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Russia-Africa Summit includes promises of assistance without any pre-conditions

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Nov 6, 2019 - 2:50:48 PM

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Forty-five heads of state attended Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi Oct 23-24.

The first-ever Russia Africa Summit in Sochi was the largest scale event in the history of Russian-African relations.

Framed by the Financial Times as Russia’s “charm offensive,” the FT reported this move by Russia was apparently designed to “win back influence on the continent, low on concrete trade and investment deals but high on congeniality.”

Though Western financial pages interpreted the summit as less than substantial, reported “after restoring Russia as a key power in the Middle East, President Vladimir Putin is turning his attention to Africa to raise Moscow’s profile in the struggle for geopolitical influence.”

Last year Russia’s exports to Africa amounted to $20 billion, roughly double the 2015 level, but paltry compared with China’s $205 billion. The FT reported these exports as “heavily reliant on arms and grain sales to northern states.”

There was little mention in Western financial pages, or for that matter in the general news pages of corporate-controlled press, of Africa and the Kremlin joining forces.

And, limited Western coverage framed the story as “Russian exploits Africa” with no regard to Africa developing relationships outside of Europe and America to get out from under the sway of her former colonial masters.

The Russian Export Center and African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), based in Cairo, “once again joined forces” with the Roscongress Foundation to organize the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum.

According to organizers, the summit would “serve as the basis for the further development of collaboration between Russia and African countries.”

The Oct. 23-24 summit was attended by 45 heads of state with all 54 African countries represented. It included more than 6,000 participants, including representatives of business, political elites, and experts who met on summit sidelines to identify key priorities for joint activities for years to come. The summit was attended by two vice presidents, Jewel Howard-Taylor of Liberia and Joseph Butore of Burundi.

The summit’s official website, with its motto “For Peace, Security and Development,” noted, “Wide-ranging preparatory work was carried out in the run-up to the Russia-Africa Economic Forum, serving the purpose of strengthening and expanding interaction between Russia and Africa.”

During the summit, the priority areas focused on economic cooperation and concrete objectives that could be achieved. The main areas of interest included “energy, including renewables, infrastructure development and especially railway and housing construction, modern and high-tech extraction and processing of mineral resources, agriculture, digital technologies, oil and gas exploration medicine, science and education.”

According to its webpage, the Russia-Africa Summit will be held once every three years. “During the time between the summits, the Russian Federation is to hold annual political consultations with ministers of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation and the African countries taking current, past and future chairmanship of the African Union,” it said.

“Women in Russian-African Relations” was a session moderated by Elena Myakotnikova, corporate director of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives to Promote New Projects. Among attendees were the Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Rwanda Soraya Hakuziyarernye and President of the International Federation of Women Professionals Amani Asful.

During the session, Hakuziyarernye noted that the continent is transforming in terms of women’s rights and opportunities. “Since 2010, in Rwanda, 62 percent of women are in parliament. We did not achieve this in one day, and for this we had to radically restructure both the legislative system and the news of our citizens,” she said.

Changing the discussion to business and women in the workplace, Hakuziyarernye said laws should protect the rights of women. “But laws alone are not enough. Investments in the education system are needed to change women’s attitudes towards their abilities,” she said.

Hala Helmi Elsaid Yones, Minister of Planning, Monitoring and Administrative Reform for the Arab Republic of Egypt, said, in addition to education, financial investment and infrastructure are required, such as kindergartens, “so that women have the opportunity to study and work, already having a family and children.” Women often relate to both business and financial obligations much more than men, she added.

“If you look at the statistics on loans, then defaults on women’s obligations make up less than one percent in our country,” she said.

Natalia Zaiser, chairman of the board of the African Business Initiative Union, said, “One way or another, the percentage of women decision-makers at the state level in the world as a whole is still small and the situation must change.”

Real equality between men and women is necessary for “improving the quality of life of the whole society,” she said.

“According to forecasts, the full involvement of women in the economy will allow by 2025 the increase of global GDP by $28 trillion,” she observed.

The summit, according to the Moscow Times, set itself apart from others by its “unique pitch.” “Only Russian support can help protect the sovereignty of African countries,” argued the Moscow Times.

“We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” President Putin told the Russian news service TASS, in a pre-summit interview. Russia is ready to provide assistance without “political or other conditions,” he said.

According to Putin, and history bears him out, “Our country played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, contributing to the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism and apartheid.”

The summit included billionaire Konstatin Malofeev. Speaking as chairman of the Moscow-based International Agency for Sovereign Development, he said the agency would work to help African countries find “African solutions to African problems.”

By the end of the conference he had signed on to advise the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria in efforts to attract $2.5 billion in funding and deal with debt.

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