Experts have identified low enthusiasm, lack of coordinated mechanism and inadequate knowledge of current market changes as key factors affecting economic cooperation between Russia and African countries, but suggested that this trend can be reversed if both African governments and Russian authorities get down to serious dialogue with concrete business agenda.

Themba Mhlongo, Head of Programmes at the Southern Africa Trust, said that “there is no Africa-Russia Dialogue or mechanism for dialoguing with Russia, and also, on the otherhand, Russia has not been as aggressive as China in pursuing opportunities in Africa because Russia has natural resources and markets in Eastern Europe, South West Asia. Russian exports to Africa might be dominated by machinery and military
equipment which serves their interest well.”

He suggested that Africa must engage all BRICS members equally including Brazil and Russia in order to build alliances and open trade opportunities including finance and investment opportunities, also African countries must not seem to show preferences in their foreign policy in favour of Western Europe if they want to benefit from trade relations with Russia.

Another expert, Inessa Hadjivayanis thinks that giving some sort of priority in providing a fair market for African goods, products and services in Russian market will be viewed as very useful tool in strengthening economic cooperation.

Unfortunately though, Africa is not exactly a strong producer, so they would rather need assistance in developing manufacturing industries in order to have sufficient goods to export and that can actually bridge gaps between Africa and Russia’s economic and political relations.

Large investments, similar to the Chinese, would help to bridge the economic and political gap between Russia and the African continent. Russia is very much involved in educating and/or training professionals who are playing key roles in the economy of Africa.

Some experts still believe that Russia, among the BRICS bloc, should engage more actively and pointed out reasons for the rapid growth in China’s economic relations with Africa.

Professor Adams Bodomo, Africa Programmes Director at the School of Humanities, University of Hong Kong, China, told TV channel Russia Today (RT) in an interview that out of the five BRICS countries, China’s the definite economic leader, so are the five members really on equal terms and on the issue of economically troubled western countries still giving “aid” to African and Asian countries.

Dr. Xiao Yuhua, Research fellow, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, China, and Visiting Scholar, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, said that “the rapidly rising portfolio of China in Africa’s economy and the strengthening relations between China and most African countries have on the one hand brought in an inspiration of alternative development partners and paths for African governments and business community.”

According to him, the trade volume between China and Africa reached $160 billion in 2011, China’s accumulated investment in Africa amounted to $400 billion by the end of 2011, of which $14.7 billion are foreign direct investment. At the same time, Africa has become China’s second largest oil supplier, the second largest market for China’s engineering contracting and the fourth largest destination for China’s outbound investment.

Now, Africa and China will hold the fifth Ministerial Conference of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum (FOCAC) in May-June 2012.

Fyodor Lukyanov, a senior member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal – the most authoritative source of expertise on Russian foreign policy and global developments – has acknowledged that Chinese strategy in Africa is about to get access to resources, vitally important for Chinese development. To achieve this, Beijing use all leverage, including soft power, technical and economic assistance, political support to leaders of particular countries (be it Zimbabwe’s Mugabe or Sudan’s Bashir).

“Russia has not similar need to gain African resources, so there is no motivation to develop such a comprehensive approach. We can identify many aspects of Chinese experience which would be useful to learn, but looking realistically I don’t think Russia will ever do it,” Lukyanov told me in an email interview.

However, Vadim T. Kirsanov, African Affairs Advisor at the Regional Projects Department of Russkiy Mir Foundation, non-profit Russian NGO that promotes Russian language, image and culture abroad, in an exclusive interview with Buziness Africa pointed out that Russia is “impoverished” and the state budget, which is virtually the only source of economic cooperation with African countries has declined.

Recent efforts aimed at accelerating Russian-African economic cooperation, for example, are in the following direction and areas:

– Strengthen the responsibility of the interstate and public opinion for the fulfillment of mutual obligations contained in the plans of the intergovernmental commissions on economic, scientific, technical and trade cooperation, existing in Russia with a significant number of African countries.

– Put in as one of the important tasks of strengthening the bilateral actions aimed at promoting opportunities for trade and capital investment in African countries and in Russia, in order to create the best possible conditions for Russian and African entrepreneurs in their efforts to develop mutually beneficial economic relations.

– Use new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation open to the accession of South Africa to BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), taking into account the economic impact of South Africa on the African continent and the world at large

– Intensify the dialogue with the African Union (AU), the Russian Federation in terms of the development of multilateral cooperation among African countries with Russia.

– Search to develop bilateral ties not only in economic sphere but also in science, culture, exchange of people and ideas in the social sphere.

“We must use the full potential interest in Russian culture, Russian language, mutual sympathy and interest between the peoples of Africa and Russia, a great desire of Russians and Africans to visit each other to make friends, establish new connections. It will be of high interest to African countries when Russians do a lot towards the development of Russian-African economic relations,” according to the Advisor at Russkiy Mir Foundation.

Sergey Katyrin, President of the Coordination Committee for Economic Cooperation with Countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, noted recently at a meeting that development of business cooperation with countries, sub-Saharan Africa, was an important vector of the Russian Chamber of Trade and Commerce’s international activities and a promising destination of foreign-economy cooperation for the business community.
In the last several years, Africa has been in the focus of growing interest.

In the past year, only four business missions of Russian companies’ delegations to a number of African countries were organized under the auspices of this committee, and new business trips are being planned to take place in 2012. But, in order to operate efficiently in the African market, objective information on potentials of both sides is required, and the work being done by the coordination committee serves the aim of
obtaining such information.

Russian companies are highly interested in the development of natural resources deposits in Africa. Russian companies want to develop deposits of rare metals, including cobalt and chromium ores, and uranium fields. The companies are also interested in diamond and platinum metals production in African states.

“Africa is a prospective region for Russian mining companies and Russia can offer technological products in the military, geological exploration and energy spheres.

There are also prospects for sales of our metallurgical and machine-building products in Africa,” according to Mikhail Margelov, the Special Presidential Representative for Cooperation with African countries and a Senator at the Federation Council.

Last December, the first Russia-Africa business forum under the chairmanship of Ethiopian President, Meles Zenawi, that aimed at reviewing the previous performance, and identifying potential spheres for strengthening bilateral economic cooperation between Russia and African countries was held in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia.

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Email: [email protected]

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