Why Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is suspect

Thursday, November 21st, 2019 07:33 | By
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi meet ahead of the Africa-Russia Summit in Sochi. PD/AGENCIES
Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Egyptian counterpart Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi meet ahead of the Africa-Russia Summit in Sochi. PD/AGENCIES

By Isaac Mugabi      

The Russian city of Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, played host to the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit. A lot was discussed, particularly strengthening business ties and fixing Africa’s energy problems.

Part of Russia’s intention is to export its nuclear technology to Africa by building expensive nuclear power plants across the continent. Vladimir Putin’s Russia also intends to boost military cooperation. Not a bad idea if it doesn’t create more warlords in conflict zones.

Increasing arms sales to countries that will sign military cooperation with Russia will only precipitate conflict in a continent that has already been ravaged by wars and conflict, like the case of South Sudan, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced.

In any case, Africa does not need such deals that will bring more misery to its people. It should be about shared values, focusing on development projects such as vocational training and skills development. 

African leaders need to start reading through the lines of contracts before they pen down signatures. After all, we’ve seen other partnerships that have not yielded much result for ordinary Africans like the Europe-Africa, France-Africa and the China-Africa partnerships.

Many sub-Saharan Africans live from hand to mouth, thus military cooperation and nuclear power plants are meaningless to them. Providing solar panels for lighting and bio-gas-powered kitchens to households could be a better deal.

Equally, protecting a country’s territory from foreign aggression is essential, but promoting peaceful co-existence among different communities along Africa’s porous borders is the best way to avert conflict.

Putin’s ambition, like he mentioned while opening the summit, is for Russia to double its arms exports. He also said, “joint projects are underway in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education.”

But unlike China and the US, Russia doesn’t have enough money to fulfill many of its promises in other sectors apart from providing military machinery. For many years, Russia has dominated arms sales to Africa, and nowhere on the continent has it ever been an emissary of peace. Already on the sidelines of the summit Russia signed a deal to supply Mi-35 attack helicopters to Nigeria.  

Since the Soviet era, Russia has had little interest in sub-Saharan Africa – perhaps it explains why the only country Putin has visited in the continent is South Africa. 

While meeting with Namibian President Hage Geingob, Putin touted prospects for Russia to help tap the country’s vast uranium resources, diamonds, and other minerals. And Geingob, in return, welcomed Russia to send military advisers to the country. Is Namibia at war with its neighbours for it to solicit services of Russian military advisors? 

Putin is perhaps playing catch-up with China and Europe, who have laid claim on countries with vast natural resources like the DRC, much to the chagrin of ordinary Africans.

It could become another recipe for disaster if Africa’s perpetually greedy leaders do not scrutinise deals put forward by superpowers, coated in beautifully-worded language. 

The old generation can only remember in awe when Russia, during the Soviet era, supported independence movements, and trained Africans like in Angola and Ethiopia out of mutual friendship. But in today’s world, it is quid pro quo.

Is Russia’s renewed interest in Africa a way to rekindle its lost relationship that blossomed in the 1960s and 70s? Or is it a new mutual partnership that will be devoid of any exploitation? If it is business on a win-win basis, then well and good. But if it is about exploiting Africa’s resources, African leaders should not let these deals see the light of the day.

The costs involved in building nuclear power plants in Africa and their maintenance could hugely affect the continent’s ability to address its energy problems – using more affordable ways like renewable energies. With vast natural resources at its disposal, Africa should be able to produce energy without having nuclear plants.

There’s a risk that by the time governments realise that it was a venture gone wrong, the debt owed to Russia will be so huge for them to service. The syndrome of countries biting more than they can chew should end if Africa is to prosper. 

— The article first appeared on  

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