Russia and Africa Engagement, Challenges and New Beginnings

Africa Diary By Dr Evgeny Korendyasov and Dr Tatiana Deych

Both Russia and Africa have a common interest in the formation of the just and democratic world order, based on collective approach to the resolution of international problems and the superiority of international law. They reject the unipolar model, the attempts of one country or a limited number of countries to impose their will on the rest of the world.

The collapse of the Soviet Union broke most of Russia’s ties with African countries. During the nineties of the last century, Russia-Africa relations shrank pitifully. Now Moscow tries to re-establish lost influence in the region. In the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, the goal is to expand the multiform cooperation with African states on bilateral and multilateral basis, including dialogue and cooperation within G-20 and BRICS framework.

Russia has diplomatic relations with all African states. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov often meets with his African colleagues. In 2015, he had talks with foreign ministers of Burundi (January), Tanzania (January), Gabon (March), Madagascar (April), Zambia (April), South Arica (May, November), Kenya (May), Rwanda (October), Republic of Congo (November). Relations with the African Union, where Russia has an Observer Status, and regional organisations, including SADC, ECOWAS, East African Community, are developing.

The most active are Russia's relations with the countries of North Africa. In February 2015, Abdullah Abdurrahman al-Thani – Prime Minister of the Libyan government arrived in Moscow; the purpose of the visit was to discuss Russian arms deliveries to Libya and the Libyan military training with Russian instructors. Two months later, in April 2015, al-Thani arrived in the Russian capital again. This time the topic for discussion was cooperation between the two countries in the economic sphere. Security issues, including fighting against international terrorism, which also intensified in Libya, were also discussed. Not only Libya, but also some other countries of North Africa, where former political regimes have fallen during the ‘Arab Spring’, have made turn to Russia in 2015.

In February 2015, the President of Russia Vladimir Putin visited Cairo to boost bilateral ties with the Arab Republic and discussed with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi the prospects of Russian-Egyptian relations in political, trade-economic and humanitarian fields. During the visit, both countries signed a number of agreements on cooperation in the spheres of trade, nuclear energy, space, tourism and agriculture.

The president of Egypt became one of the few top public officials in the world who arrived in Moscow in May 2015 to participate in the festive celebrations on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War. This act was designed to demonstrate serious intentions of the current Egyptian leadership in the development of bilateral ties with Russia. President Fattah Sisi used the chance to discuss bilateral economic ties during his two-day visit to Moscow.

African leaders from South Africa and Zimbabwe also participated in the Victory Day parade in Moscow. President Vladimir Putin held a number of bilateral meetings with African leaders, among them the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov met Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa M Nkoana-Mashabane. Lavrov and Nkoana-Mashabane underlined unreservedly the continuing importance of the Great Victory for the fate of the whole world, and both sides further discussed prospects of cooperation between Russia and South Africa in the spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership. The ministers called to intensify efforts in Moscow and Pretoria for the development of mutually beneficial relations in trade-economic, mining, energy, cultural and other fields. Earlier this year, the Russian Federation worked with South Africa to facilitate the historic repatriation of heroes of the struggle for liberation, Mr J B Marks and Mr Moses Kotane bodies back to South Africa. They were reburied in the North West province.

In September 2015, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paid an official visit to Harare. Despised by the West, Mugabe has been looking to China and Russia for investment and much-needed financial assistance to help pull Zimbabwe out of its economic problems. During this visit, the Russian government announced plans to build a $3 billion platinum mine in the country. On March 27, 2014 at the meeting of the UN General Assembly, Zimbabwe supported the position of the Russian Federation on the Crimean issue. In mid-December 2014, Crimea was visited by the Zimbabwean Minister of Environment, Water and Climate Seyvior Kaskuwere. He said that Zimbabweans support and respect the choice of Crimean people and are willing to share with Russia the experience gained during the 14-year-old living under the sanctions of the West.

The years 2014 and 2015 were marked by a revival of the political relations of the Russian Federation with other countries of Tropical Africa. During the delivery of credentials by ambassadors of foreign countries, including diplomats of African countries on November 19, 2014, President Vladimir Putin noted that Russia was interested in developing relations with the Republic of Djibouti, establishing contacts in economic and other fields in the interests of strengthening peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. He stressed that Russia values its friendly relations with the Central African Republic and will continue to support the efforts of the transitional government to achieve the political harmony and normalise the difficult humanitarian situation.

Speaking about relations with the State of Eritrea, the president noted that they have strengthened. “Connections with the Republic of Ghana also develop in traditionally constructive spirit. We want to continue our coordinated work in the UN and other international organisations; we will continue to promote the training of specialists for various sectors of the Ghanaian economy,” he said.

Welcoming the ambassador of Zambia, Putin said that Russia was interested in further strengthening of bilateral cooperation, including traditional assistance in training personnel for the country. He also said that Russia was willing to develop relations with Tanzania to strengthen cooperation in the international arena, to promote trade and economic cooperation and that Russia welcomes Tanzania’s active role in solving the African problems.

In 2015, President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni visited Moscow, where agreements related to the participation of Russia in modernisation of the cotton industry in Uganda, the construction of apartment houses in the capital, Kampala, geological exploration and mining of gold, tin and chromium were signed.

Lately, Africa has become the attractive sphere of Russian business activities. Russia-Africa trade turnover is growing, but its volume and structure don’t meet the requirements and possibilities of both sides. The figures show that there is a big room for improvement in Russia-Africa economic relations.

Russia’s trade turnover with African countries in 2014 was $12,216 bn; including with Africa South of Sahara - $3.2 bn.

Russia’s Trade with African Countries (in millions dollars)






Trade turnover with all countries, including:















Trade turnover with African countries South of Sahara





Share of Russia in whole African export



0.30 (2012 г.)


Share of Russia in whole African import



1,45 (2012 г.)


Trade with Africa constitutes less than 2 percent of Russia’s trade turnover. According to the official statistics of the Federal Customs Service, the share of whole Southern Africa, including South Africa, in Russia’s international trade is 0.1 percent (for example - the share for Brazil is 1%, 1.6% for India, 7% for China). Certainly, this share is very low.

Russian companies’ investment occupies the top position in bilateral relations. The activities of major companies such as Lukoil, Severstal, Renova, Rusal, Evraz, Gazprom, is the most dynamic.

The FDI stock of Russian companies in Africa amount to $8-10 bn, with about $13 bn total declared investments for 5-10 years. 70-80 percent of Russian companies’ investments are connected with exploring and extraction of raw materials. Russian companies are actively engaged in IT services, finances, space, nuclear power plants construction, etc. Cooperation with Russian business is attractive for African partners because they have financial resources, effective technologies, and highly qualified specialists.

Russia and 10 African countries signed agreements about the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In January 2016, the construction of nuclear station in Egypt has begun. In military-technical ties, more than 20 African countries are Russia’s partners.

Russia remits debts of heavily indebted poor African countries. Russia has written off the debt of over $20 billion to several African countries, including Ethiopia – $4.8 bn, Libya – $4.5 bn, Algeria – $4.3 bn, Angola – $3.5 bn. It contributes to the development of the continent, along with ensuring energy and food security. Russia has contributed $235 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, $20 million to the World Bank program against malaria in Africa and $18 million to support the World Health Organization action against polio. In 2014, Russia paid $30 million to the fund to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The Russian company ‘RUSAL’ opened the diagnostic centre of epidemiology and microbiology in 2015 in Guinea. In 2015, Institute of epidemiology and microbiology named after N. F. Gamalei started the development of a vaccine against Ebola; the presentation of this drug followed, and the first test results were encouraging. The Minister of Health of Guinea Abdurahman Diallo declared the beginning of the Russian clinical trials of the vaccine.

Russian-African scientific and cultural cooperation is developing. Russia supports the ‘Education for All’ program. From 2009 to 2012, Russia has paid $32 million to support education programs, mainly in African countries. It allocated $43 million to the World Bank for the implementation of an international program to improve the quality of basic education, which was initiated by Russia.

Russia is also involved in educating and training professionals. In 2016, there are 10,000 Africans studying in Russia’s higher education system; half of them have had their tuition paid by the Russian government. Russian government grants annually about 2000 scholarships to African students to study at the Russian universities. Now only 8 cultural centres are acting in 7 African countries. Russian public organisation ‘Russian World’ has its missions in 5 countries - Egypt, DRC, Zambia, Kenya and South Africa.

Russia is not among the leading actors in peacekeeping, but its role is growing. Today, 230 Russian citizens participate in all UN peace missions and operations in the continent. The contribution of the aviation groups deserves to be singled out (Sierra-Leone, then Sudan, Chad). At the same time, Russia lags behind many countries in the number of peacekeepers. For example, as of December 31, 2015, China sent more than 3000 citizens to take part in UN peacekeeping operations. Russia also takes part in African peacekeepers training in the special training centre of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which has received UN international certificate in 2008. The number of African peacemakers annually trained in Russia has increased to 400.

Russia views BRICS as one of the top priorities of its foreign policy, and wants the block to be seen as a new model of global relations that supersedes the old dividing lines between the East and the West or between the North and the South. Russia hopes that BRICS countries can cooperate and work together in Africa.

Russia-Africa cooperation had advanced considerably over the last few years. Both sides have a common interest in the formation of the just and democratic world order, based on collective approach to the resolution of international problems and the superiority of international law. They reject the unipolar model, the attempts of one country or a limited number of countries to impose their will on the rest of the world.

Is Russia coming back to Africa? The question as such is incorrect, since Russia has never left Africa. The question is, however, appropriate because not long ago, Russia was on the way out of Africa. Now the trend has reversed. There exists considerable potential in Russia-Africa relations. These relations, today, are clearly lacking in scale, ambitions, institutional equipment, and implementation tools. Nevertheless, Russia’s presence in Africa is growing and its cooperation with African states is expanding. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Russia is gradually making an inroad back into Africa.

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