Russia – Africa 2023 Summit: Progress & Joint Declaration

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Significant geopolitical and trade developments were made at the St.Petersburg Summit

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The 2023 Russia-Africa Summit has finished in St.Petersburg, with 49 of the 55 African nations attending, up from 43 at the previous 2019 event. The six nations believed not to have attended the event are Benin, Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger (which has just undergone a military coup) and Somalia. The event has been heavily ridiculed in Western media. The reality however has been rather different.

Agreements were reached that future summits would be held every three years, (instead of four) while a Russia-Africa parliamentary forum will be held annually. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chairman of the African Union will also hold regular political consultations. Russia will also expand its diplomatic reach in Africa by opening new Embassies and Consulates, while Russian media bureau including Tass, RT, and other newspapers and radio programmes will also be set up in Africa.  Discussions will also start to examine the provision of African nations visa-free access to Russia under specific categories.

Other important developments of note include the following:

Russia and the African countries concerned agreed “to contribute to the establishment of a more just, balanced and stable multipolar world order, firmly opposing all types of international confrontation in the African continent.”

That is a direct opposition to the Western model of a unipolar global regime led by the United States. This also further accelerates the African part of the Global South as moving away from the European Union in particular, where old colonial attitudes remain and are generally resented within Africa. This has specific repercussions for African relations with France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, in addition to Brussels.

Russia has also agreed to assist Africa obtain a voice on the United Nations Security Council, and to propose full membership of the African Union as part of the G20. That is scheduled to be made at the upcoming G20 summit to be held in New Delhi in September.

On a regional basis, the BRICS grouping is willing to discuss expanded membership to include several African nations. At present, Egypt already has equity in the BRICS New Development Bank, while Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, and Senegal are all known to have made official applications to join.

Also, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) said that it would entertain African members joining the bloc, with particular emphasis on regional security. Russia’s Wagner Group is already operational in 40 African countries where it has generally been acknowledged to have provided security and prevented numerous coups. The Wagner Group head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was present at the summit.

Food Security
Russia plans to increase exports of food and fertilizers, vehicles, and industrial machinery to Africa. These commercial transactions will be increasingly settled in national currencies, including the Ruble, as opposed to the US Dollar and Euro. Moscow intends to send both commercial and humanitarian shipments of grain to “African friends”, according to the Russian president. This includes free deliveries and shipping of Russian grain to six African nations as soon as possible, and the delivery of free fertilizers and shipping to a further six. Russia is set for a record grain harvest this year, with President Putin stating that Russia will provide sustainable and affordable deliveries to Africa.

Debt Forgiveness
Russia has written off US$23 billion of African debt and is in discussions to allocate a further US$90 million for lowering the overall debt burden of African countries. According to Oleg Ozerov, Chair of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum Secretariat, African countries’ debt issues involve restructuring “some financial issues, but we are not talking about the direct debt. We are talking about certain financial agreements and the obligations of both sides.”

There was criticism of the Western method of using debt from the Libyan Presidential Council Chairman Mohamed al-Menfi, who said that “The West seeks to maintain its “dominant position in Africa, prevents reforms and exerts pressure, using the financial debt, which destroys the economy and increases poverty.”  Russia, and China under its BRI schemes, will be filling in the financing gaps left by the African countries now looking beyond the EU and US for financing.

Russia will also assist in developing the energy industry to meet Africa’s growing demand. This will go beyond traditional sources of energy such as oil and gas, and into more innovative fields, including green energy as well as power plants, including nuclear power facilities. Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy corporation, will be heavily involved in these developments. Countries considered ready for nuclear power include Burundi, Egypt (where a US$20 billion plant is already being built with Russian assistance), Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Such developments will assist with these countries own productivity as well as allowing neighbouring African states access to imported energy from them.

The WHO were present at the summit, while Russia stated it will invest 1.2 billion Rubles (around US$13 million) on ‘large-scale assistance’ to healthcare systems across Africa.

Transport Corridors
There was considerable attention paid to having various East African countries officially join the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) which provides multi-modal logistics and transport between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, effectively connecting Russia with the Middle East. Extending this from the Gulf to Africa – Egypt would be a primary destination – would make Russia-Africa trade far more effective and discount the use of the longer, and more expensive Suez Canal option. It would also assist African nations access Central Asian markets, an issue of interest especially to Africa’s Muslim nations.

Trade Development
The two sides agreed to the further strengthening of trade, economic, and investment cooperation between Russia and the African States, including with the African Union, and the leading African regional organizations – the Arab Maghreb Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the East African Community, the Economic Community of West African States, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. This suggests that potential Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) free trade discussions could be on the cards here, and especially with the SACD, an issue we previously discussed here.

Russia specifically mentioned the operations of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which came into effect in 2021 and has reduced intra-African tariffs on 95% of all products. Moscow is ahead of the game here in terms of recognizing the benefits of this, as it effectively means that goods can be sourced on a pan-African basis, consolidated into one area – such as a Free Trade or Economic Trade Zone (ETZ), producing a final product either for export or resale on the African market. Russia has such a ETZ at Port Said in Egypt, with the first exports from that facility due later in the year. Similar Russia ETZ have been proposed in Ethiopia, Namibia, and Malawi, while China is also doing the same. In contrast, European businesses appear to have missed the significance of the AfCFTA, perhaps wanting to concentrate on intra-EU trade and a more protectionist attitude.

In terms of boosting what AfCFTA means for Russian investors, the summit stated that it was important “in order to enhance the market integration, industrialisation and economic development of the African continent by facilitating technology transfer and encouraging investment, promoting the development of value added chains, and boosting mutual capacity to produce and export value added manufactured products.”

Russia is ahead of the game here in terms of understanding what Africa has done in this regard. Consequently, Russian auto manufacturers are already looking at establishing manufacturing plants in east Africa, taking advantage of both AfCFTA as well as the INSTC transport routes.

Other Cooperation
The Russian government signed memorandums of understanding with the African Development Organization and the Economic Community of Central African States, while the Russia-Africa Partnership will implement decisions made at the summit.

Joint Declaration
Russia and the 49 African nations involved agreed a 2023 Russia-Africa Summit Declaration outlining numerous issues and future intent. That can be viewed here.

Despite the West shrugging the Russia-Africa Summit off in public, dismissing it as a ‘failure’; the event actually provided a huge strengthening of relations which will in fact be of huge concern. In essence, it boils down to the basic issue that Africa has turned away from Europe as a seat of power and is increasingly aligning itself with Moscow, New Delhi, and Beijing. Of particular note is Russia’s and the African nations desire to provide a fairer voice for Africa in both global (the United Nations Security Council, dominated by the West), and regional memberships of the G20 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. These are all significant steps that the West will find it increasingly difficult to ignore or rebuff, certainly at the United Nations level. It also means that Russia can count on African votes at UN debates or referendums. Any attempts to block African voices will be met with huge amounts of criticism. This is a huge step forward for a multilateral global society.

Largely unnoticed over the years has also been the development of the Wagner Groups security operations in Africa, with a presence in 40 African countries and numerous grateful Presidents for keeping them in power. This strongly suggests that Russia has the upper hand over the West in terms of securing Africa as well – as the continent begins to move into productivity growth on a rather more synchronized and sustainable basis than has previously been the case.

For Russia, and for Africa, the Summit has been a profound success with long reaching implications. For the West, the outcome has been the result of consistent abusive attitudes and deliberate marginalisation. Africa is now finally standing on its feet – and distanced itself from Europe in the process.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. Our in-depth overview of Russia-Africa trade and developments can be viewed here.

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