South Africa-Russia relations are not new. They date back decades before South Africa arrived at a democratic dispensation in 1994; a journey in which Russia provided a lot of support. During the recent visit to South Africa of Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, it was agreed that the two countries need to further deepen relations and cooperation in most spheres, including political, economic, security and social ones, as well as in multilateral and international forums.
Today, South Africa and the rest of Africa are pursuing development for their growing population, in order to achieve higher development index scores. To achieve this, the AU has identified 15 flagship projects including digital technologies, logistics infrastructure, and health infrastructure, among others. The energy and agricultural sectors need significant investment. The gas belt running from West Africa to the south of the continent also needs significant investment for the development of gas economies.
The Africa Continental Free Trade Area is a flagship project aimed at boosting intra-Africa trade and stimulating faster and more significant economic growth and economic development. This project involves not only the facilitation of free movement of good but also of people. It needs significant investment for logistics, security, and safety.
Russia has managed to amass massive capacities and capabilities over the ages, but those my age will speak of the five-year plans. Russia has significant expertise in areas such as technology, health care, space, agriculture, energy and its defence capabilities, particularly manufacturing; these it can bring to its collaboration with Africa for mutual benefit.
On BRICS and Multilateralism
These capabilities have made Russia a major developing economy. Its membership in BRICS is no surprise. Russia together with Brazil, India and China convened to discuss a problem that was causing chaos in the international system and with that, great suffering among the developing economies and their people. Of course, Africa was not to be excluded. South Africa joined the BRICS in 2010. There was something wrong in the international system, global governance, and the global financial architecture. The 2008 financial crisis was a significant evidentiary experience for the entire globe to reflect on and seek urgent solutions; even the 2023 Indian G20 presidency is attempting to inspire this by encouraging a new way of looking economics and the international system for a new and better development paradigm.
The BRICS bloc saw it necessary to investigate the matter, exchange views and experiences, as well as foster collaboration and cooperation to democratise global financial and economic governance in addiction to the multilateral system with the United Nations at its centre. By doing this, they aimed to achieve better solutions and development, and improve general outcomes of international affairs for all, especially the developing and marginal economies. The first BRICS summit was in held in Yekateringburg, Russia.
Out of need and amid constant developments in the global system, BRICS has expanded its area of focus to include virtually all areas of human endeavour. With about 70 cooperation mechanisms, ranging from trade and finance-related areas to education and people to people exchanges, the need for collaborative work is ever more relevant.
While many have identified minilateralism and plurilateralism as a growing trend in response to frustration with multilateralism, especially with the global trading system, BRICS continues to receive applications for membership, which it is currently considering. This is a sign, not only of the popularity of BRICS and its reform and development agenda, but also the need to democratise the multilateral system for a better outcome for all.
On Resilience to External Supply Chain Shocks
The recent Covid-19 pandemic exposed the fragility of global solidarity. Africa had funds to procure vaccines and other instruments but could not, because developed economies had already bought a year’s supply; five times what they actually needed, in some cases. The economic consequences of the pandemic have also been particularly devastating.
There is a good argument for the development of regional value chains and other measures to develop and improve and resilience to such global supply shocks. The next pandemic may be more severe. We are currently facing a poly-pandemic, where major economic, health and various other challenges are causing significant hardship.
Russia was a leading supplier of affordable vaccines to Africa and other developing economies in the early stages of the pandemic. It was also a leading supplier of respiratory machines to both developing and developed economies, including the United States. This capability can be instrumental for the development of important instruments for managing and avoiding future pandemics on the African continent as well as in other developing economies. These capabilities, as well as other areas of expertise, can be leveraged for contribution to additional industrialisation and the localisation of production in Africa. The wealth of expertise in Russian universities and other research centres are all well worth considering for exchanges and partnerships.
The 2023 Russia-Africa summit will be an important feature of not only the year but of future relations and development. Development remains a common pursuit of all peoples to improve HDI numbers for the better. Trade, science, technology, culture, and various other collaborations including research and development are vital. Cooperation between Russia and South Africa, the rest of Africa and with as much of the world as possible could help fortify humanity against the ever-present danger presented by black swans in the international system.
As with the response the globe demonstrated in response to the financial crisis, similar collective action is needed to avoid unexpected crises. All actors in global governance need to contribute. Russia and its vast capacity and capability cannot be ignored, nor should it be excluded in the exploration of solutions to global problems and avoidance of crises. A united world trumps a divided one; history has taught the world many lessons on this.