With Russia expanding its interests in Africa, can it serve as an alternative to the US and China?

By János Besenyő, Óbuda University

Russia has never had an African colony. It stayed out of the scramble for Africa, only engaging with African states in the 19th Century. In 1869, for instance, the Russians gave Ethiopia military support to threaten the position of the British in their quest to control the Suez Canal. They did this because Britain was one of their main European rivals.

It wasn’t until the Cold War started in 1947 that Russia began to develop diplomatic relations with several African countries. This was a way to counter the influence of its rivals such as the US.

The Cold War dictated the former USSR’s relations with many African countries for decades. This was followed by a period of relative inactivity. But more recently, relations have become increasingly important for Russia as well as some African countries.

The result is that some African countries no longer need to choose between the American and the Chinese way of development.

Ostensibly, China has the most pragmatic engagement with Africa. Its policy is not to interfere with the internal workings of nation states or play geopolitics by pitting countries against each other. But it has become increasingly difficult for the country to resist using its military power to protect its economic interests.

For its part, the US’s ultimate aim is to tip the regional balance of power in its favour while also gaining access to Africa’s resources.

My research explores Russia’s current relationship with the continent. The research examines Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy to redress the global balance of power by countering America’s influence in Africa and trying to match China’s large economic footprint on the continent.

I conclude that Russia’s primary goal is political influence. This is achieved by gaining control of natural resources and providing military support and intelligence. Yet, despite making massive inroads, the Russian Federation is still less influential than the US and China on the continent.

From the African point of view, Russia offers a strategic alternative to America’s global hegemony, China’s economic diplomacy, and the lingering influence of Africa’s former colonial masters.

The history

During the Cold War the Russians provided diplomatic, economic, military, and educational support for numerous African liberation movements. These included Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Sao Tome & Principe, and Tanzania. As a result many young Africans were educated in Moscow.

Russia began to trade and interact with these states routinely. It sent in military intelligence officers to establish a strong presence and ensure that Africa was not purely influenced by the West. The Russians developed relations with Africa so intensely that for the 10 years between 1950 and 1960 it surpassed the influence of colonising powers.

That influence would remain more or less intact until the Boris Yeltsin era. Between 1990 and 1999 Russia’s impact on the continent was spectacularly lowered. Nine embassies and three consulates were closed. The number of personnel subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was drastically reduced. Russian cultural institutions were closed, and economic relations were unilaterally terminated. Previously generous aid programmes were scrapped.

This all changed when Putin came to power in 1999. Under his leadership Russia has started to regain its economic and political clout in Africa. Putin has jumpstarted Russia’s diplomatic, economic, and military ties with its former African allies.

Russian interests in Africa

From my research I can conclude that Russia’s primary intent is to build political alliances by supporting nation states economically and militarily while remaining non-judgemental about their internal governance structures.

Its long-term goal is to become a political, economic and military mediator that can stand behind Africa’s global interests and count on the continent’s support in return. Here are some of the areas where Russia are mainly active:

Economic interests: Russia is now seeking to exploit conventional gas and oil fields in Africa and elsewhere. Part of its long term energy strategy is to use Russian companies to create new streams of energy supply. For example, Russian companies have made significant investments in Algeria’s oil and gas industries. They have also invested in Libya, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Egypt.

Russia is also expanding its African interests in minerals. Uranium – which is key to the nuclear power industry – is at the top of its list.

In addition, Russian companies are producing aluminium in Nigeria, and have constructed hydropower stations in Angola, Namibia, Botswana.

Russia is also on track to build nuclear plants in Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria. These investments are a means to becoming an integral part of Africa’s energy sector.

Russia has also improved its commercial relations with its African partners. In 2009, it established the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa to assist in promoting Russian business interests.

Defence interests: Russia has traditionally been one of Africa’s main arms suppliers. During the Cold War many armed liberation organisations and African countries – among them Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Guinea –bought military equipment from Russia. More recently Russia has made significant arms deals with Angola and Algeria. Egypt, Tanzania, Somalia, Mali, Sudan and Libya have also bought arms from Russia. The Russians also provide military training and support.

Aid: Under Putin Russia has made sizeable aid donations to a variety of African countries averaging about $400 million per year. Around 60% of Russian aid is delivered through international organisations; global humanitarian organisations like the World Food Programme and the UN refugee agency. The remaining 40% gets to Africa in a framework of bilateral cooperation. It also makes donations to support education, health care, agriculture, environment and energy.

The danger for Moscow is that, the more progress it makes with African governments, the more likely it is that its interests will collide with those of either China or the US – or both.The Conversation

János Besenyő, Associate Professor, Óbuda University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Content

Africa’s creative industry looks to reinvent itself to survive COVID-19

At a time of huge uncertainty in all areas of the economy, including the creative industries, many are trying to understand the on-going impact of COVID-19 on our sector. Pierra Ntayombya, CEO, Haute Baso joins CNBC Africa to outline what is being done to create support for the creative industry.

Nigeria Finmin: Economy to shrink 8.9% in worst case scenario

Nigeria’s Minister for Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed says Nigeria's economy could shrink by as much as 8.9 per cent this year in a worst-case scenario without stimulus. Ahmed stated that the contraction could reach 4.4 per cent in a best-case scenario, without any fiscal measures. But with a stimulus, the contraction could be kept to just 0.59 per cent. Pabina Yinkere, Chief Investment Officer at Sigma Pensions joins CNBC Africa for more.

Peter Imoesi: Why Nigeria should rethink its COVID-19 testing approach

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control says 40,043 COVID-19 tests have been conducted so far. The national public health institute had earlier this month released a guideline for the Integration of Private Sector Laboratories as part of the National COVID-19 Response. Peter Imoesi, Fellow at Aberdeen University joins CNBC Africa to assess Nigeria's approach to testing.

COVID-19: Kenya continues pipeline plan despite drop in oil prices

In Kenya diesel prices fell by the largest margin in 13 years on lower global crude prices. The prices would have fallen deeper were it not for the new levies imposed on fuel last month following changes to the laws that also introduced tax reliefs to protect the economy against the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the country will continue with plans to build a $1.135 billion pipeline from Lokichar to Lamu to boost its crude oil exports despite the concern over falling prices of the commodity in the global market. Odhiambo Ramogi, Economic Analyst joins CNBC Africa for more.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up for free newsletters and get more CNBC AFRICA delivered to your inbox

More from CNBC Africa

Tiger Brands CEO on results & how the company is responding to COVID-19 shocks

Food producer Tiger Brands reported a 35 per cent fall in half-year headline earnings and has deferred its interim dividend due to uncertainty by the Covid-19 outbreak. The group expects Covid-19 to unfold significant challenges to the business in the near future. Tiger Brands CEO, Noel Doyle joins CNBC Africa for more.

Netcare CEO on the impact of COVID-19 lock-down & medical sector readiness for virus peak

Hospital group Netcare saw a plunge in its hospital admissions in March and April with last month’s figures falling by 49.5 per cent. However, the group has noted that the easing of lock-down restrictions in May has seen a slight uptick in hospital patients. The group has scrapped its interim dividend and has committed R150 million to prepare its ICU and high care facilities to deal with Covid-19 cases. Dr Richard Friedman, CEO, Netcare joins CNBC Africa for more.

Moody’s changes Namibia’s rating from stable to negative

Nigeria’s GDP data and MPC announcement is expected later this week and Moody’s has changed the outlook on Namibia’s sovereign rating to negative from stable as it sites economic and financial pressure on Namibia amid the Covid-19 crisis. Ridle Markus, Africa Strategist at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking joins CNBC Africa for more.

How COVID-19 is impacting trade & cross border truck drivers in East Africa

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, global trade is predicted to fall by a record 27 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. In this episode of Doing Business in Rwanda, we take a look at the impact COVID-19 has had on trade and the establishment of cross border cargo transit logistics platform to curb the spread of the virus and facilitate smooth trade between neighbouring countries....

Trending Now

Africa’s unified & coordinated response to COVID-19: A public-private sector partnership

On this CNBC Africa special broadcast on Africa Day we hear from three influential and strident voices of the continent about how they feel Africa can come up with a unified and coordinated response to the pandemic – on both the private and public sector....

Op-Ed – Uzoma Dozie: How Nigerians can unlock their potential in the digital age

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

International travel for South Africans is now allowed, this is how it will work

South Africans may now travel internationally under strict regulations detailed by the Department of Home Affairs.

Ouch! How Tiger Brands got its fingers burnt in Nigeria for the second time in a decade

Food giant Tiger Brands has passed on paying a dividend as it faces job losses and cost-cutting in its operations after a bruising first half trading on the cusp of COVID-19.
- Advertisement -