Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “Russia must avoid booby traps set by West in Africa” published on IOL news, 17 April 2019.
With Robert Mueller’s investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections halted without finding a “smoking gun”, the anti-Putin brigade have turned to Africa in search of Russia’s footprints.
This comes at a time when Moscow signalled its clearest desires to renew its relationship with Africa. African leaders and heads of state will be in Sochi, Russia, in October (22-24) for the Russia-Africa Summit to strengthen this relationship.
But what appears missing in the African and Russian foreign policy calculus that flourished in the Cold War Era, is how to avoid booby traps.
These are not only made in America, but also in the post-Cold War African political environment. The challenge for Russia’s Africa Policy comes from Washington and its European allies eager to limit Moscow’s political and economic influence in Europe and the world.
President Vladimir Putin’s prolonged stay in power, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, backing of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Syrian civil war and more importantly, being the most reliable and cheap source of gas in Europe, stands in the way of US hegemony.
Moscow is also frustrated at the US and its allies’ actions in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Myanmar within the UNSC by using its veto power. “Russia advances its political and economic relationships with little regard to the rule of law or accountable and transparent governance”, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said when he launched the US-Africa Policy.
When African and Russian leaders meet in Sochi, Jacob Zuma, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Robert Mugabe, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and al-Bashir will be absent. These staunch friends of Russia have fallen like dominos, particularly Russia’s Africa. Moscow ought to learn from its perceived corrupt relationship with some African leaders as was the case in the failed nuclear deal with South Africa.
It is critically important that Moscow resets its foreign policy towards Africa informed by a new set of norms, values and mind-set.
Russia has an advantage in Africa over its solidarity with the struggle against colonialism and apartheid during the Cold War. But that era has come to an end. Africa has entered a new phase of struggle to liberate its people wallowing in poverty, disease and other calamities such as climate change.
Russia does not need to compete with either the US or China in Africa. It must find its own diplomatic and economic niche.
It should avoid propping up corrupt leaders who use violence to maintain power in Africa. It should invest heavily in the African youth, particularly in the field of science and technology where Russia excels. Russia and Africa could build a win-win relationship if Russia enters into agreements with African countries in the beneficiation of raw materials, development of the ocean economy, health and space. In all these fields Russia has a comparative advantage in its renewed Africa Policy.
Russia appears to have lost ground in Africa in the post-Cold War era, but its prospects to succeed in Sochi and Africa are predicated upon Moscow’s ability to devise a smart and innovative foreign policy.
It ought to realise that competition in Africa does not only come from the US and China. Many other players seek opportunities in Africa. The aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union’s empire drastically diminished Moscow’s influence in Africa. President Putin rightly perceived this, “as the major geopolitical disaster of the century”.
What Russia should avoid in its Africa Policy is perhaps the pitfalls of being driven by the desire to go back to the glorious Soviet Union empire during the Cold War era. This can be achieved if Moscow avoids booby traps set by its foes in the West and pressure for accountable leadership and good governance.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg