The fast growing influence of Russia in Africa has become a source of grave concern to the United States of America and other global powers. KINGSLEY OPURUM writes to X-ray the strategies of Moscow in enlarging its clout.
Analysts have opined that Russia is straining every sinew to expand its influence across Africa, hoping to outspend or out-compete the United States, describing it as part of a larger effort to reshape the African continent for the better. They believe that Africa has already started accepting Moscow as viable and essential alternatives to the United States, as it begin to massively widen its coast and tentacles within the continent. To underscore the clout Russia is wielding in Africa, Rwanda has signified interest in procuring Russian air defense systems. The issue was discussed during the visit of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to that country.
The Rwandan security forces already use helicopters, small arms and Ural Typhoon mine-resistant armored trucks produced in Russia. Recently, Moscow has scaled up its military assistance to the Central African Republic (CAR) upon the request of the country’s government. This year, Russian President, Vladimir Putin met CAR’s President Faustin Archange Touadera in St. Petersburg to hold talks on boosting bilateral ties, including military cooperation. In December 2017, the United Nations Security Council approved a deal allowing Russia to send arms and military instructors to that crisis-hit country. The UN was provided with the serial numbers of the transferred weapons to enable international observers to track them.
Also, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a traditional ally of the West, has begun shifting its foreign policy priorities looking for other partners. Early this year, the DR Congo’s government announced its decision to revive the 1999 military agreement with Russia. The government wants Moscow to deliver armament and train military personnel of the DRC. It also hopes to expand the bilateral economic cooperation, covering the mineral production, agriculture and humanitarian contacts. In 2017, Russia signed a $1 billion defence cooperation agreements with Angola and Nigeria. Moscow and Luanda have also agreed to increase the scope of military ties.Russian Rosoboronexport has long-term relations with Angola, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and several other sub-Saharan nations that include arms sales and equipment maintenance.
Since 2013, the construction of service centres has been in full swing. In 2017, Russian weapons were delivered to the following sub-Saharan African nations: Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, and Angola (Su-30K jets). A contract was confirmed with Equatorial Guinea for purchase of Pantsyr-S1 air defense systems. In August 2017, Burkina Faso ordered two Mi-171 helicopters. Russia is the leading arms importer to the region, accounting for 30% of all supplies. Russia’s weapons are reportedly in high demand being cheap and effective as has been proven by their use during the Syrian conflict. The thriving military cooperation goes hand in hand with developing ties in other areas. Trade with African countries located south of the Sahara desert was $3.6 billion in 2017. For comparison, it was $3.3 billion in 2016 and $2.2 billion in 2015. Russia is involved in exploration, mining, and energy projects. ALROSA, a diamond-mining company, operates in Angola, South Africa, Sierra Leone and Namibia. Reports have it that Moscow has started moving towards other sectors like transport and agriculture, which are promising areas for joint projects.
The construction of nuclear science centres in Zambia and Nigeria, as well as a nuclear power plant in South Africa, a BRICS member, are on the talks’ agenda to further strengthen Russia’s leverage in Africa.
In April, the government of Sudan invited Russia to take part in its energy projects. Khartoum and Moscow enjoy special relationship. Last year, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir asked the Russian president for “protection from the aggressive acts of the United States.” It is worthy of note that 28 out of 55 African nations have growing trade with Russia. Cooperation with Ghana, Tanzania has promising future. Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe are historical friends with experience of doing business with Russian partners. The relations with the African Union are considered in Moscow as an issue of special importance. In March, FM Lavrov toured Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Ethiopia to boost multifaceted relationships. The same month, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was signed to open new horizons for economic cooperation. In January, the Single African Air Transport Market was launched to be made even more attractive with coming in force of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the right of Establishment and the Right of Residence. Russian businessmen are expected to get more information on new opportunities when they visit the first Intra-African Trade Fair to take place in Cairo on December 11-17, 2018. The program of Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) held in May included special sessions on business and investment opportunities within the framework of the “Russia – Africa Business Dialogue.” Foreign Affairs commentators are of the opinion that US influence in the sub-Saharan Africa is on the wane, accusing President Donald Trump of being responsible because of his hostile policies and his mantra of “America first.”
The analysts said that President Trump was jeopardizing the important relationship not only by his silence on Africa but by his statements and actions in other areas.
Recall that during the African Union summit on January 30, 2018, AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said in prepared remarks to the assembled African Heads of State and Government, “The very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”
In contrast, Russia is making strides to strengthen its position in the region. President Vladimir Putin announced the policy of boosting ties with the region in 2006 when he visited Sub-Saharan Africa. He kept his word. The region has become an essential vector for the foreign policy of Russia, which is becoming another major player on the continent.
China will also not be left out as both Beijing and Moscow are working so hard to wield stronger influence than US in Africa. Both China and Russia have seen Africa as their major focus.