Theo Neethling Correspondent
The Russian government and state companies signed the agreement and agreements during the first Russian-African Summit in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi last week. Russia also promised further cooperation with individual African governments.
With the summit, the host, President Vladimir Putin, reaffirmed his intention to restore Russia as a major geopolitical player in Africa. Much of its political clout on the continent had waned in the post-Cold War period.
Russia’s trade with Africa remains below the levels of trade with Europe, the US and Asia. And Africa has much larger trading relationships with China, the US and India. Also, development aid to Africa largely comes from the US, China and Japan. This means that Russia’s engagement and presence in Africa is still lagging behind the other major powers in many ways.
One of Putin's goals is clearly to revive his country’s great-power status. But how can Africa help him achieve this? First, Africa is an important market for Russian arms exports. It is also where Russia has made key investments in the oil, gas and nuclear power sectors. And Africa is an important source of minerals for Russia.
The summit, the first of its kind, is a clear indication that Russia is stepping up its efforts to increase its influence in Africa. The deals signed all underscore how Moscow is using strategic investment in energy and minerals, as well as military muscle and soft power, to gain more traction on the continent.
Arms export and security deals
Russia accounts for 35 percent of arms exports to Africa, followed by 17 percent, the US with 9.6 percent and France with 6.9 percent. Africa is the second largest importer of Russian arms globally. The Asia-Pacific region tops the list with 60 percent. Russia has also signed close to 20 bilateral agreements. These range from the supply of military aircraft to missiles and engines. Algeria is the largest importer of Russian weapons in Africa, followed by Egypt, Angola and Uganda.
Other military agreements with African states, including jointly trained troops for peacekeeping on the continent. The countries involved include Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Niger and Rwanda.
At the summit, African states are newly established relations. Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Public Enterprises of South Africa’s, made this clear when he said:
“Anybody who gets business going, either from the Russian point of view or the African point of view, will benefit from that process.”
This was borne out in Sochi finalized in some of the deals. For example, Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, purchased 12 military helicopters. In turn, Russia agreed last week to assist Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. The terror group has waged a decade-long insurgency in the northeastern parts of the country.
Russia relies on imports from Africa to cover its requirements for minerals such as manganese, bauxite and chromium.
In addition, Great Dyke Investments, a company jointly owned by the Russian and Zimbabwean governments, is developing a $ 4 billion venture to mine the world's largest deposits of platinum in Zimbabwe. In oil-rich Angola, Russian companies have focused on hydrocarbon production.
Russia is also interested in Namibia’s uranium. In recent years, Rosatom and the Namibian government have been finalizing an agreement on cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And the Russian state-run oil company Rosneft has benefited from a cooperation agreement between the Russian and Mozambique governments to develop offshore gas exploration in Mozambique.
Precious gems, especially diamonds and gold, are also on Russia's list of priorities in Africa. Moscow has thus deepened relations with Angola, where Alrosa, the Russian diamond mining giant, mines diamonds.
In some instances, military and mineral interests are intertwined. For example, in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Wagner Group is strongly linked to the diamond exploration in the country.
Discussions have been held between CAR and Russia, especially on diamonds and gold, on a concession basis. And Russia has successfully managed to offer weapons and instructors to train.
Russian companies are very active in the energy sector too, making significant investments in Algeria, Egypt, Uganda and Angola.
Several Russian companies, including Gazprom, the global gas company; Lukoil, the oil multinational; Rostec, the advanced technology company; and Rosatom, the clean energy company; have done numerous deals.
These companies are either State-owned or State-controlled. They are beneficiaries of State contracts from the Kremlin and state-owned banks. Because of the close relationship between the State and these companies, investments are often linked to diplomatic considerations. Moscow’s nuclear deals fall firmly into this category. For example, Russia is negotiating with Egypt on its first nuclear plant. In Nigeria, a major deal has been done in Russia with two nuclear power plants.
Russia promised aid to combat the Ebola virus and to accommodate more Africans at Russian universities. The details of many agreements are not clear, but Moscow claims that it racked up during the two-day summit. Critics argue that these deals will be seen.