By Kester Kenn Klomegah
MOSCOW (IDN) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has bashed Western States for resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail against governments of sovereign African countries, hoping that “it will help them win back their lost influence and dominant positions in former colonies and seek – this time in a ‘new wrapper’ – to reap excess profits and exploit the continent’s resources without any regard for its population, environmental or other risks”.
In a wide-ranging interview to Itar-Tass News Agency, ahead of the historic Russia-Africa Summit on October 23.24, Putin alleged that Western countries are hampering the establishment of closer relations between Russia and Africa – “apparently, so that nobody would interfere with their plans”.
Nevertheless, the ties between Russian and African parliaments are expanding, and mutual trade is steadily growing and diversifying. The level of potential investment in Africa in the next five years is expected to be “quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation currently in the pipeline”.
Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources, noted Putin, adding that he hopes African partners will create the “necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favourable investment climate”.
Putin outlined some of the key aspects of Russia’s foreign policy priorities aimed at “the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations” as well as maintaining a close political dialogue, including on the issues of global and regional security.
Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, among others, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states, said Putin. With a number of countries, Russia is carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes.
Russia supports efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases (including Ebola haemorrhagic fever), natural disaster relief, settlement of existing conflicts and prevention of new crises.
President Putin noted that Russian universities provide professional training for national specialists from African countries both free of charge and on a commercial basis. Both region’s defence and law enforcement agencies are stepping up their cooperation as well.
Playing the historical card, he said, Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations, and that Russia has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
In the aftermath of successful liberation struggles, Russia helped the African countries to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces. Besides, important infrastructure facilities, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and industrial plants were built by Soviet – and subsequently Russian – specialists.
Thousands of Africans received quality professional education at Russian universities. “This is well remembered by many current African leaders, who value our support. We too keep the memory of those pages of history,” Putin noted.
He explained that the idea to organise “an unprecedented, benchmark event” – the Russia-Africa Summit – emerged “quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make the Summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest”.
According to Putin, African “partners” see and appreciate the fact that Russia’s foreign policy, including in relation to their continent, is of constructive nature; that Russia, as one of the UN Security Council permanent members, advocates democratisation of international affairs, supports the legitimate aspiration of African states to pursue their own independent policy, to decide on their own future without imposed ‘assistance’ by third parties.
Russia does not offer support and joint development projects contingent upon the fulfilment of political or any other preconditions or so-called ‘exclusive’, but in fact enslaving trade and economic preferences. Also, Russia does not impose its views, respecting the principle of ”African solutions to African problems“ proposed by the Africans themselves.
President Putin further noted that interest in developing relations with African countries is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the United States and the People’s Republic of China, but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf states, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel, and Brazil.
This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness. Africa’s infrastructure needs are increasing, and African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands.
“All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.” he said.
He further said that Russia is ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is “civilized” and develops in compliance with the law. “We have a lot to offer to our African friends.
According to Putin, “Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty, highly infectious diseases”.
The Soviet-era model – with its pros and cons – had proved quite effective at the stage of the development of statehood in African countries. Accordingly, Moscow continues rendering financial assistance to African states. “While in the past, these decisions were primarily politically motivated, now they are part of the humanitarian assistance,” assured Putin.
As far as loans are concerned, today these are market-oriented. For example, a decision was made to grant a loan to Egypt to the amount of $25 billion for the construction of four power units for El Dabaa NPP. “This is specifically market-oriented lending.”
“Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty, highly infectious diseases”. – Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There are other schemes that are currently applied to some of the remaining debts. For instance, intergovernmental agreements with Madagascar, Mozambique and Tanzania are being implemented in the framework of the debt-for-development swap programme. It is expect that Ethiopia’s remaining debt to Russia ($163.6 million) will be settled under similar conditions. The relevant draft agreement is currently being elaborated.
Putin also reminded in the interview that Russia makes contributions to international programmes of assistance to Africa in the framework of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International Civil Defence Organisation. Sometimes in-kind support is provided. Since 2011, WFP offices in Africa have received 258 KAMAZ trucks. Another batch of 75 trucks has been shipped most recently.
“At the same time, the use of new financial mechanisms does not rule out the practice of granting loans, but rather provides for a wider and more diversified toolkit in support of development. It contributes to establishing mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and African countries,” he added.
The Russian president further pointed out that there are agreements on military technical cooperation with more than 30 African countries which are supplied with a wide range of military equipment. Part of it is being transferred at no charge, as is also the common practice followed by all leading world countries.
“It is encouraging that military technical partnership continues to evolve vigorously. What’s more, African countries often initiate such cooperation themselves, because they understand that one should be able to protect its independence and sovereignty, including from extremist and terrorist groups. It is yet another incentive to cooperate with Russia, which has abundant experience in fighting terrorism, including in Syria,” Putin said.
In most cases, African partners actively participate in the framework of which they get acquainted with Russian advanced weapons, military hardware and experience of its use. “For our part, we will further contribute to training military personnel of African states and take part in training African peacekeepers,” declared Putin.
Humanitarian assistance is being provided to Africa by many countries, yet none of them – be it the U.S., France, China or any other country – has fully resolved all of its social problems, including in healthcare, education and culture, he noted. “Russia too provides humanitarian assistance to African states, but not by reducing the amount of funding for its own programmes. After all, good traditions of charity and support in times of need are a hallmark of our people.”
For example, Russia, as many other states, provided aid to the African countries affected by tropical cyclone Idai in April 2019. Russia sent humanitarian supplies to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, i.e. large tents, blankets and food products weighing about 30 tonnes for each country.
Russia is involved in the UN World Food Programme’s school meals project valued at $40 million, which has been implemented in Mozambique since October 2017, and in the project to introduce modern technology and equipment for disinfection worth up to $15 million in Madagascar.
With healthcare development, Russia was among the first to react to Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak, having allocated $60 million to combat it. There is now a microbiology and epidemiology research centre in Guinea. Russia contributed $20 million to the World Bank programme to implement the global malaria control initiative.
An important element of Russia’s interaction with African countries is regional security cooperation. The Sochi Summit’s slogan – For Peace, Security and Development – is not accidental. Steady progress is not possible without resolving these problems.
Putin noted that the situation in many parts of Africa is unstable: inter-ethnic conflicts and acute political and socioeconomic crises remain unsettled. Numerous terrorist organisations, such as ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, are highly active in North Africa, the Sahara-Sahel region, Lake Chad area and the Horn of Africa. “Armed forces and law enforcement bodies of African countries cannot oppose militants alone and need significant aid,” he added.
“We will further increase contacts between special services and law enforcement agencies of Russia and African countries in the field of countering terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering, illegal migration and piracy,” Putin declared.
In demand is the practice of training military and law enforcement personnel of African countries, including at a reduced cost and free of charge. For example, in the past five years alone, more than 2,500 service personnel from African countries completed studies at the military educational institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry.
Besides, African partners take an active part in Russia-organised events, such as the International Military-Technical Forum and meetings of high representatives for security issues. Eleven African countries participated in the 2019 International Army Games. And the number of those willing to join them is growing.
Ultimately, all those programmes have the same goal – to help Africans solve existing security issues themselves, as it will strengthen African states, their sovereignty and independence. And hence, the world will be more stable and more predictable. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 October 2019]
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Photo: A banner promoting the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in Sochi on October 23-24 at the Sirius Park of Science and Art, in Sochi, October 19, 2019. Credit: Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS Host Photo Agency.
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