic playing
Russian International Affairs Council,
non-government organization and policy think tank, published an opinion
article authored by Kirill Babaev, Director of the Institute of Far
Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor at the
Financial University. He made an excellent analysis of the relations
between Russia and Africa. The article highlighted future perspectives
based on the existing successes cloaked in building political dialogues
during the previous years. On the other hand, he exposes for serious
consideration by authorities some existing obstacles and weaknesses.
forward, Russian officials have to note: Russia’s return to Africa has
been discussed in the media and at various levels of power for two
decades. That the African elites, especially those who studied at Soviet
institutes and universities, still have memories of the struggle for
the freedom of Africa.
During the Soviet times,
at the height of fighting against Western colonialism, there were
economic offerings of the Soviet era. However, all these cards are a
matter of the past, while in the present it has been difficult for
Russia to offer Africa anything of value that could compete with
large-scale Western investment or Chinese infrastructure projects (until
recently), Professor Kirill Babaev wrote in his article.
forward, Russian officials have to note: That in another publication
headlined “Russian Business in Africa: Missed Opportunities and
Prospects” in the journal Russia in Global Affairs, Professor Alexei
Vasilyev, former Special Representative of the Russian Federation to
African Countries and Director of the Institute for African Studies,
wrote in that article that Russian companies are pursuing their various
economic interests in Africa.
But, Africa still
accounts for just 1.5% of Russia’s investment which is a drop in the
ocean. It must be admitted that Russia’s economic policy grossly lacks
dynamism in Africa. “African countries have been waiting for us for far
too long, we lost our positions in post-apartheid Africa and have
largely missed new opportunities. Currently, Russia lags behind leading
foreign countries in most economic parameters in this region,” he
underlined in the article.
Going forward, Russian
officials have to note: Federation Council Deputy Speaker Konstantin
Kosachev said Russia’s Western opponents are trying to prevent African
states from taking part in the second Russia-Africa summit, scheduled to
take place in July 2023 in Russia’s second largest city of St.
Moreover in Senator Kosachev’s
opinion, the first Russia-Africa summit held three years ago was
successful, “but, in many respects, its results remained within the
dimension of politics” and were not translated into additional projects
in trade, economic, scientific or humanitarian cooperation. “I’m sure it
will be a very serious miscalculation on our part if the next year’s
summit is not prepared in a drastically different fashion, providing
each of its participants with a concise roadmap of our bilateral
relations, with clear incentives to participate and conclude practical
agreements,” argued Senator Kosachev.
2021, the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ compiled by 25 Russian policy
experts vividly highlighted some spectacular pitfalls and shortcomings
in Russia’s approach towards Africa. The report noted Russia’s
consistent failure in honouring its bilateral agreements and several
pledges over the years. It decried the increased number of bilateral and
high-level meetings that yield little or bring to the fore no
definitive results. In addition, insufficient and disorganized lobbying
combined with a lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public
The South African Institute of
International Affairs has published its latest policy report on
Russia-African relations. In the introductory chapter, Steven Gruzd,
Samuel Ramani and Cayley Clifford – have summarized various aspects of
the developments between between Russia and Africa over the past few
years and finally questioned the impact of Russia’s policy on Africa.
to Steven Gruzd, Samuel Ramani and Cayley Clifford, Russia has been
struggling to make inroads into Africa these three decades, the only
symbolic event was the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi, which
fêted heads of state from 43 African countries and showcased Moscow’s
great power ambitions.
influence in Africa are compelling, but a closer examination further
reveals a murkier picture. The authors further wrote that “Russia’s
growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability and that its
approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as
kleptocracy and autocracy promotion, the dearth of scholarship on
Moscow’s post-1991 activities in Africa is striking.”
Russia’s main tactics to expand its influence, such as debt
forgiveness, arms contracts to fragile states and resistance to US
unilateralism, come from its transition-era playbook and are not simply
throw-backs to its Soviet-era superpower status. On the other hand,
Russian public diplomacy in Africa explores the targeted use of
historical ties, existing anti-Western narratives, state-centric
approach and educational programmes to enhance Moscow’s ‘soft power’ on
In the context of a multipolar
geopolitical order, Russia’s image of cooperation could be seen as
highly enticing, but it is also based on illusions. Better still,
Russia’s posture in a clash between illusions and reality. Russia, it
appears, is a neo-colonial power dressed in anti-colonial clothes.
Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger
to European, American and Chinese influence.
new scramble for Africa is gaining momentum. Russians have to face the
new geopolitical realities and its practical existing challenges. With
flexed-muscles sloganeering and ear-deafening noises relating to
‘neo-colonialism’ and ‘Soviet-era assistance’ should be addressed by
investing in competitive sectors and economic spheres. Russia’s priority
should include building public perceptions through social and cultural
activities in Africa. The reality is that African leaders await
practical investments proposals from potential credible Russian
investors and to take advantage of the immense untapped resources.
time raising economic cooperation to a qualitatively new level and
ultimately contribute to the building of sustainable relations be the
focus with Africa. After all, the 1.3 billion Africans would prefer
living and working with one heart and one mind in United Africa. The
slogan ‘Africa We Want’ is now propagated by the African Union.
Therefore, Russians must strongly remember that Africa’s roadmap is the
African Union Agenda 2063.