- Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia’s trade with Africa increased by 35% in the first half of 2023.
- Kremlin ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25,000-50,000 tonnes of grain free of charge.
- Observers believe that Putin will use this week’s summit to push a plan to supply grain directly to Africa and cut Ukraine out of the global market.
Russia has pledged its commitment to Africa’s goals in a move that is poised to bolster political relations with the African continent.
During the ongoing Russia-Africa Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia’s trade with Africa increased by 35% in the first half of 2023.
It is understood that the summit, attended by many African heads of state and the AU Chairperson, is meant to lure the continent to sympathise with Moscow. The forum will also serve as Putin’s platform to discuss alliances with Africa. The summit is expected to see various agreements signed.
Vladimir Putin has also promised free grain supplies to six African nations as Moscow seeks to capitalise on the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal. The Russian president claimed his country could replace Ukrainian grain exports blocked by Moscow’s decision to abandon the UN-brokered arrangement, which had allowed the export of grain and other products from Ukraine through the Black Sea to markets, many of them in Africa.
“In the coming months, we will be ready to provide Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea with 25,000-50,000 tonnes of grain free of charge,” Putin told attending African leaders on Thursday.
The collapse of the UN-Russia Black Sea deal.
Observers believe that Putin will use this week’s summit to push a plan to supply grain directly to Africa and cut Ukraine out of the global market. Moscow has previously used the grain issue to find allies in the global south for its war in Ukraine and gather support against Western sanctions.
Russia has also tried to win support among African leaders by claiming that the grain deal prioritised “well-fed European markets” rather than countries in Africa. While the West has acknowledged that grain exports to the poorest developing countries have not returned at the desired rate, the deal has helped reduce global food prices by more than 23%. Wheat prices have been climbing on international markets since Russia withdrew.
Africa lies in the `middle`.
Many African countries have taken a neutral stance over the conflict in Ukraine as they seek to strike a delicate balance between relations with Russia and Western allies in the middle. Most African states are sympathetic to Russia because of its historical ties during the colonial era. Moscow, then the Soviet Union, fraternised with African colonies to subvert colonialism. Zimbabwe and South Africa benefitted from Russia’s support during the fight against imperialism and apartheid.
Conversely, some African states have benefitted from Western aid for many years and do not wish to cut the aid channel. This double dipping leaves Africa in a political conundrum of who to side with in the Russia-Ukraine war. Western powers, especially the United States of America, scrutinised the uncertainty surrounding Africa’s allegiances. Biden has been on record threatening African countries should they fail to hold Putin accountable for his confrontation in Ukraine.
Putin believes the West is forcing African nations to isolate Moscow
Some African leaders arrived in Russia for a summit with Putin as he sought allies amid the military operation in Ukraine. At the same time, the Kremlin accused Western powers of “outrageous” efforts to pressure other African heads of state not to attend.
South Africa has been a victim of threats from the U.S. following the latter’s allegations that South Africa was aiding weapons to Russia and facilitating their passage to Moscow. In response, Washington threatened sanctions on South Africa, leading to the Rand dipping in value. Following this reaction, South Africa’s intention to host Russia during the BRICS summit has yet to materialise.
Africa’s relevance has multiplied
“The role of Africa has increased. We see a multiplied number of contacts at the highest level and at the high level. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made several visits to Africa. Vladimir Putin meets with the leaders of African countries quite regularly. Therefore, the role of Africa is growing. The demand for an African position on the current state of affairs on the world stage is also growing.”
“The main attention will be paid to the prospects for the further development of relations between Africa and Russia with an emphasis on our assistance to the national sovereign development of Africans, ensuring fair access to food, fertilisers, modern technologies and energy resources,” Kremlin foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said as quoted by Russian news agencies.
“Moscow has always dreamed of an alternative financial and commercial system that is disconnected from the West – something that is now even more urgent given sanctions on Russia,” said Alex Vines, lead of the African Programme at Chatham House, referring to the sweeping measures imposed by Western countries following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
“And Africa becomes important in this as Russia looks for new partnerships,” Vines added.
The above also explains the reason why the West is flocking to court Africa. The rush to woo Africa has led the West to convince some African leaders to absent themselves from the St Petersburg Summit. This is symbolized by the low attendance during the current summit as compared to the 2019 attendance.
Despite the lower numbers, the Russia-Africa Summit and the reaction from the West has proved that superpowers now understand the rising importance of the African continent on the global negotiating table.
Sources: Africa News; The Guardian