The factors underlying the activities of China and the role it plays in the African continent are much talked about. But the spread and depth of Russia’s presence in Africa is less debated.
Africa was under heavy influence of Russia during the days of Soviet Union and even post-independence Soviet Union provided governments of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Benin diplomatic or military support at some point of time.
But things changed after the collapse of the superpower began in December 1991.
Now after a quarter of a century the Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have new aspirations in Africa. This falls in line with his desire to restore Russia to its earlier power status.
In pursuit of Russian assertiveness in the global arena, Putin places a high premium on geopolitical relations and it includes reestablishing Russia’s sphere of influence. It is through strategic investment in energy and minerals that Russia is gradually increasing its influence in Africa.
The method of trade and investment in Africa for Moscow is similar to Beijing, without the prescriptions or conditionalities of actors like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The question that has been doing rounds for China will now be applied to Russia. Is the relationship between China and Africa as good for Africa as it is for China? And now, is the relationship between Russia and Africa as good for Africa as it is for Russia?
ENERGY AND MINERALS
With trade investments growing by 185% between 2005 and 2015, the interaction between Africa and Russia has grown exponentially.
Russia’s main focus on Africa centres around energy – oil, gas and nuclear power sectors.
620 million people in Africa don’t have electricity and this provides Russia’s nuclear power industry with a lot of potential to tap the African continent. Several Russian companies that are state-run with investments linked to military and diplomatic interest such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec and Rosatom are active in the African continent and the most activity can be seen in Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria and Uganda. Negotiation between Egypt and Moscow are finalized to build the country’s first nuclear plant.
The second area of interest of Moscow lies in Africa’s mineral riches.
Most activity is evident in Zimbabwe, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and the Central African Republic. Russia is developing one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metals in Zimbabwe. The Russian giant, Alrosa mines diamonds in Angola and Russia has been re-establishing links with the country. The discussions between them have also been on hydrocarbon production. Another example is Uranium in Namibia.
In 2017, a team of Russian military instructors and 170 civilian advisers were sent by Moscow to Bangui to train the country’s army and presidential guard and it is when current controversial involvement of Russia in the CAR (Central African Republic) began. It was after that then the nine weapons shipments arrived in the CAR.
The world’s attention moved to the country when 3 Russian journalists were murdered in a remote area and it looked like a Kremlin drive for resources and influence.
MILITARY INFLUENCE AND DIPLOMACY
A major supplier to African states, Russia is globally the second largest exporter of arms. It has pursued military ties over the past two decades with various African countries including Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
Since China placed its new generation surface-to-air missile in Zimbabwe in 2018, Russia has also been actively supporting Zimbabwe. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that his country was pursuing military cooperation.
During a recent visit to Moscow, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe said that Zimbabwe may need Russia’s help with modernization of its defence force.
THE FUTURE – RUSSIA AND AFRICA
Both the powers of China and Russia are keen to play a role in Africa’s future. The difference being China forms the part of the Asian regional economy. Based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment it will surpass North American and Europe combined.
With sustained economic growth over years and with their enormous population, both China and India are two important world powers. Against the current global average rate of 3.5% a year, the Russian economy growth has been modest – between 1.5% and 1.8% a year for 2018-2010. Still, in global politics, Russia remains a superpower.
The African leaders now have to work on how they’ll t take advantage of the renewed Russian interest and not fall victim to the geopolitical game played by the superpowers of the continent.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.