Photo: Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) welcoming Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Mali, Tiébilé Dramé (let), on June 10 in Moscow. - Photo: 2019

Russia, Mali to Strengthen Economic and Military Cooperation

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW (IDN) – As Russia and Mali prepare to mark their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year, Moscow has reaffirmed its unreserved preparedness to strengthen economic cooperation and provide support in bringing political stability to Mali and other African countries threatened by or gripped in conflicts.

“Over these decades, we have gained extensive positive experience, which we have agreed to actively use to promote cooperation in various areas on a mutually beneficial basis in the modern era,” Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said, welcoming Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Mali, Tiébilé Dramé, to a diplomatic meeting in Moscow.

Since May 2019, Dramé has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in the Government of Mali, within the frame of the political agreement signed by the majority and the opposition. He was on a two-day (June 9-10) working visit, looking to strengthen relations with Moscow and to explore all possibilities in wooing potential investors to key economic sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry in landlocked Mali.

The Government of Mali seems to have been promoting the establishment of business partnerships and making efforts at creating favorable conditions for foreign players in the country.

During a joint media conference, Lavrov said that they both exchanged views on important issues on the global and African agendas with an emphasis on maintaining peace and stability in Africa, including in Mali and the Sahara-Sahel region.

They paid special attention to the problems of countering international terrorism and extremism in the context of collective efforts to neutralise these threats on the African continent and in the world.

Further, Lavrov pointed to mutual interests in deepening political dialogue and interparliamentary contact, and prospects for expanding trade and economic ties.

Russia and Mali are interested in the exploration and development of mineral resources, energy, infrastructure and agriculture as promising areas for cooperation.

The ministers agreed to promote business partnership and to create a favourable environment for Russian businesses in Mali and, in general, lay out proper conditions for direct contact between the business communities of the two countries, including the chambers of commerce and industry.

In addition, it was decided to improve the legal framework as a basis for raising mutual commitment to further improving military and defence cooperation.

“We will further promote cultural and humanitarian exchanges, including the established practice of training Malian personnel in Russia, both at civilian universities and higher education institutions operated by the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry,” explained Lavrov.

Russia provides multifaceted assistance to its African partners in settling internal conflicts and fighting against terrorism that has been massively spreading in Africa.

“Russia has programs of military-technical cooperation with several African countries and provides assistance in equipping their national armed forces with modern military equipment,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.

“At the same time, special attention is paid to providing assistance in creating combat-ready units which could effectively fight against terrorist groups operating in many African regions. All of this is done on the basis of existing international norms and rules,” it concluded.

There was a positive assessment of the dialogue between the two foreign ministries. The Protocol on Consultations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Mali was signed in 1994, which envisages a regular exchange of view on regional and international developments.

During the past few years, Russian authorities have made relentless efforts toward raising Russia’s political influence and economic cooperation in some African countries.

According to an official report posted on the website of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in March 2019, interaction between Russian and African foreign ministries has been expanding. For example, last year twelve African foreign ministers visited Russia. It explicitly indicated that Russia’s political ties, in particular, are developing dynamically. But, economic cooperation is not as far advanced as political ties.

Many experts have previously expressed concern about the future relationship between Russia and Africa, most often comparing it with other foreign players on the continent within the framework of sustainable development that could improve the welfare of the huge impoverished population.

“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements were signed with many African countries, official visits proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria in South Africa and a former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, wrote in an emailed comment.

“Be that as it may, the Kremlin has revived its interest in the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Olivier added.

According to interview discussions with Moscow based Malian diplomats, Russia has tried to maintain good diplomatic relations with Mali in the spheres of political dialogue, military and education, but bilateral trade is non-existent except attempts to trade military equipment.

Currently only a few students from Mali study in educational institutions in Russia. While underscoring the importance of Russia’s assistance, the Malian diplomats suggested that Russia should also incorporate Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its engagement, engage in developing infrastructure and employment generating sectors as a basis of ensuring stability, to rethink the approaches and that could further bolster its position in Mali and across Africa.

Mali, with a population of about 18 million, is the eighth largest country in Africa. Mali’s foreign policy orientation has become increasingly pragmatic and pro-Western. The key industry is agriculture. More than 90% of the population lives in the southern part of the country, and majority live below the subsistence level, according to reports by the United Nations. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 June 2019]

Photo: Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right) welcoming Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Mali, Tiébilé Dramé (let), on June 10 in Moscow.

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