Putin calls for homegrown solutions to Africa’s woes
The Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi Summit kicks off today. Prior to the meeting, President Vladmir Putin outlined the agenda and significance of the first ever top level meeting in this abridged interview with Tass News Agency
QUESTION: The Sochi Summit is meant to open a new chapter in the relations between the Russian Federation and African countries. Its participants will bring to Sochi their ideas about ways to develop cooperation. What does Russia, in its turn, have to offer to the states of the African continent?
ANSWER: Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations. Our country has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle against colonialism, racism and apartheid.
Later on, we helped Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces. Important infrastructure facilities, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and industrial plants were built by Soviet – and subsequently Russian – specialists. Thousands of Africans received quality education at our universities. This is well remembered by many current African leaders. We too keep the memory of those pages of history.
Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. We will shortly be witnessing an unprecedented, benchmark event: on October 24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit. This will be the first top-level meeting, to which we have invited leaders of African states and heads of major regional associations. The idea to organise such an event emerged a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this Summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.
We expect that our African colleagues, representatives of the business community will come to Sochi with a solid package of proposals aimed at enhancing bilateral relations, while heads of Africa’s regional organisations will share their ideas as to how we could jointly develop our multilateral cooperation. We will consider these initiatives with great interest and decide what could be launched right away and what will require further elaboration.
Russia also has its vision of how to ensure further development of its ties with the African continent. We intend to discuss relevant ideas with our partners, systematise and reflect them as concretely as possible in the final declaration. Besides, it is important to identify mechanisms for implementing agreements that would be reached at the top-level meeting in Sochi.
I am sure that the Summit will be a success since all the necessary prerequisites are there. Today, the Russian-African relations are on the rise. We maintain a close political dialogue, including on the issues of global and regional security. The ties between our parliaments are expanding. Our mutual trade is growing and diversifying.
Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries we are carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes. Russia supports efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases (including Ebola haemorrhagic fever), natural disaster relief, settlement of existing conflicts and prevention of new crises. Russian universities provide professional training for specialists from African countries both free of charge and on a commercial basis. Our defence and law enforcement agencies are stepping up cooperation.
However, these are not all the items on our cooperation agenda. Our African partners appreciate the fact that Russia’s foreign policy is of constructive nature; that Russia advocates democratisation of international affairs, supports the legitimate aspiration of African states to pursue their own independent policy, to decide on their own future without imposed ‘assistance’ by third parties. When doing so, we do not make our support and joint development projects which we offer contingent upon the fulfilment of political or any other preconditions; we do not impose our views, respecting the principle of “African solutions to African problems” proposed by Africans themselves.
As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure is expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation currently in the pipeline. Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. We hope that our partners will create stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms.
Q: Competition in today’s world is extremely high. Is Russia ready for tough rivalry in Africa, say, with China or the US? Do you think there are risks of using protectionist policies, trade wars or unfair competition against Russia? What methods do you intend to apply to address them? Won’t this rivalry adversely affect the African partners?
ANSWER: Interest in developing relations with African is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the US and the PRC, but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf states, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel and Brazil. This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness. Africa’s infrastructure needs are increasing, and the population is rapidly growing, as are its demands. All of this calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes beyond the bounds of decency.
We see a number of Western states resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail against governments of African countries. They hope it will help them win back their lost influence and dominant positions in former colonies and seek — this time in a “new wrapper” — to exploit the continent’s resources without any regard for its population, environmental or other risks. They are also hampering the establishment of closer relations between Russia and Africa— apparently, so that nobody would interfere with their plans.
We are not going to participate in a new “repartition” of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is civilised and in compliance with the law. We have a lot to offer to our African friends. This will be discussed, among other things, at the Summit. And, most certainly, we, together with our African partners, are committed to protecting our common economic interests and defending them against unilateral sanctions, including by reducing our dollar dependency and switching to other currencies in mutual settlements.
I am confident that Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty and infectious diseases. That this is the kind of work Russia is willing to participate in.
Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else; and we oppose any geopolitical “games” involving Africa.
Q: Social and humanitarian cooperation is declared as a theme of the Summit. Why does Russia help Africa if far from all its own social problems are resolved?
ANSWER: Russia too provides humanitarian assistance to African states, but not by reducing the amount of funding for its own programmes. After all, good traditions of charity and support in times of need are a hallmark of our people. I will give a recent example. Russia provided aid to the African countries affected by tropical cyclone Idai in April 2019. Russia sent humanitarian supplies to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.
We continue to take an active part in efforts to provide assistance to Africa. Russia is involved in the UN World Food Programme’s school meals project valued at Sh4.1 billion ($40 million), which has been implemented in Mozambique since October 2017, and in the project to introduce modern technology and equipment for disinfection worth up to Sh1.5 billion ($15 million) in Madagascar.
We also provide assistance to our Africa in healthcare development, as dangerous communicable diseases respect no borders. Russia was among the first to react to Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak, having allocated $60 million (Sh6 billion) to combat it. There is now a microbiology and epidemiology research centre in Guinea. Russia contributed $20 million (Sh2 billion) to the World Bank programme to implement the global malaria control initiative.
Q: Security issues are particularly acute in some African countries. This affects the operation of Russian companies there. Are you going to raise issues of security at the Summit and propose measures to strengthen it? What help is Russia ready to provide to settle conflicts in the continent?
ANSWER: An important element of Russia’s interaction with Africa is regional security cooperation. Our Summit’s slogan – For Peace, Security and Development – is not accidental. Steady progress is not possible without resolving these problems.
The situation in many parts of Africa is unstable: inter-ethnic conflicts and acute political and socioeconomic crises remain unsettled. Terrorist organisations, such as ISIL, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, are active in North Africa, the Sahara-Sahel region, Lake Chad area and the Horn of Africa. Armed forces and law enforcement bodies of African countries cannot oppose militants alone and need significant aid.
We will further increase contacts between special services and law enforcement agencies of Russia and African countries in the field of countering terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering, illegal migration and piracy.
In demand is the practice of training military and law enforcement personnel of African countries, including at a reduced cost and free of charge. For example in the past five years alone, more than 2,500 service personnel from African countries completed studies at the military institutions of the Russian Defence Ministry.
Ultimately, all those programmes have the same goal – to help Africans solve existing security issues themselves, as it will strengthen African states, their sovereignty and independence. And hence, the world will be more stable and more predictable.