Russian Penetration into Africa is easy, even without Aid | Peter Bismark

Economic diversification and diplomatic cooperation are key in globalisation, especially when a country is vulnerable to international sanctions. Russia has faced lots of sanctions from the US and Europe to limit its intended aggressions. With the rise of economic, political and security competitions, Russia as a superpower in global security politics must seek refuge and support elsewhere to expand its reach of allies. One such option is Africa – a continent with limitless economic resources. Africa is a very important continent to Russia at this moment.

In the quest for becoming more influential, the Kremlin organised the maiden Russia – Africa Summit, held in Sochi. Over 45 heads of states, African Union (AU) delegates, ministers, diplomats and economic and trade negotiators were in attendance.

Russia’s smartness is to engage at least the influential African Heads of State from East – Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), West – Muhammadu Buahri (Nigeria), North – Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt). From the South came President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and from the Central African Region came Paul Kigame of Rwanda. The President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwah  Akuffo would equally join the summit as one of most admired leaders on the continent. One can infer from the list how President Vladimir Putin of Russia is trying to position his trade and security interest to expand and explore commercial opportunities in Africa. It is true that once these countries are able to accommodate Russia on the continent, many more others will follow suit in doing business with the Kremlin. They are the largest economies driving Africa’s vision of prosperity.

There exists a plethora of challenges in the energy and power sectors of most African countries, including the huge economies like Nigeria and South Africa.  The West African country of Nigeria alone, loses about $29.3 billion (close to 7% of its GDP) due to frequent power outages and poor quality of energy distribution. Russia has a huge power sector and is known for its available energy resources: it has one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves (behind the United States), and eighth largest oil reserves. It is likely these countries would request the assistance of Russian power companies to help halt the endless power crises in Africa.

Regarding trade, Russia is a net exporter of raw materials – just like Africa. This stands in contrast to China, which is an importer of raw materials and exporter of processed and finished goods into Africa. According to Brookings:


“Trade between Russia and sub-Saharan Africa started at low levels but increased rapidly to $4.8 billion last year from $1.8 billion in 2010. Russia-Africa trading relations are characterized by Russia’s main role as an exporter. In 2018, Russia’s exports to sub-Saharan Africa totaled $3 billion, while imports from sub-Saharan Africa came in at $1.7 billion. In 2015, Algeria together with Egypt, Morocco, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa accounted for 80 percent of Africa’s exports to Russia. Cote d’Ivoire saw a strong increase in mutual trade with Russia in 2018, particularly with agricultural products and energy.”

The change of events heralded by the Russia – Africa Summit is a good sign to enhance export to Africa and could allow more Russian extractive and manufacturing companies – including those in the power and energy sectors – to increase trade and economic activities. It could be obvious for the Kremlin to increase trade in high volume instead of providing monetary aid. With the emergence of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), African countries are set to remove tariffs and liberalize trade via investment cooperation, intellectual property rights, industrialization and economic competitions. Russia would like to register and deepen its bilateral concessions in Africa. It is expected that ACFTA will uplift welfare and bring about technological development and institutional transformation.

Africa is plagued with territorial insecurity including border disputes, maritime contestations and influx of jihadists in the Sahel. Russia may be seeking to strengthen security cooperation and intelligence sharing among the AU members. In West Africa through to the Northern part of Africa countries have experienced periodic and guerrilla terrorist attacks, which destabilize the region. It is in the interest of Russia to support the militaries of African states and AU should not hesitate to embrace such offers because of their incapability to fight insurgency and border crime.

Russia is not new on the continent, but this time would like to increase its presence on the promising continent. This will help the Kremlin to increase partnership and form new allies at the expense of the United States, China, Europe, and the Gulf Countries. African leaders must however thread cautiously to eschew a future cold war on the continent. Should that happen, the next cold war in Africa would not be that of ideologies but of resource and investment dissension.



Peter Bismark


Source: ILAPI