Russia hosted a two-day Russia-Africa summit in Sochi last year. In attendance were representatives of all 54 African countries, including 43 African leaders such as Ghana’s President. The summit can be viewed as the opening of the door for the second coming of Russia, then the Soviet Union, to Africa. The first established relations with the continent was during the cold war period. The Russia-Africa relations, however, declined after the fall of the Soviet Union. The recently renewed interest of Russia in Africa is being regarded as a strategic step for Russia to expand its influence and to assert Russia’s presence globally, in the country’s bid for geopolitical dominance against the United States.
The conditions for cooperation as stated during the summit is akin to that of their ally, China. Russia’s main selling point to the African leaders was sovereignty. Putin has stated that Russia is ready to support the continent with ‘no political or other conditions.’ The absence of pre-requisites for foreign aid, mirrors China’s ‘no strings attached’ principle, underpinning their foreign relations policy in Africa.
Any Implications of Russia’s presence in Africa?
China and Russia’s relationship has been perceived to be forged out of convenience. The alliance between the two countries are nonetheless deepening against the backdrop of the West’s (United States) sanctions against both Beijing and Moscow. An example of this strategic partnership between China and Russia is evident in the United Nations Security Council, where both countries share aligned geopolitical views as demonstrated in their decision to veto the UN draft resolution initiated by the United States, calling for free and fair elections in Venezuela. The alliance between the two countries, deemed to be a strategic partnership keeps strengthening, with their areas of cooperation deepening in areas such as trade and energy. This is encapsulated by the numerous meetings between China’s President Xi and Russia’s Putin.
However, with Russia’s attention turned to Africa where China is a dominant actor, the questions that arise are whether Africa could be a source of contention for both countries in the long run, or if their alliance would still be intact to counter the presence of the United States on the continent, resulting in a competition between China and Russia on the one hand and the United States on the other. Despite the deepening ties between the two countries, their cooperation is regarded as fragile, propelled by geopolitical competition with the United States. China currently leads by a long stretch over their influence in the continent, being Africa’s largest creditor and trading partner. China’s presence has undoubtedly been welcomed by most African leaders. The ‘win-win cooperation’ as well as principle of ‘non-interference’ in domestic affairs being projected by China resonates extremely well with the leaders due to the continent’s history and complex political landscape/structure. Russia’s pursuance of this route and the positive reception of their imminent engagement in Africa highlights the importance of sovereignty to African leaders.
China’s presence in Africa has doubtlessly provided economic and developmental opportunities to capitalise on. It has nonetheless not been spared of criticism over how mutually beneficial their presence really is for both parties. Russia’s imminent presence may further present even more opportunities but could also garner criticism considering the country’s role as a major supplier of military weapons to politically fragile African countries such as Central African Republic, Zimbabwe among others.
As Africa welcomes renewed relations with Russia, the continent has been presented with new opportunities for development. It is however the responsibility of the leaders to exert agency to shape relations to that effect, just like with the opportunities presented by China’s belt and road initiative.
Credit: Afro-Sino Centre of International Relations (ASCIR)