By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Over the past few years, Russia’s sphere of influence in Africa has been strengthening and broadening with much focus on helping to maintain peace and security, and making investment in exploiting natural resources in Africa. The first historic Russia-Africa summit held in October 2019 has, further and concretely laid out a comprehensive roadmap with which to forge future relationship with the continent.
Within that framework, the United Russia Party organized and hosted on March 24 – 25 the Russia-Africa inter-party conference. Held under the theme “Russia – Africa: Reviving Traditions” the primary aim was to generate discussions and share views on multifaceted developments with Africa. It was also part of the activities preceding and preparations for the second Russia-Africa Summit planned for 2022.
Senator Andrei Klimov, Deputy Secretary of the General Council of the United Russia Party of the Russian Federation, moderated the conference that included the participation of African Heads of States such as Angolan President, Lourenço João, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and President of the Prosperity Party, Abiy Ahmed Ali, just to mention a few. Leading African parliamentary parties, academics and experts as well as the media participated.
Senator Klimov said the conference is crucial to exchange ideas between parties, strengthen relationships and mutual understanding in multifaceted spheres. The conference focuses on peace and security, counter-interference, inter-party support for economic cooperation, aspects of humanitarian cooperation and other related issues.
President Vladimir Putin sent official greetings to the participants, the transcript posted on the website of Kremlin administration. It reads in part: “On the agenda are such important issues as ensuring peace and regional security as well as countering interference in the sovereign states’ domestic affairs, reinforcing economic and humanitarian ties and, of course, joining efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The statement offers assurance that “Russia will continue to share the experience, accumulated in this sphere, and supply effective vaccines, which have been widely recognized, as well as to provide comprehensive medical care.”
Putin noted that the first Russian-African summit held in October 2019 gave an impetus to cultivating friendly ties between the countries. Furthermore, the inter-party dialogue, which is successfully developing, could play a vital role in facilitating cooperation.
“I hope that the international conference initiated by the United Russia party will not only make a significant contribution to enhancing inter-party cooperation but will also become one of the stages of preparation for the second Russia-Africa summit, scheduled for 2022,” the Russian president said in his message.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Chairman of the United Russia party and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, noted that “the development of close ties, at all levels, meets our common interests and contributes to the sustainable growth of our states, raises the living standards of people.”
The Chairman of the party, however, expected that the inter-party conference to offer the platform for significant contributions to solving the tasks outlined at the end of the first Russia-Africa summit and will further become an important stage in the preparation of the next summit, scheduled for 2022.
“I would like to wish all the participants of the inter-party conference a successful and fruitful work, strengthening partnership and friendship, and mutual understanding between our states,” Medvedev added, declaring the conference open.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reiterated that Russia-African relations primarily rests on an understanding of the importance of collective action based on the principles of equality and mutual respect and aimed at resolving common tasks.
In the past few years, Russia-Africa cooperation has been noticeably strengthening. “We are deepening our political dialogue, developing inter-parliamentary ties, promoting cooperation between ministries and departments and expanding scientific and humanitarian exchanges. We are also continuing the structural diversification of our trade,” he said.
After the first Russia-Africa summit held October 2019 that gave a powerful impetus to the development of versatile Russia-Africa cooperation, that his ministry has created the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The coordination, public and scientific councils have also been established under its aegis.
The Association for Economic Cooperation with African Countries has separately been created, this unites large Russian companies operating in African markets. Experts plan to draft roadmaps of Russia-Africa economic, scientific and humanitarian cooperation.
Lavrov further explained that it is becoming a tradition that Russia-Africa summits are preceded by events in different fields of cooperation. The Russia-Africa public forums held at the end of the past year helped strengthen academic, cultural and youth links.
African issues are supposed to be included in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum scheduled for early June. A regular meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia and the African Union trio is planned for next year as well.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, during the turn, urged both Russia and Africa to solidify their time-tested solidarity in a bid to stand firmly against interference. Abiy pointed to the role of political parties, both ruling and opposition parties, for domestic political stability and international cooperation. That the Russian Federation and African countries have a rich tradition of push back counterproductive interference.
“We must revisit our traditions and solidify our friendship and renew our time-tested solidarity in order to respond to basic demands of our people to defeat the enemies within by standing against interference,” the premier stressed. Russia was a key ally in continental independent movements and against oppression, colonialism and slavery, both domestic and foreign, that have produced leaders and intellectuals, he stated.
In a message sent to the Russia-Africa inter-party conference, João Lourenço, leader of the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party called for a broader investment and diversified cooperation with Africa. He stressed the sectors of industry, agro-livestock, fisheries, energy, tourism, telecommunications, science and technology. That scientific research and the training of excellent cadres should also be given special attention.
João Lourenço further considered important the development of the relations between the African countries and the Russian Federation, as well as between the political parties, which have the responsibility of defining the policies that guide the action of the respective governments, to face the enormous challenges that are faced today.
Nearly all the African participants referred to mutually beneficial cooperation between Russian and Africa, and acknowledged it was an important factor to building an equitable international order, and a strong basis for building the future. They also noted party support for economic cooperation. That Russia plays a fundamental role in transforming the system of relations towards greater opportunities in significant viable spheres in Africa.
Rwanda made a strong case for the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA liberalizes five priority services, listing these services as tourism and travel, business, transport, finance and communication services.
In sum up remarks at the conference, Boris Gryzlov, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the United Russia party, stressed that inter-party conference will contribute to the expansion of multifaceted ties between Russia and Africa.
According to him, the United Russia and African parties have to get committed to further interaction, particularly on the development of joint projects, party support for economic cooperation. In addition, the parties decided to pay significant attention to joint efforts to implement projects in the field of economics and technology development. United Russia intends to provide assistance, including through legislative support, to Russian business circles ready to work in the African direction.
United Russia reached agreements on interaction and cooperation with the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Gabonese Democratic Party. ZANU-PF Foreign Relations Secretary, Simbarashe Mumbengegvi stressed the importance of developing inter-party dialogue within the framework of cooperation between Russia and Zimbabwe. He expressed hope that the relationship between United Russia and the Zimbabwe African National Union will develop dynamically.
In turn, Secretary of the Gabonese Democratic Party, Eric Dodo Bungenza, thanked United Russia for organizing and holding the international conference “Russia-Africa: Reviving Traditions” and the opportunity to take part in it. The agreements were also signed with the Congolese Labor Party, the Ethiopian Prosperity Party, and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
Kester Kenn Klomegah is a Public Affairs Analyst.