Photo: On March 19, 2019 under the Chairmanship of Yury Ushakov, an Aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Organizing Committee on Russia-Africa held its first meeting in Moscow. But the two sides known very little about each other. Credit: Modern Diplomacy - Photo: 2019

Russia and Africa Stay Uninformed about Each Other

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW (IDN) – Experts and researchers have observed that, since the collapse of the Soviet-era politics in December 1991, an appreciable level of media cooperation has never been on the side of Russia’s public diplomacy with Africa.

In practice, Russian officialdom has not encouraged and supported the idea of media that could, in a way, present the positive changes and emerging economic opportunities in the Russian Federation to the general reading public, political elite and business community in Africa.

Instead, they often talk about anti-Russian propaganda by western media and further express inadequate knowledge, due to lack adequate information, about investment and economic possibilities in Africa.

“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase the level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal ‘Russia in Global Affairs‘ and also the Chairman of the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

“To a certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interests of big companies. Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”

Professor Vladimir Shubin, the Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies, explained in an interview that political relations between Russia and Africa as well as the economic cooperation would attract more and more academic discussions, and such scholarly contributions, in essence, would help deepen understanding of the problems that impede building solid relationship or partnership with Russia.

In order to maintain this relationship, both Russia and Africa have to pay high attention to and take significant steps in promoting their achievements and highlighting the most development needs in a comprehensive way for mutual benefits using the media, according to the professor.

“African leaders do their best in developing bilateral relations.,” he added. “Truly and passionately, they come to Russia more often than ten years ago, but a lot still has to be done; both Russian and African media in this case have a huge role to play.”

Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders have “written off” Russia has been the lack of information about Russia, or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia, Shubin concluded.

Some of the western and other foreign media that operate actively in Africa are Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, British Broadcasting Corporation, Agence France Press, United Press International, Xinhua and Al-Jazeera.

Olga Kulkova, Research Fellow at the Centre for Studies of Russian-African Relations, noted that, “in the global struggle for Africa, Russia is sadly far from outpacing its competitors. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activeness, the country is seriously lagging behind China, U.S., EU, India, Brazil.”

Kulkova said: “Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent, and on-the-spot TV reports in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa.”

All the leading foreign countries have been doing that quite efficiently for a long time and Russia has to take this into account if it wants to improve the chances for success in Africa, Kulkova added, citing the example of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation where both China and Africa fixed the “China-Africa Press Exchange Centre” in Shanghai, China.

The China-Africa Press Exchange Centre aims at encouraging exchanges and visits between Chinese and African media, and China has already supported frequent exchange of correspondents from media organizations of the two sides.

While many experts argue that African media seem uninterested in developing working links to Russia, Vasily Pushkov, an independent expert on international media relations wrote in an emailed comment that “it works both ways and the two regions are very far from each other.” They (Russia and Africa) are not as interconnected as they were during the Soviet era, he stressed.

Pushkov explained in an interview that “Russia might have an image problem among African political and business elites, partly due to the fact that Russia has a low presence in Africa compared to the Soviet era. Most African media get their global news from the leading Western media outlets, which in turn have a nasty and longstanding habit of always portraying Russia as the world’s bogeyman.”

The Foreign Ministry published the text of Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov’s speech on official website where he highlighted the same old problems facing the development of Russia-African ties at a session on Urals-Africa economic forum in Yekaterinburg.

“One must admit that the practical span of Russian companies’ business operations in Africa falls far below our export capabilities, on one hand, and the huge natural resources of the continent, on the other,” Bogdanov said assertively.

According to him, one of the major obstacles has been insufficient knowledge of the economic potential, on the part of Russian entrepreneurs, needs and opportunities of the African region.

“Poor knowledge of the African markets’ structure and the characteristics of African customers by the Russian business community remains an undeniable fact. The Africans in their turn are insufficiently informed on the capabilities of potential Russian partners,” Bogdanov stressed in his speech without suggesting any possible solutions.

Likewise, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held with Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, to brainstorm for fresh views and ideas on the current Russia-African relations “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent”.

“You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany,” he informed comparing western media with Russia.

Russian media here, which are largely not prominent in Africa, include Rossiya Sevogdnya (Ria Novosti, Voice of Russia and Russia Today), Itar-Tass News Agency and Interfax Information Service.

As far back in March 2018, the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department, Artyom Kozhin, reassured in his media briefing that the Russian Federation would prioritise media, art and culture among several other programmes in efforts aimed at consolidating cooperation with African countries.

While the Foreign Ministry has accredited foreign media from Latin America, the United States, Europe and Asian countries, none came from Africa that comprises 54 states. Over the years, the Foreign Ministry has rejected African media applications for accreditation, always and usually citing no reasons.

A number of Moscow- based African diplomats have acknowledged in separate interviews that the weak media connectivity between the two parties is one of the deep cracks or potholes in the post-Soviet diplomacy most especially now when Russia is making efforts strengthening its relations with the continent.

In separate interviews, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Russia, Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango and many African diplomats have unreservedly advocated for media representation in and a wide range of cultural cooperation between both Russia and Africa.

“There is a dearth of information about the country. Russia-Africa issues are reported by third parties and often not in good light. Is this not a moment that Russia has coverage on Africa by being permanently present in the continent? Even the strongest foreign policies, if not sold out by the media, will definitely not succeed,” said Major General (rtd) Nicholas Mike Sango.

“Indeed, Africa’s media should equally find space to operate in Russia. Because of limited resources, Russia should equally make it easier for African journalists to operate on its territory. Frequent Russia-Africa forums should lay the necessary foundation for deeper and holistic Russia-Africa political, cultural and economic cooperation for mutual benefit of the peoples of the two friendly institutions,” suggested Nicholas Mike Sango.

During the past few years, President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin authorities have moved progressively with a new phase in consolidating political ties broadly at the state levels with Africa. [IDN-InDepthNews – 07 May 2019]

Photo:  On March 19, 2019 under the Chairmanship of Yury Ushakov, an Aide to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Organizing Committee on Russia-Africa held its first meeting in Moscow. But the two sides known very little about each other. Credit: Modern Diplomacy

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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