In its sixth year, the Russia-Africa Business Dialogue was held on June 16 at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) with participation of both top-level Russian and African officials. The Russia-Africa Business Dialogue was initiated in 2016 as special platform to examine, review and discuss important topical issues especially those relating to trade and economic cooperation between Russia and Africa.
Professor Irina Abromova, Director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences moderated the discussion. It brought together representatives of government and business communities from both Russian and African sides. Gilberto Da Piedade Verissimo, President of the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) participated. Delegations from African countries such as Algeria, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Republic of Mali, Central African Republic and Zimbabwe. There were also African diplomatic representatives.
With the current changing geopolitical situation in the world, the consistent calls for new world order (multipolar system) and geopolitical rivalry, the top-level speakers gave an insight into economic opportunities, challenges and threats to both Russia and Africa. The speakers highlighted the prospects and possibilities of really transforming economic relationships between Russia and Africa.
More than that, the speakers and discussants noted the mutual interest in developing trade and economic ties between Russia and Africa, and identified food and energy security, new methods of financial settlements, cooperation in innovation and technology, health, education and culture, as well as cooperation within the integration alliances as priority areas.
Most the discussions focused on the same questions that have been raised down the years, and in other different platforms. The key features here are that Russian officials reiterated their dreamy roadmap for cooperating with Africa, while African officials vividly narrated the existing nature and competitive conditions for investment in Africa. In terms of investnent, African speakers attempt to layout the potential sectors that are mostly in need of foreign corporate partners.
In terms of trade and industry, African speakers have loudly made it clear in their speeches the primary and long-term objectives, several initiatives aim at driving economic growth, industrialization and development across Africa. That Russians have to consider seriously the mutual benefits while taking advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was signed in March 2018, came into force on January 1, 2021.
The AfCFTA provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people. The growing middle class, among other factors, constitutes a huge market potential in Africa. In order to have an indepth understanding of these, Russians must at least invest in initial market research and development (R&D) collaborations, as basis for designing entry strategies, with their African partners.
By considering and accepting the opinions given by African speakers, Russians could be making the first practical step unto the real business landscape there in Africa. It is also important to take a comprehensive and broad-based look at emerging opportunities on the continent, study other foreign competitors who are already established in Africa. Therefore, Russians need to rethink how better to engage with African policymakers, businesses, civil society and the African diaspora in order to strengthen its strategic entrepreneurial relationships with Africa.
On the other hand, as Africa gets to the idea of building a new world order, it becomes also important for African leaders, their governments and the public to ensure specific steps and approach toward supporting the 1.3 bllion people with needed public infrastructure and the economy, look forward to becoming continental self-dependent and develop the future for the next generation.
Alexander Pankin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, extended the greetings from Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.
Despite the unprecedented sanctions and information warfare launched by the United States and its satellites, Russia manages to maintain the entire bilateral cooperation in working order, and to saturate it with a relevant substantive agenda, noted Lavrov. His message reaffirmed that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation.”
Lavrov said: “It is in the interests of our peoples to work together to preserve and expand mutually beneficial trade and investment ties under these new conditions. It is important to facilitate the mutual access of Russian and African economic operators to each other’s markets and encourage their participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.”
With the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit, the date and other detailed information are being withheld. But Kremlin Aide Yury Ushakov said mid-June that both sides are planning, referring to Russia and the African Union.
Putin had talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also African Union Chairperson, in Sochi on June 3. Russia has always been on Africa’s side in its fight against colonialism, Putin said, reminding again about Soviet assistance that was offered more than 60 years ago. The United Nations declared Africa fully independent in 1960, and Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Under the chosen theme ‘New Opportunities in a New World’ that reflects the changing global situations, the conference from June 15 to June 18 marked the 25th year of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Over the last 24 years, the forum has become a leading global platform for members of the business community to meet and discuss the key economic issues facing Russia, emerging markets, and the world as a whole. Since 2006, it has been held under the auspices of the President of the Russian Federation.
Written by Kester Kenn Klomegah who is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union.