Africa (with all the usual caveats about its diversity) sees Russia as primarily a promising trade partner and a guarantor of its food and energy security) and, generally a long-term reliable partner for development. At a new stage, after Russia’s withdrawal from the “Black Sea Grain Initiative”, it is necessary to attach greater importance to the preservation and expansion of humanitarian exports from Russia in the Russia-Africa format and on a bilateral basis.
Political relations between Russia and Africa are characterised by a high level of understanding and frequent contacts. However, the full potential of their trade and economic ties has yet to be tapped. While the Russia-Africa Summit in 2019 was attended by about the same number of African presidents that usually take part in similar summits with the US or the PRC, Russia lags far behind them in trade with Africa.
Views on the priorities of Russia-Africa cooperation diverge, too. At least until recently, Russia considered African nations primarily as a collective political partner, an ally in building a multipolar world and fighting neo-colonialism. Meanwhile, Africa (with all the usual caveats about its diversity) saw Russia as primarily a promising trade partner and a guarantor of its food and energy security.
As a prospective trade partner, Africa expects Russia to act primarily as a supplier of strategically important goods for its growing markets, as well as an investor (to expand markets), a donor of know-how and technology (to gain a foothold in these areas) and, generally a long-term reliable partner for development.
The Africans are less concerned about the multipolar structure of the world, while still finding appeal in the idea of strengthening and expanding their role in global politics. However, liberation from the colonial powers does not mean rupturing ties to them. They view it more as an inevitable change in the nature and direction of interdependencies, which is already in full swing. They hope with good reason that time is on their side in dialogue with the former colonial powers. They also justifiably hope that their influence in Europe will grow.
The differing, though not conflicting, expectations of the Russia-African partnership need to be aligned. Otherwise, the sides risk falling captive to their ideas, while ignoring each other’s interests. This task is particularly urgent on the eve of the second Russia-Africa Summit. There are reasons to expect high attendance of African participants at the upcoming summit. It will be of special importance to Russia in these difficult times.
Africa’s political support for Russia (or friendly neutrality) largely depends on Moscow’s ability to prevent the erosion of trade and economic ties and socio-cultural relations against the backdrop of Western sanctions, including on logistics, and financial-technical restrictions. The fact is that progress in trade and economic relations guarantees a stable political dialogue and a balanced foreign policy. For instance, the President of Senegal – one of Africa’s economic leaders, which became Russia’s biggest trade partner in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021 – visited Russia twice in 2022. By all appearances, he is going to come to Russia for a third time to attend the summit.
African nations are playing an ever-increasing role as a significant importer of Russian products and a participant in the system of interconnected markets. Africa is a major buyer of Russian oil products, grain, as well as fertilisers, products of metallurgy, mechanical engineering and timber processing. In 10 years (2012–2021), Russia’s accumulated positive trade balance with Africa amounted to $92 billion roubles (despite Russia’s insignificant investment and lending). This figure may either grow or decrease substantially in the next 10 years – if the sides ignore the factors impeding trade.
Today, Russia’s main goal is to get a foothold in these markets and keep its positions both short and longterm. There are three main areas of work – financing, logistics and ensuring long-term, institutional terms for establishing Russian goods and services on the markets, i. e. work with customers.
The Memorandum signed by Russia and the UN in July 2022 (as part of the so-called “grain deal”) created a new framework for developing Russia-Africa cooperation. It unites, as it were, the political and economic aspects of this cooperation, but African countries remain its partyonly indirectly, as members of the UN.
On the one hand, certain categories of goods must be designated as humanitarian exports that in any case must be exempted from all sanctions, even indirect, of the third parties. The term “humanitarian exports” can be suggested as a supplement to the “humanitarian imports” that are traditionally excluded from different sanctions regimes. The developing nations should not just appeal but demand in tough terms to terminate any one-sided measures that limit Russian humanitarian exports. They are the importers who are affected, and the sanctions regime – even one that indirectly complicates trade in essential goods – means for many of them an unacceptable restriction of competition and their freedom of choice as consumers.
In turn, Russia can take steps to prevent price increases for humanitarian products for the markets of friendly countries that are in a vulnerable position. Thetools may include partial cancellation of duties, lending, instalment payments (provided that they are converted into monetary units comfortable for Russia) and transition to long-term contracts for the supply of grain and fertilizers to friendly countries in addition to spot contracts.
Our partners also expect Russia to invest in port, logistics and transport infrastructure of the importer countries, create systems for supporting capacity and distributing food on their territory and so on. Russia needs such projects too because they alleviate the impact of unpredictable market factors and unfriendly measures aimed at restricting Russian exports.
The humanitarian aspect of Russian-African trade and economic cooperation is also emphasized by the ever greater role played by education and workforce training in its development. Workforce training will make it possible to align the political and economic interests of Russia and African nations and will create conditions for long-term development of cooperation. Reducing export duties, creating conditions for expanding mutual trade, investing in transport corridors and workforce training will become those areas of assistance and support to Africa that will ultimately meet the goals of the socio-economic development of Russia itself. Moreover, stronger African economies mean more powerful and independent positions for African countries in international relations, and a more comfortable world for us as well.