Russia-Africa 2023-24 Trade and Development Prospects
With the Russia-Africa summit currently taking place in St.Petersburg, we examine the trade dynamics
By Farzad Ramezani Bonesh and Chris Devonshire-Ellis
The 2023 Russia-Africa summit is currently taking place in St.Petersburg, with delegations from 49 African countries (from a total of 54), 17 of which are led by their respective heads of state. Despite a dip in trade in 2021, due to shipping disruption created as a result of the Ukraine conflict and Western sanctions, Russia’s trade with continental Africa rebounded somewhat in 2022 to reach US$18 billion. In this article we examine the background to Russian-African trade, the infrastructure and institutions being put into place, and the overall trade and economic development of this important relationship in coming years.
Unlike much of Europe, Russia has had no official colonial presence in Africa, but the Soviet Union sought warm relations and allies in Africa during the Cold War, thus seeking to establish close ties with socialist movements and governments in the continent. In the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia did not have the influence and presence of the past, causing the closure of some Russian diplomatic missions in Africa in the 1990s. But in the last decade, Russia has paid more attention to the African continent, just as various African nations have begun critical reassessments of their European colonial legacy, largely with negative views.
With the growing presence of powers such as China and India in Africa, Moscow sees the African continent as a significant multilateral partner in a future multipolar world order.
July 28: Latest Russia-Africa Summit Updates
- Russia says will invite African Union to join G20 and become a full member during September’s G20 meeting in New Delhi
- Russian energy exports to Africa up by a factor of 2.6 times in H1 2023
- East Africa urged to join INSTC transport corridor
- Total African trade up to 3.7% of Russia’s total, a rise of 30% over 2022.
In the Russian geopolitical mindset, Africa now has an enhanced and more vital position, requiring increasing cooperation and the strengthening of diplomatic relations, trade, and investment. This is especially pertinent due to Russia now looking beyond Europe’s southern coastline to develop alternative trade and services ties that bypass the EU altogether. This immediately extends to food supplies, industrial production, developing exports, and the tourism industry amongst others.
At the end of March 2023, a new Russian Foreign Policy Concept was approved. This document deals with issues such as the balance of global power and the creation of a multipolar international system, the structural transformation of the world economy, deepening economic globalization, the expansion of new national and cross-border payment systems, new international reserve currencies, and diversifying the mechanisms of International economic cooperation.
It specifically calls for the strengthening of all-round beneficial mutual cooperation, increasing trade and investment with African governments and African integration structures, stating:
“Russia stands in solidarity with the African states in their desire for a more equitable polycentric world and elimination of social and economic inequality, which is growing due to the sophisticated neo-colonial policies of some developed states towards Africa. The Russian Federation intends to support further the establishment of Africa as a distinctive and influential centre of world development, giving priority to:
1) supporting the sovereignty and independence of interested African states, including through security assistance, inter alia food and energy security, as well as military and military-technical cooperation;
2) assistance in resolving and overcoming the consequences of armed conflicts in Africa, especially inter-ethnic and ethnic ones, advocating the leading role of African states in these efforts, based on the principle “African problems – African solution”;
3) strengthening and deepening Russian-African cooperation in various spheres on a bilateral and multilateral basis, primarily within the framework of the African Union and the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum;
4) increasing trade and investment with African states and African integration structures (primarily the African Continental Free Trade Area, the African Export-Import Bank and other leading subregional organizations), including through the EAEU;
5) promoting and developing links in the humanitarian sphere, including scientific cooperation, training of national personnel, strengthening health systems, providing other assistance, promoting intercultural dialogue, protecting traditional spiritual and moral values, and the right to freedom of religion.”
In this regard, the second Russia-Africa economic summit and forum (July 26-29, 2023 in St. Petersburg) with the participation of 49 countries, the presence of 17 African leaders, the attendance of several thousand entrepreneurs and companies, and the holding of 50 round tables and seminars are steps in this direction.
The African continent is experiencing rapid population growth, and many countries in Africa depend on the import of food products. Russia has been the largest supplier of wheat, corn, rapeseed, and sunflower oil, and many African countries have been virtually dependent on Russian wheat reserves for years.
After Russia’s withdrawal from the “Black Sea Grains Initiative”, many in Africa see Russia as a guarantor of their food security and expect it to be a supplier of strategically important commodities to their growing markets.
In fact, while the food security of Africa is threatened, Moscow is paying attention to the uninterrupted supply of food for Africa and the supply of wheat, barley, corn, and other products to African countries. In this regard, in 2022, Russia exported 11.5 million tons of grain to Africa and delivered almost 10 million tons in the first half of 2023.
Moscow is trying to make up for the deficiency of Ukrainian grain and provide special opportunities for Russian companies by providing mineral fertilizers and transferring modern agricultural technologies to Africa. Almost 30% of Africa’s imports from Russia are wheat and grains, which are bought by the most populous countries on the continent, such as Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and Sudan.
Moscow also intends to help develop transport and logistics infrastructure and corridors, food warehouses, training of specialists, promotion of health technologies, and so on in this area.
On the other hand, Russia is looking for new partners to promote agricultural and industrial cooperation and alternative suppliers of food and beverages to reduce the effects of sanctions.
Several African countries, such as South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, are considering increasing the export of agricultural products, especially fruits and vegetables, to the Russian food market. Some, such as South Africa and Egypt, have found opportunities to supply their products to the Russian market. Direct shipping from South Africa to Russia has also restarted for the first time in nearly 30 years with wines and fruits travelling from South Africa to Russia in lieu of European exports to Russia collapsing. Russian supermarkets are now full of South African alternatives.
At the current 2023 St.Petersburg summit, Vladimir Putin has just announced that Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somali, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea will each receive 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain, with Moscow also covering the delivery costs of the shipments.
Putin was critical of the EU in terms of fertilisers, stating that “The EU created obstacles to our plans to donate fertilizers to the poorest nations that needed them. Out of 262,000 tons of the fertilizers blocked in European ports, we’ve managed to ship only two lots: 20,000 tons to Malawi and 34,000 tons to Kenya. The rest remains in the EU.”
On-going discussions with African nations about grain supplies are a key part of the Summit.
Investment and Logistics
With over 330 major infrastructure and industrial facilities in Africa, Moscow has a significant historical contribution in the region. However, recent Russian investment is less than 1% of Africa’s total foreign direct investment and significantly less than European, American, and Asian competitors. The St.Peterburg event will be looking at stimulating this.
Direct Russian aid is usually in the form of debt forgiveness or crisis assistance. Additionally, Moscow’s methodology of trading and investing in Africa differs from the West.
Russia has focused most of its investment on resources and energy; and has invested in big ticket investment projects (a huge US$20 billion power plant in Egypt being just one example). Moscow pays special attention to improving the efficiency of the supply chain and logistics through traditional methods (developing sea and land trade routes, investing in infrastructure and ports, and establishing direct flights), searching for innovative and digital solutions related to the creation of new transport and logistics chains.
Creating a more efficient system of logistics and passenger and cargo transportation has a significant impact on the development of cooperation. Therefore, it is possible for East Africa countries such as Egypt to join the North-South International Transport Corridor (INSTC) project. That feeds directly into the Persian Gulf, heads north via Iran to the Caspian Sea and to markets in Russia, Turkiye, and Central Asia. Coordinating east African ports and logistics to the INSTC will be a major development area.
Russian companies provide beneficial business and technological capabilities in several key African industries, such as advanced technologies and geological exploration.
The expansion of Russia’s operation and the extraction of minerals and resources from Angola, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan and Zimbabwe, South Africa, have all expanded, while Moscow has gained mineral concessions (such as oil, gold, diamonds, bauxite, lithium, and chromium). Russia also imports minerals from Africa.
Most African countries intend to use all available efficient energy sources. A key Russian strategic focus in Africa is on energy, with energy diplomacy an effective tool for Russia in African countries.
Russia’s key investments in Africa are in the oil, gas, and nuclear energy sectors. Several Russian companies, such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec, and Rosatom are active in Africa. Activity is also evident in Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Libya, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire.
Russia’s Rosatom has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with eighteen countries (a third of the African continent), including Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zambia. In addition, Moscow has participated in many infrastructure projects, and in particular, the equipment and construction of hydroelectric power plants in several countries in east Africa.
It should also be noted that Africa also buys mineral fuels such as coal, oil products, and gas from Russia, accounting for 18.3% of total imports from Russia. Recently, Russia increased its gasoline exports and sent shipments directly to Africa. Africa and countries such as Nigeria have imported an unprecedented amount of Russian gasoline.
For over a decade, Moscow has been the largest arms seller to more than eighteen African countries in the continent, with just under half of Africa’s total military imports being Russia’s attractive, cheap, and low-premise weapons.
The biggest arms buyers are Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Uganda. Companies like Rosoboronexport have signed billion-dollar contracts.
It appears that Russia’s use of private military companies, such as the Wagner Group, with about 40 African sovereign defense and security partnerships, providing various training and operational services have also been useful for establishing more economic relations with African countries as various African governments wish to maintain peace and ensure border security against both tribal factions and the threat of Islamic militancy.
Russia and Africa have also instigated several cooperative engagement and educational facilities, including the RUDN University (Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia), the Institute of African Studies, MGIMO, and the St Petersburg School of African Studies. More are being discussed.
In addition, more Russian media outlets will operate in Africa. Tass are already in several African countries, and will be joined by RT, Sputnik, the All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a business and economic newspaper.
Free Trade and Related Economic Institutions
Moscow has welcomed economic relations with individual countries in Africa as well as regional-African associations (SADC-ECOWAS), greater economic integration, the formation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), and the establishment of mutual relations in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
AfCFTA has dispensed with intra-African tariffs previously imposed on 95% of all African products, meaning that companies can now conduct sourcing throughout Africa, consolidate these into one development facility (African east coast countries with potential connections to the INSTC are very much in vogue) sited in a Free Trade or Economic Processing Zone, and either subsequently exported or resold onto the African domestic market. An example of this strategy is that Russian auto manufacturers are looking at establishing assembly plants in east Africa.
The cooperation of African associations with Russia, as an EAEU member state, is also being strengthened, as this also opens up markets in Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in particular. The EAEU and African Union have already signed agricultural agreements.
By developing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, Russia has significant advantages for trade and production in Africa. Also, the creation of special economic zones in Africa is a significant opportunity for Russian investors. Russia has already invested in the Port Said Economic Zone close to the Suez Canal in Egypt, with the first products expected to roll out by the end of this year. Other Zones are pending in Mozambique and Namibia.
Africa’s commercial infrastructure is also a way to circumvent sanctions, and the banking sector, government and monetary and financial system, while safe mutual settlement mechanisms, including free from adverse external influences can help Russia. These include proposals such as a joint Russian-African Trade Bank and discontinuing the use of the US dollar and Euro in multilateral trade. Russia and Africa are also establishing a US$5 billion online trading platform to further facilitate trade.
Putin said at the 2023 Summit today that Moscow is ready to work with African countries on development of their financial infrastructure, on connecting banking institutions to the financial messaging system that has been created in Russia, which permits making transborder payments independently of Western systems that currently exist and impose restrictions.
The presence of about 40,000 Africans, and a further 35,000 African students in Russia, coupled with the popularity of tourist areas such as Egypt in Russia are now contributing to economic relations.
The Russia-Africa partnership program, establishment of bilateral intergovernmental commissions, and expansion of the network of Russian embassies and commercial agencies in Africa are tools to expand economic relations as much as possible, despite Western based opposition. The Chairman of the BRICS New Development Bank President Dilma Rousseff is also attending the St.Petersburg summit.
Russia’s Top Partners in Africa
According to the voting results of African countries regarding the resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly against Russia in 2022-2023, African countries placed in several categories when assessing Russia.
Countries such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, and South Africa are in position to actively advance political and economic dialogues between Russia and Africa.
Others are more moderate and are prepared for certain aspects of cooperation with Russia, while others have more political restrictions on the economic relationship, mainly due to well-developed relations with the West, meaning about 2/3 of African nations see Russia as benign. Although Russia’s initial trade with Africa deteriorated in 2021, with considerable disruption to shipping, this is now recovering. Russia’s trade turnover with Africa increased to about US$18 billion in 2022; and is expected to double by 2030.
African countries meanwhile have work to do to access the Russian market and replace exited European products. Africa’s exports to Russia account for only 0.4% of Africa’s total, and mainly include fresh produce, edible fruits and vegetables, aquatic products, organic chemicals, and precious metals.
But there is a demand for Russian goods in Africa, and especially in food, fuel, and a variety of industrial goods. The trade relationship is completely asymmetric, with over 70% of all Russian trade with Africa concentrated in just four countries – Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and South Africa.
The 2018 Russia-Egypt Strategic Cooperation Agreement forms the structure of economic relations between the countries. In economic and commercial relations between the two countries, there are many bases in relations, such as oil extraction in the Red Sea, gas field development in the Mediterranean, establishment, and investment of Russian industrial zones in Egypt, and the possibility of a free trade agreement via the EAEU.
Mutual economic interests include investment, cooperation in nuclear power plants, the creation of an industrial zone near the Suez Canal, cooperation in production chains, cooperation in strategic infrastructure projects, energy, medicine, financial technologies, and of course, alongside the traditional supply of grains and fertilizers.
Russia’s trade with Egypt increased by 30% in 2022; and reached about US$6 billion. Russia was the fifth largest exporter to Egypt in January-November 2022, with US$3.7 billion. In addition to grain, Egypt’s imports from Russia include iron, steel, copper, wood, mineral fuel, machinery, and electrical equipment. Russia’s imports from Egypt include fruits, vegetables, plastics, soap, salt, sulfur, and cement. Also, Russia is one of the leading arms sellers to Egypt.
Egypt accounts for a third of Russia’s trade with Africa, while there are issues with the trade balance. In 2022, Egypt’s exports to Russia increased to US$595.1 million, while Egypt’s imports from Russia increased to US$4.1 billion in 2022. Additionally, in the services sector, in the first six months of 2023, 750,000 Russian tourists visited Egypt.
The presence of Cairo in the BRICS New Development Bank, negotiations with the EAEU concerning a proposed FTA, and Egypt’s status as a dialogue partner to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and its geographical position in being able to participate in future INSTC trade corridors can be expected to increase the bilateral trade prospects between the two sides.
Algeria is one of Russia’s largest trading partners in Africa, with bilateral trade reaching about US$3 billion in 2022, with the majority being Russian exports to Algeria. Russian exports are focused on navigation equipment, soybean oil, and broadcast accessories. Algerian exports to Russia are usually fruits and dried fruits. Along with the agreement on the expanded strategic partnership, recent statistics indicate a likely doubling of the export of Russian agricultural products by 2025, while the tourism sector is also growing as Russians avoid Southern Europe. Algeria has also applied to join the BRICS grouping.
Morocco is Russia’s third-largest trading partner in Africa, with Russian exports to Morocco doubling in 2022, to reach just under US$1 billion. Moroccan exports to Russia reached about US$35 million. Morocco is also developing as a tourism destination for Russian nationals.
Bilateral trade between Russia and South Africa increased by 16.4% in 2022 compared to the previous year and reached US1.3 billion. There is further potential for collaboration, with growing interest from Russian energy companies in the South African market. Direct shipping from South Africa to Russia has also resumed with products from South Africa to Russia, with significant quantities of South African fruits and wines replacing European products on Russian supermarket shelves. This consumer trend can be expected to develop in other areas.
Nigeria imports from Russia reached US$2.09 Billion during 2021, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. In 2021, Nigeria exported US$38.8M to Russia, with products including cocoa beans, perfume oils, and horticulture. In 2021, Russia exported US$1.25 billion to Nigeria, with the main products being refined petroleum, wheat , and potassic fertilizers.
However, trade has been affected by the Ukraine conflict. Nigeria’s petrol imports from Russia have increased by 84% to 24,000 barrels in 2023 YTD and this will likely continue. Nigeria is another African country that has formally applied to join the BRICS.
Other African Markets to Watch
Russia is making inroads into other African markets as well. Ethiopia and Senegal have both applied to join BRICS, with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed holding talks with Putin today (July 27) concerning grain supplies. It can also be expected that the African Union may shortly become an observer or dialogue partner with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. There have also been discussions between the EAEU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which includes Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DR Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The future of trade relations between Russia and Africa depends on several factors. Obstacles such as the expansion of sanctions, distance, and inadequacy of developed transport networks with Africa are important in bilateral trade relations.
However, increasing Russia’s position in the world economy, achieving national development goals, and ensuring economic security, realizing its economic potential, international economic cooperation, strengthening its presence in markets, and increasing non-energy exports are considered by Moscow as priorities in developing trade in and with Africa.
Apart from the growing importance of Africa for Russian foreign policy, at least half of all African countries continue to welcome engagement with Russia (much to Western annoyance and subsequent dismissive media coverage) while Russian Ministers have made numerous trips to Africa since March 2022, including Sergey Lavrov visiting Egypt, DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
It appears that with the visits of African leaders in 2023 to Russia – Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African President was in Moscow recently, with 17 visiting Heads of State attending the current St. Petersburg event, Russia’s relations with Africa will improve. Moscow will advance approaches to improve the bilateral trade situation, develop government cooperation, reduce or eliminate trade barriers, simplify communications, cooperate within the framework of the EAEU, and negotiate to create free trade zones.
What is noticeable is the architecture being put in place. While Russia is in the process of Pivoting to the East, Moscow also has its eyes very firmly on the Global South – with Africa a key component of that not just in trade, but as allies within the United Nations, and the proposed development of an alternative, non-US aligned, multipolar trade order. The 2023 St.Petersburg Summit is another step along the path to making this happen.
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