Largely dictated by the results of the first Russia-Africa summit and the persistent economic sanctions by the United States and European Union, Russia is seriously reorganizing towards increasing its economic prints in Africa. Russia is, indeed, putting its house in order, identifying strategies and drawing roadmaps, and most importantly restructuring.
Quite recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs created the Secretariat for Russia-Africa Partnership Forum. The Secretariat further established an Association for Economic Cooperation with African States. Now Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has restructured the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with African States that was established as far back in 2009.
According to historical documents, the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with African States was created on the initiative of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation and Vnesheconombank with the support of the Federation Council and the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. It has had support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economy and Trade, the Ministry of Natural Resources, as well as the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.
With the participation of representatives of business and expert circles, this committee's primary task is to consolidate the efforts of business, government and public structures of Russia, facilitate the intensification of economic activities in Africa. It has the responsibility for adopting a more pragmatic approach to business, for deepening and broadening economic collaborations and for the establishment of direct mutually beneficial contacts between entrepreneurs and companies from Russia and African countries.
During its last meeting, the participants discussed various issues and acknowledged that the committee has achieved little since its establishment. The meeting has also identified factors that have hindered its expected achievements and overall performance since 2009. Admittedly, a quick assessment for over one decade has shown very little impact and tangible results. The committee's documents listed more than 150 Russian companies as members, most of them hardly seen participating in business events in order to get acquainted with investment opportunities in Africa.
Notwithstanding the setbacks down these years, Russians are full of optimism. Completely a new team was put in place during the meeting hosted by the Russian Business Chamber. Russian Senator Igor Morozov was elected as the new Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Economic Cooperation with African States. He is currently the Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation for Science, Education and Culture.
As President of the Russian Chamber of Chamber and Industry, Sergei Katyrin, put it in remarks at the meeting, "the new leader has the primary task now to accelerate Russia's economic return to this continent, from which we practically left in the 90s and now it is very difficult to increase presence there in Africa."
According to Katyrin, Russia's economic presence in Africa today is significantly inferior in comparison to the positions of leading Western countries and BRICS partners. "It's time to overcome this yawning gap. Today, we face a difficult task to ensure the activities of Russian entrepreneurship on the African continent in the new conditions, taking into account all the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic."
"The African continent is of strategic interest for the Russian economy," explained Katyrin. It is enough to cite just a few figures to understand why this region attracts entrepreneurs. Africa has 30 percent of the world's mineral reserves, including 70 percent - platinum group metals, more than 50 types of precious stones, oil and gas reserves, and so forth.
In 2019, six Sub-Saharan African countries ranked among the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world. The potential of African countries is incomparably greater than the current level of their development. Cooperating with Africa, among other things, will contribute to the implementation of the national project to increase non-resource Russian exports to $250 billion.
Katyrin however stressed the necessity to resolve financial mechanism for business. "We need a state financial mechanism to support the work of Russian business in Africa otherwise it will be very difficult to break through the fierce competition of Western companies with such support. We need to focus on those areas where you can definitely count on success," he told the meeting.
While pointing to lack of business information and the need to get rid of stereotypes about Africa, Sergei Katyrin emphasized that the maximum intensification of work needed right now for the reason that, due to the general economic recession in the world, new companies from all developed countries are rushing with concrete business to new markets emerging in Africa.
In order to move forward and achieve significant success, the reorganized committee has to make double efforts in providing with Russian and African exporters, in both cases or both ways, basis for acquiring adequate knowledge of trade and investment procedures, rules and regulations as well as the existing market conditions.
There are also complicated certification procedures, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and lack of direct aviation connections affecting the entire process of cooperation. The committee has to deal with these challenging questions as it makes the way for boosting Russia's economic presence in Africa.
On the other hand, it has to work closely with African counterparts on the challenges and opportunities on the continent. Russia is, so far, a closed market for business executives in many African countries. It is difficult to access the Russian market. Africans are doing brisk business in the United States, in Europe and in Asia. All that is necessary here is for Russia and Africa to make consistent efforts to look for new ways, practical efforts at removing existing obstacles that have impeded trade and investment over the years.
In practical reality, resetting a comprehensive African agenda requires an extensive work and decisive leadership. With 54 African Union member countries already signed up for the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), gives an additional signal for foreign players seeking to take advantage of this new opportunity in Africa. An undeniable driving factor for consideration is that the AfCFTA has a lot more on offer besides the fact that it creates a single market of 1.3 billion people.
According to Sergei Katyrin, Russia is gradually overcoming the negative consequences of its retreat from Africa in the 90s. The first Russia-Africa summit and economic forum took place in Sochi in October 2019. During summit discussions, African representatives there constantly raised the question of the need for a more active return of Russia to the continent. Africans still have nostalgic interest towards Russia and Russians are eager to use that as unifying factor. Soviet Union has had very close and, in many respects, allied relations with most of the countries during the decolonization of Africa.
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The author writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS.