African countries emerged from the second Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg with a mixed bag of goodies. For the vulnerable ones such as Somalia, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali and the Central African Republic, 50,000 tonnes of free grain will be hitting their shores soon.
Overall, Russia says it is forgiving more than $20 billion worth of debt owed by African countries, including Ethiopia ($5.7 billion), Libya ($4.5 billion), Angola ($3.5 billion), and Somalia ($684 million).
Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, who represented his country at the summit, said he met with senior executives from four Russian companies and discussed trade and business deals.
Majaliwa told the Russian business executives that Tanzania has banked on the fast-expanding regional markets shared with Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Tanzania, he said, wants Russian companies to establish fertiliser factories in the country to satisfy the demand of over 800,000 tonnes per year.
Dar is able to meet only 200,000 tonnes of that.
Russia announced in the aftermath of the summit that it wants to raise trade with Africa against Western sanctions.
“We are planning to build up our trade in quality and quantity and improve its pattern. We are also going to gradually switch to national currencies, including the ruble, in making financial payments on commercial deals,” Russian leader Vladmir Putin told a press conference in St Petersburg.
“We will be removing trade barriers by aligning integration processes in the Eurasian Economic Union and the African Union and its free trade area. We intend to increase exports to Africa of Russian industrial products that have earned a good reputation on the continent, including machinery, automobiles, equipment, chemicals and fertilisers.”
Putin used the occasion to trumpet what he called a fight against neocolonialism and unilateralism in international order.
Comorian President and chair of the African Union Azali Assoumani was more diplomatic, indicating that Africa is banking on mutual victories in the fight for global justice.
“If Russia wins, Africa wins,” Assoumani said.
The St Petersburg Declaration, the common document agreed between the two sides, said they had agreed to “work together to counter manifestations of neo-colonial policies that aim to undermine the sovereignty of states, deprive them of the freedom to make their own decisions, and plunder their natural resources.”
Observers think the summit’s timing was good for Russia to showcase its relevance on the international stage, even if participation was lower than in 2019 – only 17 heads of state and government turned up.
“Unlike the West, Russia is the only power appearing to give solutions to food challenges in Africa, and it has coincided with a coup crisis in Africa, putting Russia at the centre of global security governance,” said Dr Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist at the Global Centre for Policy and Strategy in Nairobi.
“The summit may have appeared low-key, but it was timely in improving global perceptions about Russia,” said Dr Nasong’o Muliro, a foreign policy and security specialist at the Global Centre for Policy and Strategy in Nairobi.
They will also “oppose the application of illegitimate unilateral restrictive measures, including secondary ones, as well as the practice of freezing sovereign foreign exchange reserves. Reaffirm the unacceptability of using political blackmail to bring leaders of third countries to implement such measures or influence the political and economic policies of states.”
African countries, however, will not be getting free lunch. In 2019, the Summit decided that Russia will invest $40 billion over five years. This year, Russia promised specialised programmes for healthcare, including the 1.2 billion rubles ($130 million) to prepare African countries to fight new infections. It runs until 2026.
But, as in the past, Russia won over African countries to side with it in fighting the “injustices’ in the world, including what it called unfair sanctions by the West.