Russian Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa and Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, has urged global community to go beyond military cooperation to assist African countries that are still facing a number of serious development problems particularly infrastructure, social inequality, healthcare and education. According to him, transnational problems, the issues of arms smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal migration and even slavery continue escalating on the African continent.
“Joint efforts of the whole global community are required for meeting those challenges, I am confident that the aid to African states should go beyond military components. It is necessary to fortify public institutions, engage economic and humanitarian fields, construct infrastructure facilities, create new jobs,” Bogdanov said, adding “those are the ways of solving such problem as migration, for example, to Europe.”
Bogdanov was contributing to the panel discussions on the topic: “Engaging Africa in Dialogue: Towards a Harmonious Development of the Continent” at the Dialogue of Civilisations Forum that was held from October 5-6 in Rhodes, Greece.
This plenary discussion aimed at identifying specifically African countries’ priorities and issues holding back these countries and if competition between the West and Asia could benefit Africa, or is a more collaborative effort needed.
Bogdanov’s advice to the global community to go “beyond military cooperation” came at the crucial time when as part of the foreign policy, Russia has increasingly stepped up exports of military equipment through its “military-technical cooperation” abroad instead of assisting with the much needed investment in economic sectors in African countries.
Within the context of strengthening ties, Director for International Cooperation and Regional Policy Department of Rostec, Victor Kladov, said at the Business Forum of 2018 Army Games recently organised by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation that “African countries are now returning to military-technical cooperation market as their national economies steadily develop.”
Rosoboronexport’s cooperation with traditional importers of Russian weapons from Africa include Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Libya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. It has recently concluded agreements to boost military cooperation with a few more African countries.
In March, President Putin chaired this year’s first meeting of the Commission for Military Technical Cooperation with Foreign States and Kremlin’s website transcript pointed to the geographical reach of military technical cooperation as constantly expanding, with the number of partners already in more than 100 countries worldwide.
It’s an established fact that the major driver for Moscow’s push into Africa is military-technical cooperation more broadly. These often include officer training and the sale of military equipment, though the full details are rarely publicly available.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported in December 2017 that Russia accounted for nearly 20% of the volume of major arms supplied to sub-Saharan Africa. The Soviets provided military assistance, a historically accepted view, but many experts have also acknowledged that now ideology is not a significant factor.
Dmitri Bondarenko, Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies Institute (IAS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told me: “With African countries, the primary aim now for Russian business is to regain a competitive edge in the global arms trade, and what’s interesting is that the approach is not ideological but very pragmatic – you pay, we ship. It’s simply business and nothing more.”
"Russia has revived their contacts with their African comrades that used to be the traditional buyers of Soviet weaponry. It is a similar policy, in the sense, that they are using military diplomacy once again in order to gain stature and influence in certain countries," Scott Firsing, a visiting Bradlow fellow at the South African Institute for International Affairs (SAIIA), wrote in an emailed discussion.
Arguably, Shaabani Nzori, a Moscow based Foreign Policy Expert, thinks that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is appropriate in Russia’s foreign policy but African leaders should also allocate enough hard-earned money to spend on priority job-creating development projects in Africa.
“It [military-technical cooperation] shows clearly Russia’s weak business engagement with Africa. Until now, we can’t point to any completed Russian infrastructure projects in Africa. There are many investment areas. What is important these days is Russia has to go beyond just selling arms to Africa! Still, Russia has the chance to transfer its technology to agriculture and industries in Africa,” Shaabani in the interview discussion with me.
Obviously, very few Russian initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. Russian economic influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. While, given its global status, Russia has to be active in Africa as Western Europe, the European Union, America and Asian States are, it is all but absent, playing a negligible role in the economic sectors, according to Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
He suggested that African leaders have to make a choice: spending the hard-earned national revenue on the “military-technical cooperation” instead of expanding infrastructure, industrialisation and modern agriculture – sectors that create new jobs for the growing population. In addition, significant paradigm for African governments has to be working towards improving basic healthcare and socio-economic welfare of their people, suggests Gerrit Olivier.
President Vladimir Putin said a major part of Russia’s weapons business includes new equipment supplies, upgrades and refurbishment of Soviet-era technology and hardware. “Russia places special emphasis on developing countries that gradually increase military procurement. We understand that competition in this sector of the international economy is very high and very serious,” he said.
According to Kremlin website, Russia targeted global export contracts worth $50 billion in 2018. Russia’s export priority is to expand its scope and strengthen its position on the market. Last year’s results indicated that Russia has been keeping its standards high, confirming its status as one of the leading suppliers on the global arms market. The portfolio for Russian arms and military equipment stands at $45 billion.
Russia plans “to enhance multifaceted interaction with African states on a bilateral and multilateral with a focus on promoting mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation” - the full text of the new foreign policy concept was approved by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on February 12, 2013.
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The author writes frequently about Russia, Africa and BRICS.