Russia’s New Dash in Africa

Russia feeling left out by other countries like China, India, the U.S., has rapidly expanded its presence on the continent after a long absence due to the break up of the Soviet Union. This is a while back but gives the reasoning and insight into President Medvedev’s trip in Summer 2009:

The Kremlin has launched an ambitious project to restore Moscow’s past glory on the African continent. Policy makers in the U.S. and Europe need to understand that it’s happening — and formulate an effective response — before they find their own relationships with Africa changing in significant and problematic ways.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and more than a hundred Russian businessmen last week visited Egypt, Nigeria, Namibia and Angola on the longest tour of Africa a Russian leader has undertaken since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unlike President Obama, who is going to Africa next week for a brief stop to talk about global warming, Mr. Medvedev and his team targeted oil, gas, diamonds and uranium...

By all appearances Mr. Medvedev and, by extension, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are reviving the old Soviet Africa strategy. The Soviet Union maintained friendly relations with many African countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique. Starting in the 1950s, Africa was viewed as a prime economic battlefield between Soviet command-and-control planning and Western capitalism. From the 1960s to the ’80s, Western institutions like the World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development poured billions of dollars into supporting governments in countries like Zaire and Nigeria. Moscow offered similar funding to its “friends.”….

Africa lost its significance as an ideological chessboard after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the current volume of trade between Africa and Russia is trivial. But the continent remains an economic prize. China has spent billions of dollars in the past few years gaining friends, influencing dictators, and tying African countries to Beijing.

Now the Kremlin is trying to regain its status as a global player, including re-asserting itself in Africa. Mr. Medvedev’s visit to Africa appears to be the first coordinated attempt by Moscow to do so. Where once the Soviet Union sought political hegemony, today’s Kremlin is after economic objectives like trade and access to raw materials. But a shift in Africa’s relationship with Russia will have consequences for many.

Africans may benefit from increased competition among the world’s powers to develop its vast resources. Russia and China have already invested billions to gain a foothold there. Western companies are similarly interested. The income generated from developing these resources has the potential to generate jobs and boost incomes in Africa. But this isn’t a sure thing. Resource-rich countries are vulnerable to corruption and instability.

Competition is always good for industry and nations, large or small, but African countries need to be as always, careful.

A flood of Russian money could facilitate corruption in places where that’s already a problem. Moreover, Moscow and Beijing are comfortable working with oppressive regimes, like Sudan’s, that Western countries condemn. As a result, Africans may suffer even more as Russia and China expand their influence.

Reporting of the trip by state controlled Russia Today.

This policy that Russia is embarking on should be seen in the context to increase and deepen the influence that it has on Europe as a whole. Russia is Europe’s biggest energy supplier, and Moscow wants to maintain this status as long as possible. North and Western African states are growing suppliers of oil and gas to Western European markets, which have the potential to eat into the profits of Russian energy companies.  One way of slowing this down is to “cooperate” with African states in the energy sector, create so called partnerships that benefit the Kremlin and don’t fully target the strategic hold that Russia has on Europe.

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