Relations between Russia and Africa are long-standing and have always been characterised by their versatility. They ranged from the humanitarian aid of Tsar Nicholas II to the Ethiopian Empire in its struggle against Italy (late 19th century) to support for the liberation of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe from Portugal (late 1960s-1970s).
In the second half of the 20th century, Soviet engineers and specialists took an active part in the implementation of a number of large industrial projects in many African countries. Power plants (Aswan Dam), metallurgical, mining plants and processing plants, oil refineries, companies manufacturing machinery and other important items of the national economy were built.
How does Russia intend to develop economic cooperation with African countries and what course can this partnership follow in the near future?
Today, Africa is the world leader in terms of consumption growth. Agriculture, the chemical industry and agro-technologies, oil refining and extractive industries, energy and nuclear technologies for peaceful purposes are developing rapidly in Africa. Most countries are interested in infrastructure development, and the demand for cars and special equipment is growing. Russian business has something to offer in each of these sectors.
A continent with a population of 1.4 billion people is comparable to China. In 15-20 years’ time, Africa will determine the world’s demographic framework and influence the scale of global consumer demand significantly.
Russia, which is significantly limited and constrained in the Western direction of foreign economic activity as a result of sanctions, is looking for new markets for its products, mainly for exports. It is obvious that it will be practically impossible for Russia to solve these problems without Africa.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has noted that Africa remains one of the priorities of Russian foreign policy. In the near future, it is certainly possible to ensure the gradual growth of trade and economic ties between Russia and the African countries. This means increasing the number of mutually beneficial joint projects in the fields of energy, agriculture, subsoil use, infrastructure development, high technology and staff training.
At the same time, it should be recalled that the 54 African countries account for 27.98% of the seats in the United Nations, and the political support of such a large number of countries is also extremely important for Russia.
Russia has traditionally developed and continues to develop relations with the Maghreb and Southern African countries. Four North African countries, namely Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as the Republic of South Africa account for over 70% of all trade with Africa. If we add Sudan and Nigeria, Russian trade with Africa reaches 85%.
Moreover, many countries in the sub-Saharan region are developing rapidly and record very high economic growth rates. They also have natural and economic resources that could be of interest to Russia.
One of the main tasks of Russian institutions in this regard is to catalyse trade with black African countries: there are plans to open agencies or representative offices there, to which local entrepreneurs and citizens can turn if they are interested in economic contacts or dialogue with their Russian counterparts.
In 2019, Russia’s foreign trade turnover with African countries amounted to 16.8 billion U.S. dollars, and exports to African countries regarded machinery, equipment and vehicles, foodstuffs, agricultural commodities, and mineral products. The rest of trade consisted of metals, chemicals, rubber, timber, paper products and precious minerals.
Africa is still characterised by an extensive diamond resource base and prospects for new discoveries of rare metals, which explains Russia’s interest in potential development in this region.
Conversely, in 2019 food and agricultural commodities accounted for the majority of Russian imports (56.8%). At the same time, the majority of Russia’s trade with African countries in 2019 materialized due to mutual trade transactions with Egypt (37.2%), Algeria (20.2%), Morocco (7.6%), the Republic of South Africa (6.6%), Senegal (4.3%), Tunisia (3.9%), Nigeria (2.5%), Togo (2.4%), Sudan (1.6%) and the Ivory Coast (1.6%).
In January-September 2020, due to the spread of the coronavirus infection, Russian-African trade turnover decreased by 20.5% compared to the same period in 2019 and amounted to 8.9 billion dollars.
Today, Russia is ready to act as a partner for all African countries in a number of sectors. These include projects to supply the latest Russian equipment for metallurgical and mining companies, as well as the development of a transport and logistics system – including not only the supply of rolling stock for railways, aircraft and helicopters of various classes and purposes, but also control and safety systems for the respective transport lines. Russia is also interested in participating in the creation of energy infrastructure in African countries – oil, gas and generation capacities, including hydroelectric and nuclear power – as well as in ensuring food security, developing a healthcare system and supplying medicines.
Russia does not offer individual export contracts, but projects that include both the supply of products and their maintenance, as well as training for specialists, and possible technology transfer and partial localisation. This enables African countries to develop their expertise in a variety of industries.
Africa is currently one of the sales markets that attracts long-term investment for national companies. In recent years, African countries have made a huge leap forward in creating the conditions for developing trade and a favourable investment climate.
Promising areas and niches for Russian exporters to Africa are the supply of finished automotive equipment, as well as accessories and spare parts for machinery; the construction and modernisation of railway infrastructure, and the supply of oil refining equipment. At the same time, Russian agricultural machinery suppliers and major car manufacturers are already working in African markets.
Projects for the maintenance and modernisation of power plants, for oil production and transport, as well as for the arrangement of facilities for the chemical and mining industries in Africa have been developed successfully. An important role in exports is played by the supply of agricultural and food products. Projects in new directions, such as modern technology, ‘smart’ cities, education and health, are beginning to be proactively developed.
At present, key countries in the promotion of non-resource exports are Egypt, which accounts for over one third of Russian-African trade turnover, the Republic of South Africa, Zambia, Angola, Algeria, Nigeria and Kenya.
From a strategic perspective, African countries’ sustainable development will be associated, inter alia, with the full use of investment potential, attracting companies interested in implementing projects on their territory.
The quality of Russian companies’ products meets international standards. Therefore, many African leaders are interested in projects involving the construction of airports, hydroelectric power stations, schools and universities, as well as in the cultural field.
At the same time, not only Western European countries, the United States and China, but also India, Turkey, as well as the Persian Gulf States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel and Brazil are showing increasing interest in developing relations with African countries. Hence these activities of the world’s major powers inevitably lead to a significant increase in competition in virtually each of these areas.
One of the biggest projects of the Russian State company Rosatom in Africa is the construction of the al-Dabaa nuclear power plant in Egypt. Rosatom State Atomiс Energy Corporation is a Russian state-owned nuclear energy company with over 360 firms.
Nevertheless, this is not the only area of interest for the company in the region. Rosatom, in particular, develops non-energy cooperation not only in the nuclear sector, but also offers various options for turnkey basic research, medical and radiological facilities.
One of these facilities is the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST). Rosatom is already proactively involved in the project to build the CNST in Zambia. The Centre includes a research reactor, a multipurpose irradiation centre, a nuclear medicine centre and several laboratories – a modern platform for a wide range of scientific research and practical applications of nuclear technologies.
The company also sees potential in staff training and provides a number of scholarships and educational programmes. For the past five years there has been a State scholarship programme for students wishing to master nuclear and engineering specializations at Russia’s leading universities. Each year, at Rosatom’s request, quotas are allocated to representatives from African countries.
Moreover, digital technologies, artificial intelligence and cyber security – of which the Russians are masters – are rapidly developing in Africa. Africans are interested in Russian information technologies – first and foremost in the Russian government services, such as tax collection programmes, cloud technologies, and everything related to online payment systems.
Africa is showing particular interest in agricultural projects. In particular, African countries are increasing their cereal production and the demand for fertilisers is growing. Therefore, over the last five years the volume of fertiliser consumption in African countries has grown by 4-5% per year, while the world average is 1.5-2%. There are huge prospects for the African market – consumption of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilisers in the region is currently five to seven times lower than the world average, while potash consumption is nine to eleven times lower than the world average.
In the first nine months of 2020, despite the pandemic, the company’s fertiliser supplies exceeded last year’s indicators and reached 445,000 tonnes. Over the next five years, the possibility of increasing the supply of ecologically standard products to Africa is being considered – an important contribution to ensuring food security in Africa, which the continent had until the 1960s and then lost due to neo-colonialism,
With a gradual and systematic development of market potential, it is entirely possible for Russian companies to take leadership positions, redirecting volumes and priorities from more distant markets and also from other ones.
The first Russia-Africa Conference was held in Soči on October 23-24, 2019 and saw the participation of 54 African representatives with 43 Heads of State. At the Summit Putin emphasised that cooperation between the parties was long standing and long-term -and military, we would add. The new support point for the Russian Navy is in Sudan – the Treaty of December 8, 2020, and the docking of the frigate Admiral Grigorovic on February 28, 2021 in Port Sudan.
Russia’s reappearance in Africa is taking place in full swing.