By Somar Wijayadasa*
This is the second of a two-part article looking into relations between Russia and Africa, which began long before the massive decolonization of Africa in the 1960s. Here is the link to the first part.
NEW YORK. 2 August 2023 (IDN) — The second Russia-Africa summit, which concluded on 28 July in St. Petersburg, warrants us to examine Russia’s historic and current relations with Africa.
Forty-nine African delegations, including 17 heads of states, 10 Prime Ministers and 17 deputy heads of government and ministers attended the conference. That was a remarkable attendance in these troubled times.
The primary goal of the Summit as its theme suggests, “For Peace, Security and Development” was to boost collaboration between Russia and its friendly countries of the African continent to promote Russian-African cooperation and strengthen the sovereignty of African states.
Simultaneously with the Summit, the second Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum took place with the participation of key regional organizations such as the African Union and the African Export-Import Bank.
It was widely attended by Russian and African entrepreneurs, media, civil societies, scientists, and experts in various fields – from agriculture, mining, and finance to infrastructure, technology, and medicine.
Africa: ‘A new center of power’
In his opening statement, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin said that ”The African continent is becoming a new center of power, its political and economic role is growing exponentially, and everyone will have to reckon with this objective reality”.
Putin hailed the “deep rooted” relations between the two countries, and said that Moscow’s ties with the African continent have always been distinguished by stability, trust, and goodwill.
Reminiscing decades of vitally needed assistance the former Soviet Union and later Russia provided to many African countries Putin said, “We have consistently supported African peoples in their struggle for liberation from colonial oppression. We have provided assistance in developing statehood, strengthening their sovereignty and defense capability. Much has been done to create sustainable foundations for national economies”.
He opined “Unfortunately, some manifestations of colonialism have still not been eliminated and are being practiced by former metropolises in the economy, information and humanitarian areas”.
Saying that we have to admit that the situation in many regions of Africa is still unstable, and that State and ethnic conflicts have not been resolved, acute political and socio-economic crises persist, Putin asserted that this is a legacy of the colonial era, the ‘divide and conquer’ method that the Western metropolises pursued in Africa.
He added that some countries are now changing international norms and using them for their own selfish interests.
Putin stressed “We cannot agree with the replacement of international law by the so-called order based on rules that some countries themselves declare, but they themselves constantly distort, change, shuffle [these norms]”.
He pointed out that the ideas of freedom, integrity and sovereignty shared by African leaders are now important during “establishment of multipolar world order.”
The participants discussed a wide range of issues such as energy, nuclear and space technologies, food security, fertilizer exports, geological exploration, artificial intelligence, infrastructure development, media partnership and other topics.
The St. Petersburg Declaration: A Fruitful conclusion
The Summit concluded with the adoption of the St. Petersburg Declaration—a 74-point document outlining the areas of cooperation from security, trade, nuclear energy, environmental and climate cooperation.
The Summit participants signed separate Declarations on the prevention of an arms race in Outer Space; on cooperation in ensuring international information security; and on strengthening cooperation in the sphere of combating terrorism.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the African states will establish “a permanent mechanism” to coordinate on security issues—including the fight against terrorism and extremism—food security, information technology, and climate change, among other things.
Referring to Russia’s withdrawal from the “Grain Deal”, Putin pointed out that the African nations didn’t benefit from the deal, which had been designed to alleviate hunger in poor countries but in reality ended up “serving the interests of European countries and other rich nations”.
Saying that out of the 33 million tons of grain exported, only 3% of it actually reached poor countries, Putin pledged to send between 25,000 and 50,000 tons of grain and also fertilizers free of charge to African countries such as Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea—currently experiencing an acute shortage of food supplies.
Additionally, Putin announced a 1.2 billion rubles (around $13 million) investment in African healthcare systems, and announced that the Russian government has written off over $23 billion of debt historically owed by African nations.
Putin stressed that while “some manifestations of colonialism, unfortunately, have not been eliminated to this day and are still practiced by the former imperial powers, particularly in the economic, information and humanitarian spheres”. The era of hegemony of one or several states is fading, despite resistance from those seeking to maintain a monopoly on world affairs.
We oppose, Putin said, the use of climate issues, the protection of human rights, and the so-called gender agenda for unseemly political purposes, and illegal practices such as unilateral sanctions and restrictive, in fact punitive, measures that harm countries pursuing an independent course are unacceptable and create economic problems on a global scale that hinder development.
Putin also noted that Russia and Africa are “united by an innate desire to defend true sovereignty, the right to their own, original path of development in the political, economic, social, cultural and other spheres” and stressed that the desire for such independence does not mean self-isolation, but leads to increased ties with other sovereign states.
Putin reiterated that “We are brought together by a common desire to shape a system of relations based on the priority of international law, respect for national interests, indivisibility of security, and recognition of the central coordinating role of the United Nations”.
The refusal of many African countries to take part in the sanctions on Russia, in line with their own economic and political interests, once again confirms the friendliness of the continent’s countries and their desire to develop bilateral relations.
A few weeks ago, when Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov visited Uganda, its President Yoweri Museveni praised Russia, describing Moscow as a “partner” in the struggle against colonialism going back a century. Museveni said, “We don’t believe in being enemies of somebody’s enemy”.
Other African leaders from Zimbabwe and South Africa hold similar unwavering views—that are unfortunately not respected by other world powers.
Saying that “Africa has its own voice” the Chairman of African Union and President of Comoros, Azali Assoumani said “Leaders of African nations are grateful to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his support in promoting the continent’s interests on international platforms”.
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
The Summit took place against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict that Russia describes as the US & EUs ‘proxy war’ against Russia, and at a time when Western countries have been brazenly urging neutral African countries to join them against Russia.
Many African officials complained that the Western countries “dissuaded some African leaders from attending the Summit”.
Despite warm relations between Russia and Africa, a few African leaders are naturally attracted to lucrative offers from other world powers.
Over the years, China has been the biggest investor in Africa, and in December last year China offered a whopping $60 billion aid package to Africa.
Also, in December, Washington hosted an Africa summit and helped close 75 business deals worth $7.5 billion.
That reminds me of the maxim ‘Always, Money Talks’, and all these investments come with strings attached, and sometimes brazenly demanding “do as we say or else”. But the neo-colonizers (just as former colonizers) are in Africa for their own interests—for economic exploitation.
Africa has colossal untapped resources—nearly half the world’s gold and one-third of all rare. minerals from aluminum to zinc—that the neo-colonizers need for their development, and they are salivating to extract those valuable resources by any means and at any cost.
As Putin asserted at the Summit, “it is a continuation of the ‘legacy of the colonial era’, the ‘divide and conquer’ method that the Western metropolises pursued in Africa”.
Whether it is the old barbaric colonialism or the current ‘neocolonialism’ (dressed in ‘the emperor’s new clothes’) the objective is the same as Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah told the UN in 1957 “Imperialism knows no law beyond its own interest”.
*Somar Wijayadasa, an International lawyer who worked in UN organizations (IAEA, FAO & UNESCO since 1973), was a Delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly from 1985-1995 and a Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations from 1995-2000. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: President Vladimir Putin and Chairperson of the African Union and President of the Union of the Comoros Azali Assoumani made statements for the media at the conclusion of Russia-Africa Summit. Photo: Pavel Bednyakov, RIA Novosti
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.