Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images
The Russia-Africa summit has obvious benefits for Moscow. It conveys a perception of life returning to normal, but given Russia’s track record of destabilizing the continent since 2019, it begs the question why African leaders are even considering going, he writes. Joseph Siegel.
Forty-three African heads of state attended Russia-Africa Summit 2019. They had high hopes that Russia would emerge as a new source of investment and trade for the continent. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to double Russia’s trade with Africa within five years 40 billion US dollars.
Since then Russian Trade with the continent has diminished to 14 billion US dollars. It is unbalanced, as Russia exports seven times more than it imports from Africa. In addition, 70% of this trade They are concentrated in only four countries: Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and South Africa.
Russia invests very little in Africa. It represents 1% of the foreign direct investment that goes to the continent. Mauritius is the largest source of foreign direct investment for Africa. In addition, the GDP of Russia has It has shrunk in value from US$2.3 trillion in 2013 to $1.8 trillion in 2021.
Despite these diminishing economic ties, Russia’s influence in Africa It has expanded rapidly since 2019. It has deployed forces on the continent and has become the dominant overseas partner in a handful of countries. Russian disinformation campaigns In at least 16 African countries it is working to shape the continent’s information environment.
Russia’s aggressive policy on the continent
That was pretty much it through irregular means. These include supporting isolated authoritarian regimes through a combination of proliferation Wagner paramilitarieselectoral interference, disinformation, and arms-for-resource deals.
Both of these tactics destabilize the host country.
As expected, half of the twenty African countries where Russia actively exerts influence in conflict. Russia has been similarly undermined United Nations operations in African countries Where Moscow competes for influence, which increases instability.
Despite Russia’s increasingly aggressive policies on the continent and internationally, approximately the same number of African heads of state are expected to participate in this year. St Petersburg summit As in 2019. More important than any announced business deals are the political and financial benefits that Russian and African elites expect to reap. After I followed closely Russia’s disruptive interventions in Africa For many years, the main losers will be ordinary citizens, who will pay the price for these exclusive partnerships—through higher taxes, greater instability, and less freedom.
The Russia-Africa summit has obvious benefits for Moscow. It conveys a perception of what follows when things return to normal Russian invasion of UkraineAnd An arrest warrant for Putin from the International Criminal Court for war crimes and the abortionist Rebellion led by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.
While Russia’s African economic ties are modest, the continent provides Russia with a global stage on which Moscow can project its geostrategic position. Africa interests Russia more than Russia cares about Africa.
The upside of Moscow
Given Russia’s track record of destabilizing the continent since 2019, it begs the question why African leaders might even consider attending the conference. St Petersburg summit.
The security situation deteriorated In every African country where Wagner has been published, while Human rights violations escalated. Communities were intimidated into leaving their homes as Wagner was granted mining access, effectively annexing these lands.
Moscow appeals to some of these systems by providing them Protection from international sanctions human rights violations or violations of democratic practices. Unsurprisingly, it is the African countries that Russia is most involved with The average democracy score is 19. The median for African democracy is 51 days Freedom House scale of 100 points.
The summit is an opportunity to show business as usual for Russia. And that Russia is not a pariah, but enjoys tacit support for its violations of international law by African heads of state.
Russia will likely use this year’s summit to falsely claim that Western sanctions are limiting the export of Russian (and Ukrainian) food and fertilizer to Africa, diverting attention from Russia’s responsibility for it. This led to the disruption of global grain supplies.
The summit also highlights the growing importance of Africa to Russia’s foreign policy. Africa remains the continent Most welcome Russian participation. It is also the least willing to criticize Moscow for it Land grab in Ukraine. Made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov At least eight visits to Africa Since Russia launched its attack in March 2022.
Questionable benefits for Africa
Meager investment, normalizing authoritarianism, fomenting instability and meddling in African domestic politics do not seem like a successful strategy for building a long-term partnership.
It’s one thing to take a unbiased position About the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which may seem like a far-fetched conflict. But why do African leaders continue to engage with a foreign actor with an active record of undermining stability on the continent?
A clear assessment of national interests is not convincing. The instability caused by Russia’s irregular tactics threatens to spill over borders and create crises of sovereignty on the continent.
Upending the rule of law is simultaneously damaging the emerging continent’s reputation as a reliable destination for investment and international partnerships.
Russian influence operations are almost always aimed at helping existing (usually authoritarian) regimes retain power. Opaque mining and weapon deals are often part of the package. African leaders benefiting from these tactics welcome Moscow’s overtures.
Other African leaders see engagement with Russia as a tactic to get more support from the West.
A minority may naively see their participation as a real opportunity to win more Russian investment or encourage more constructive Russian involvement. The expected announcements of mining, energy, grain, transportation and digitization deals at the summit will provide a justified fig leaf for all attendees. Even if such plans are not realized.
The fact is that Russia’s strategy of elite inclusion It widens the gap between the interests of African leaders and citizens. Citizens say regularly They want more democracycreating jobs and upholding the rule of law. Undermining Russian posts on the three continent.
The “interest gap” between African leaders and citizens points to another conclusion from the summit: most African political leaders will not be champions of reforms around citizens’ priorities in order to improve governance, development, and security. Instead, leadership on these interests must come from African civil society, the media, and an independent judiciary.
Moscow will certainly use this year’s meeting in St. Petersburg to invoke images of shared Russian and African interests. The main question that African citizens should ask is: whose interests are being served?