Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, the Vice-President of the Republic Ghana, has advised Russian authorities to design new diverse ways to strengthen economic cooperation with and step up efforts by exploring investment opportunities in different sectors to bolster its economic influence in Africa.
He was one of the key speakers at the business round table on the topic "Russia-Africa: Advancing New Frontiers" during the first day at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2016) that opened on June 16, 2016, in St. Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia.
Ghana has intensified moves to get Russia to become one of the biggest players in the country’s oil and gas sector. Russia, which is rich in oil and gas, has not shown significant interest in Ghana’s oil and gas sector despite its involvement in some industries in Ghana.
"For us it is important that we create an avenue for investment from Russia especially in the oil and gas sector which Russia is clearly a leader but we do not see that leadership translate into activity in the oil sector in Africa," Amissah-Arthur stressed in his speech at the forum.
The Vice President added: "We need to see a certain focus that is brought to bare. Africa is a vibrant and exciting area. We have a lot of spontaneity and all we have tried to do is to guide and direct this spontaneity into a consistent coherent grant that allows for the human development of Africa."
The business roundtable, held under the auspices of the forum, was dedicated to the economic development of the African continent and to the relations between African countries and Russia. The forum, in its 20th year, is an annual international conference dedicated to economic and business issues. The forum has now become a leading international platform for the discussion of the key economic issues facing Russia, emerging markets and the world as a whole.
In his objective views, Joseph Butore, Second Vice-President of the Republic of Burundi, said that when talking specifically about Russia "drawing closer" to Africa, there are two sectors that can also be pushed forward: biotechnologies, and information technologies and telecommunication technologies. China and India have dominated these sectors on the continent.
Significantly, Russia always tries not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other nations in its foreign policy. This is very important for the strengthening economic ties with Africa, according to Joseph Butore.
Alpha Condé, President of the Republic of Guinea, Alpha Condé, informed that gathering that "Guinea likes to work together with Russia and would do its best to work with Russian authorities in order to respond to the global challenges. We really see Russia as a privileged partner on the African continent." He suggested creating a joint forum on economic cooperation. Russia should develop relations, including those in the area of finance, following the example of Chinese banks. Chinese banks have been financing so many projects on the continent and the Government of China has also created the China Africa Development Fund.
Additionally, Condé drew the participants’ attention to security threats on the African continent, in particularly to terrorism. Russia could participate in solving such conflicts, noted the President of Guinea.
In his contribution, Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, pointed out that Russia has always maintained traditionally friendly relations with African nations, their regional and sub-regional structures, developing commercial, investment and defense cooperation, participating in the training of their national human resources, consistently pursuing a policy of enhancing the multi-format Russia-African dialogue.
Russia has always sought to maintain good ties and friendship with Africa and as expected at the gathering, there were no new policy measures, directions nor announcements from the high profile speaker from the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation. But his speech was welcomed as a sign of re-enforcing primarily existing policy directions with African countries.
"Investments in Africa have been seen mainly from China, India, our BRICS friends. We think there is an opportunity for Russia to do more in terms of investments into the continent. There is no risk in investing in Africa, it is a risk not to invest in the continent," explained Mzwandile Collen Masina, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry from South Africa.
Nearly all the speakers at the forum acknowledged that there is potential for developing economic ties with Russia, which is currently underrepresented on the continent. Some of the speakers remarked that African countries should also provide favorable conditions for Russian companies to operate on the continent.
Secretary of State and Deputy Ministry of Energy, Yuriy Senturin, noted that Africa should facilitate the development of new forms of international business in the energy industry. He suggested that specialized companies must be provided favorable conditions and unimpeded access to energy markets. Additionally, a common market of energy could be established following the lines of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Nataliya Zaiser, who is a Public Policy Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs in Moscow office covering Russia, the Eurasian Union and Africa, and also the Head of the Africa Business Initiative (ABI) explained in an interview earlier that the new frontiers should be read as "new opportunities", "new approaches" and "new perspectives."
"To my mind – the future, in any case, stands for international cooperation that should be based on a very strong and transparent legal, economic and social background. On the one hand, it will help to join efforts on working with Africa and develop the continent; on another hand, it will allow to diversify economic and geopolitical presence on the continent so as to avoid monopolies," she added.
According to forum documents, Africa is currently the second most attractive destination for investments, trailing only North America. Last year, the total came up to US$ 87 billion. The majority of funds originate in China, India and other BRICS countries.
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
*Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent research writer on Russia-African affairs and a member of the Regional Council for Development of Relations with African Countries.