By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Russo-African Summit, the first of its kind, was held at the Sochi Olympic Park Main Media Centre, a southern coastal city of Russia, from Wednesday, 23rd to Friday, 25th October, 2019. It was a summit of the Republic of Russia as a sovereign State, on the one hand, and the association of the fifty-four countries in continental Africa, on the other. It is also a summit patterned after the Franco-African, Sino-African, Indo-African, etc, summits, all of which are said to be platforms for sustainable development in Africa.
Without doubt, the Russo-African summit has the potential to be of interest, especially from a competitive perspective. For instance, the development issues scheduled for discussion at the main session were holistic in scope, interesting in terms of relevance, and do raise compelling questions in terms of likely outcome of the partnership. Some of the sub-themes addressed are ‘contribution of nuclear technologies in the development of Africa’; ‘economic sovereignty for Africa: problems and Solutions’; ‘Russia and Africa: Energy for Development and Cooperation’; ‘Humanitarian Cooperation: Development Goals and Corporate Social Responsibility’; and ‘Digital Transformation as a Driver of State Development.’ The issues raised by these themes point to likely seriousness of purpose.
Perhaps more interestingly, there were also topics like the ‘Future of the African Continent: Sovereignty and Traditional Values as Crucial Elements of a Development Strategy’; ‘A Safe Africa’; ‘Technology Sovereignty and Security in a Digital World: Solutions to Tomorrow’s Challenges’; Oil and Gas Projects in Africa: Implementation Prospects’; ‘Creating a New Quality of Life in Africa’; ‘Using Minerals in Africa for the Benefit of its People’; ‘Investing in Africa’; ‘the Role of Media in Russian-African Relations’; and ‘Financing as an Essential Instrument of Economic Growth in Africa.’
The summit organisers clearly underscored the importance of national language diversity by providing public information in Russian, English, French, Arabic, and Portuguese. Apart from Portuguese, the other languages are those of the United Nations. The summit organisers did not provide information in Spanish, even though Equatorial Guinea is Spanish speaking. Probably because there are many Francophone, Anglophone, Arabophone and Lusophone, and only one Spanish speaking, little or no emphasis was given to Spanish, even though it is still one of the working languages of the United Nations like Chinese, Russian, and Arabic. The essential point here is that Russia’s summit strategy is to cover the whole of Africa.
If we espy the various themes of discussion, impression is given that there will be more to gain from the partnership between Russia and Africa. Interrogatively put, what has been the contribution of nuclear technologies in Africa’s development and what is it that will be gained as a result of the new partnership? What will be the modalities for energy, as well as for humanitarian, cooperation? In which way will such cooperation be different from Africa’s humanitarian and energy cooperation with the Member States of the European Union? With one continental Africa faced with different development strategies from different development systems, how does Africa coordinate, have economic sovereignty and have impact on continental integration?
Whatever the answers may be, it is significant that Russia wants to look at the role of the media in its relations with Africa and how to finance development in Africa. It is also noteworthy that Russia wants to address development questions which border much on Nigeria’s interests: oil and gas, use of minerals in Africa for the benefit of the people of Africa, safety of Africa, and sovereignty and traditional values as crucial elements of development strategy in Africa.
Explicated differently, how does national sovereignty and how do African traditional values impact on the evolvement of a Russo-African development strategy?
Without jot of gainsaying, the possible use of sovereignty and traditional values as dynamics and pillars of sustainable development of Africa appears to be new when compared with the various strategies already evolved by other partnership schemes. For instance, France, under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, adopted the strategy of tripartite approach in which the then European Economic Community, the United States and Africa were to constitute a tripod on which the partnership was to be based. Africa was mainly required to provide the raw materials, the United States and the Europeans were to provide the resources, both financial and financial, as well as the technical and managerial expertise, etc.
There are also the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) done by the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with the European Union. The origin dates back to the signing of the Cotonou Agreements. The strategic aim of the EPA is to bring about sustainable development through ACP-EU trade. It is to promote trade and investments. The cardinal purpose of the various summits with Africa also includes the promotion of trade and attraction of new investments. But when can it be argued that the need for foreign investments is adequate? When is development no longer considered necessary in Africa?
Unending Summits but Increasing Problems: The Issues
In essence, the Russo-African summit is a welcome development. Whether Africa can gain from it remains a moot question, as any gain cannot but largely be a resultant of the extent of Africa’s bargaining power. In this regard, the issues to be addressed are necessarily multilateral, plurilateral, and bilateral in scope and character.
At the multilateral level, in which way will this new Russo-African summit be different from the existing ones? Is the Russo-African summit not an additional politico-economic platform for scramble for influence in Africa beyond the old style of re-colonisation? Will there not be re-colonisation attempt through globalisation and particularly, through International Communications Technology? Have African countries the bargaining power to benefit from the partnership?
Perhaps more seriously, will the new partnership ever lead to transfer of technological know-how? What really has Africa to offer in this partnership beyond the export of raw materials? And more importantly, now that the current globalising world is also witnessing an emerging new Cold War and also another New World Order, how will Africa be able to manage the strategies of the various great powers with which it has partnership programmes? Will it require the return to the Non-alignment policy and the strengthening of the Non-Alignment Movement?
At the plurilateral level, that is, at the level of the five regions of Africa, in which way will the Russo-African summit help regional integration, and particularly the newly signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which was done on March 21, 2018 and entered into force on May 30, 2019? One of the main objectives of the AfCFTA is to increase intra-African trade, boost Africa’s trading and bargaining power through common voice and policy space.
At the bilateral Russian-Nigeria level, how Russia perceives Nigeria appears to be at the epicentre of the relationship. We argue here that Nigeria is not likely to be seen to be reliable for various and obvious reasons. Nigeria is believed in Russia to be in the Western sphere of influence, hence the need for caution. Secondly, the handling of the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel project does not suggest to Russia that there is any seriousness of purpose on the part of the Government of Nigeria.
Thirdly, and more so, it was this belief in non-seriousness of purpose of Nigeria that prompted the Russian government to deport the Niger Delta students, who were sent to Russia under the Niger Delta Amnesty project to study, when the Government of Nigeria failed to comply with its own side of the obligations created by the agreement signed by both countries. In other words, Russo-Nigerian bilateral ties are largely predicated on mistrust which is hardly talked about.
Nigeria and the Summit: The Issues
The Russo-African summit cannot but be of strategic interest to Nigeria because of the burden of insecurity inflicted by the Boko Haram insurgency, on the one hand, and the need to have the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel project completed once and for all, on the other hand. The importance of the summit to Nigeria can be gleaned from the statement of Nigeria’s ambassador to Russia, His Excellency, Stephen Ogbah. As he put it, ‘we’re sure that, with Russian help, we’ll manage to crush Boko Haram, given its experience combating Islamic State in Syria.’ This expectation largely explains the rationale behind Nigeria’s signing a military, Technical Cooperation deal with the Russian government on the sidelines of the summit.
As such, Boko Haram issue has become a major dynamic of Russo-Nigerian relations, and this is most likely to remain so for a long time to come, especially for as long as the Boko Haram insurgency lasts. The belief that, with Russia, a new anti-Boko Haram magic will be acquired, necessarily implies a failure on the part of Nigeria’s Western partners in the struggle against Boko Haram. How will the West react to this?
At the level of Russian interests in Nigeria, they can be explained from the perspective of their various projects in Africa. Russia has nuclear research projects in Rwanda, Sudan and Zambia. It is important to recall here that this is the very way North Korea’s nuclear energy project started. North Korea requested Russia to assist in the development of nuclear bomb capability. Russia refused the request but offered to assist in the establishment of a nuclear research centre. This was how a plant would be put in place and that Russian scientists would be engaged in research in North Korea. For the three African countries of Rwanda, Sudan and Zambia, their nuclear future can only be a matter of speculation, and for which Nigeria’s foreign policy makers will need to pay monitored attention because of the implications for Nigeria’s national security.
Russia is also interested in exporting its arms to Africa. And true, this is what many African leaders want. The Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, was very clear on this. As he explained it in the context of his country’s needs, ‘the number one issue is defence and security. We have been cooperating very well. We have supported building our army by buying good Russian equipment, aircraft, tanks, and so on. We want to buy more.’ And true enough again, defence orders from Russia by African countries are put at a cost of not less than US $14 billion. Thus, defence and security business cannot but be a matter of priority in Russia’s relations with Africa in the foreseeable future. Algeria, Egypt, Sudan and Angola are currently the major importers of Russian arms.
In the area of oil and gas projects. Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique are the main countries targeted. While Angola Botswana and Zimbabwe are for Russia’s diamond project, Zimbabwe plays host to the platinum project and South Africa has the nickel Project. More interestingly too, the Russian security forces are training troops in Central African Republic, meaning that the areas of cooperation are increasingly being diversified.
From the foregoing, if truth be told, there has not been much of a deal between Russia and Nigeria in recent times, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, when engagements of Russians were significant in Nigeria. There is nothing to write home about at the level of trade. In fact, Russia’s total trade with Africa is still less than half of that of France. It is again ten times less than that of China. With Russia seeking to upgrade and increase its influence in Africa, and also writing off more than US $20 billion of African debt, there is no doubt about Russia’s serious intention to return to Africa to compete with others, especially the United States, European Union and China.
The seriousness of intention can be explained by Russia’s acceptance to have the various development projects initiated by Russia and Nigeria, either partially completed or abandoned, revived. The Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill and the Ikot Abasi-based Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria are cases in point. Russia has accepted to help construct a 1,400 kilometres rail track from Lagos to Calabar. Perhaps more interestingly, President Muhamadu Buhari (PMB) asked the Russian leader to assist in bridging the deficit in production of wheat, explaining that ‘Nigeria produces less than one hundred thousand metric tons of wheat locally, while our imports are projected to exceed five million tons in 2020.’
Russia not only reportedly accepted to assist but also called on PMB to take advantage of Russia’s potassium resources to increase local fertiliser production in Nigeria, but also ‘expressed further determination to secure Nigeria and the rest of Africa from terrorists.’ As told by Shehu Garba, the Presidential spokesperson. President Putin told PMB that 2,000 ex-terrorists joined Boko Haram last year, 2018. Russian help is required in this area.
Above all, Nigeria wants both countries to ‘organise the fifth Joint Commission meeting to review and ratify all the agreements (about 40) contained in the intergovernmental Nigeria-Russia Joint Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Protocol of November 11, 2016.’ Furthermore, nothing could have been more interesting than the agreement of both countries to kick-start new infrastructure projects, expand trade and investments, and improve on security and military cooperation.
At the level of the whole of Africa, Russia has accepted to offer ‘nuclear power plants, fighter jets and missiles to African countries in a charm offensive, designed to win back influence on the continent, at a summit low on concrete trade and investment deas but high on congeniality,’ to borrow the words of Financial Times. Put differently, $12.5 billion worth of deals were struck at the summit and most of the deals were done on the basis of ‘memorandums of understanding that may not result in any investment,’ Financial times has noted.
Without jot of doubt, Africa’s economic relationship with Western Europe and America is significant. However, intra-African trade has not significantly developed, especially when compared to what obtains elsewhere. As revealed by the African Development Bank’s research finding, intra-African trade is only 16%, unlike 59% in Europe, 37% in North America, and 51% in Asia. Will there be opportunities to bridge the long gap, with the new Russo-African partnership? Will there be coordinating linkages between the partnership and the AfCFTA? The AfCFTA is expected to increase continental trade from 52% and remove about 90% of tariffs by 2022.
In this context, where is the place of Nigeria’s foreign policy strategy in the various development calculations? Will there truly be fresh investments beyond the sale of fighters? President Putin asked all the summiteers to ‘drink to the success of our joint efforts to develop full-scale mutually beneficial cooperation, well-being, peaceful future and prosperity of our countries and people.’ Will this type of toasting be enough a success in light of the revelation by the Financial Times that most of the deals agreed to were still memorandums of understanding?
And particularly at the level of Nigeria, there cannot but be need to put in place a foreign policy strategy capable of reconciling the conflict of interests most likely to be created as a result oamef emerging Russia’s Cold War with the United States. The summit wants to ‘counteract political dictatorship and currency blackmail in the course of international trade and economic cooperation.’ The dictatorship and blackmail referred to here is at the level of the United States president, Donald Trump. Currently, Russia and some African countries are under United States sanctions. In a sense, the Russo-African summit is conceived to be a counter-weight to whatever the United States and Western Europe stand for. The summit is an instrument of Russia’s foreign policy.
In this regard, there is no disputing the fact that Nigeria’s relations with both Washington and Moscow are quite warm. Nigeria needs the goodwill of both countries in its development strategies. Nigeria should not be an instrument of or platform for the foreign policy of any country. Therefore, there will be need to ensure a balance in such a way that Nigeria does not become a friend of one and the enemy of the other.
The Way Forward for Nigeria
In order to give expression of commitment and objectivity of purpose to the agreements done on the margins of the First Russo-African Summit held in Sochi, there is the need for the Government of Nigeria to invite to, and ensure that the first post-summit outing of the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, takes place in, Nigeria. It should be remembered that, since President Putin has been in power two decades ago, he has only officially visited South Africa. He has the strategy of playing host to his international guests on the soil of Russia. Nigeria should provide leadership for Africa in charting the way forward, as well as coordinating the objectives of the various summits within the framework of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and AfCFTA. And more importantly, greater emphasis should regularly be placed on the need for Russia’s support for Nigeria’s quest to become one of the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council. This will go a long way in fostering a better entente between Russia and Africa and also ensuring sustainable development.