By Lawal Sale

All roads lead to Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburgh, for the second gathering of Russian and African leaders from July 27 to 28, 2023.

The primary aim of the summit tagged ‘Russia-Africa Economic and Humanitarian Summit’ is to strengthen ties between Russia and African countries, particularly in areas of politics, economic development, science and technology, security, infrastructure, education and culture.

Oleg Ozerov, Head of the Summit Secretariat, disclosed that the majority of the 54 African leaders had indicated their interest to attend the Summit.

Besides, Anton Kobyakov, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said in a programme schedule of the meeting that the summit would also create the basis for establishing peaceful, prosperous and safe regions in new realities.

Kobyakov further stated that the summit agenda included more than 30 panel sessions and thematic events on the most important issues involving cooperation between Russia and African countries.

Earlier in March this year, President Putin, while addressing some African representatives in Moscow, said: “I want to emphasise that our country has always given and will continue to give priority to cooperation with African States.”

The Russian leader added that “our country is determined to continue building a full strategic partnership with our African friends and we are ready to shape the global agenda together.”

The first Russia-Africa Summit was held in the resort city of Sochi in October 2019 under the theme — “peace, security and development” — and it was co-chaired by President Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was the then chairperson of the African Union (AU). The 2019 summit was the first major gathering of African and Russian leaders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Notably, the summits are part of the thrust of Russia’s foreign policy and they also provide an important platform for face-to-face discussions and interactions between politicians, business executives, experts and the media; all tailored towards the development of joint ventures across the two regions.

From all indications, the 2019 Summit was very successful and purposeful, as it reportedly resulted in the sealing of trade deals worth $12 billion, with more than 50 contracts signed by the two sides. Overall, the main objective of the high-level meeting was to fundamentally raise the mutually beneficial partnerships to new heights.

The relations existing between Russia and African countries date back to the 1940s and 1950s during and after designed efforts to decolonise African countries. Both sides have maintained the traditional and mutual friendship, even as the then Soviet Union solidly supported African nations’ struggle against colonialism, apartheid, racism and campaign for national independence.

As Russian and African delegates are converging on St. Petersburgh to discuss important economic and humanitarian issues, it is pertinent to note that the whole activity is in line with the perceptible shift from unilateralism to multilateralism; and with the focus of aligning Africa’s policy orientation towards Russia and China.

Significantly, Africa obviously has an opportunity to design a pragmatic, well-packaged strategy that would take due advantage of the growing market potential and boost trade relations with Russia, as a way of reversing the marked trade imbalance that has been existing between the continent and Russia for decades.

Perceptive economic analysts stress that in order to cultivate worthwhile business relations and partnerships, Africa should endeavour to organise purposeful trade platforms and business missions to showcase its economic potential to the Russian Federation. In a nutshell, pragmatic efforts must be made to improve Africa’s exports to Russia.

On the other hand, Russia has vast technological expertise that Africa can benefit from. The know-how is particularly in areas of nuclear energy, oil and gas, transport technology, machine building and construction.

At the same time, Africa, with its abundant natural and human resources, as well as agricultural products such as coffee, tea, fruits, flowers, cocoa, cashew nuts and peanuts, among others, is also in a vantage position to boost trade with the Russian Federation and engender a more favourable balance of trade between the two sides.

Furthermore, one interesting field of cooperation between Russia and African States would be the strengthening of military ties. In the recent past, several bilateral agreements to export military hardware to some African countries were signed. Thus, according to the Russian Deputy Minister of Defence, negotiations were already held with about six countries.

In the views of some military experts, military ties are paramount in guaranteeing stability, safety and strengthening national armies across the continent. Russia also provides training to many African military personnel over the decades.

In terms of humanitarian cooperation, Russia has been playing very important role by ensuring that young Africans acquire quality education by providing scholarships to study in top Russian universities in areas of aeronautical engineering, information technology, medicine, oil and gas, energy, agriculture, transport technology, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, architecture and construction.

In Nigeria for instance, since early 70’s, the Russian government has been persistent in offering hundreds of scholarships every year to young Nigerians to study at Russian universities.

It may interest readers to know that in Russia’s capital, Moscow, there is a University named after Congolese politician and freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba – the university, (Friendship University of Russia or Rossiskiy Universitet Druzhbi Narodov) was established in 1960 by the then Soviet leaders.

Over the decades, many Africans were trained and today the university has a population of more than 38,000 students who are mostly from Africa and the majority are on Russian government scholarships.

Another field to be mentioned in this piece when contemplating a Russia-Africa cooperation is the area of agriculture and its potential. It is estimated that over 60 per cent of the sub-Saharan population is small-holder farmers, whilst about 23 per cent of the continent’s GDP derives from agricultural products. It was also determined that Africa could double or even triple its production of grains and cereals, therefore boosting the global output by 20 per cent when productivity increases.

However, for Africa to achieve its potential, there is a need for a significant increase in fertiliser; and that is where Russia can assist the African farmers.

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