African leaders return from Russia with agreements to boost military

Saturday October 26 2019

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi make a press statement following the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, on October 24, 2019. PHOTO | SERGEI CHIRIKOV | AFP


Russia targets to more than double its trade volumes with Africa to $40 billion in five years even though its business ties with the continent remain largely centred on defence pacts.

President Vladimir Putin made the announcement at the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi last week, where more than 40 African heads of state attended. Trade between Russia and Africa is currently about $20 billion, just about 10 per cent of China’s $200 billion.

“We plan to expand trade and economic co-operation. We believe that we can bring it to higher levels and reach at least $40 billion,” said President Putin in his key address to the Summit.

Moscow has cemented military co-operation deals with 30 African countries with which President Putin said there was a running “technical co-operation,” making the target achievable if more countries on the continent take up Russian arms.

“Our military and military technical co-operation is aimed at strengthening African armed forces’ combat capability,” he said.

“Russia has MTC agreements with over 30 countries, which we supply with a wide range of armaments and equipment. Part of these supplies are provided free of charge.”


Arms deal

The countries were not listed but Russia has had defence co-operation or supply deals with Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and Central African Republic and Mozambique.

Russia has recently set out to sell anti-aircraft missile defences to some African countries and offered to install security surveillance systems in Uganda as well as strengthen defence support from the Central African Republic.

Touted as the first step to expanding ties with Africa, the Summit ended with a number of bilateral agreements between Moscow and African governments. Most of these deals, however, were statements of intent or deepening of existing projects, mostly in defence and also in energy.

Russian oil company Lukoil signed a memorandum for drilling rights in Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. This added to MoUs signed earlier by nuclear energy firm—Rosatom—to establish nuclear power stations in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Egypt and Kenya.

Energy is also emerging as an important area of economic co-operation with Russia. Moscow is mostly eyeing joint projects in traditional sectors such as hydrocarbon production, construction and repair of power generation facilities as well as in peaceful nuclear energy and the use of renewable energy sources.

No conditions

President Putin told delegates that his country would not impose conditions or force countries into projects not beneficial to them, in a statement appeared to have been aimed at mostly Western rival economic powers in Africa.

“We can say that this event opened up a new page in the history of Russia’s relations with African countries. This was a business meeting but at the same time it was very friendly, if not cordial, and this created a special atmosphere for our discussions,” President Putin told journalists in a joint press conference with Egyptian leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi, with whom they co-chaired the Summit.

Referring to the joint declaration with African leaders, however, it emerged that both sides agreed to focus on politics, security, economy, science, technology, culture and humanitarian interests.

A resolution was passed to have the Summit every three years, borrowing from the Chinese, Americans and Japanese who hold conferences with Africa on a regular basis.

“To ensure that our co-operation is regular and consistent, the forum made a decision at the initiative of our African friends to create a new dialogue mechanism—the Russia-Africa partnership forum,” they agreed.

According to the government in Moscow, Russian companies were ready to work with their African partners “to upgrade transport infrastructure, develop telecommunications and digital technologies, provide information security, and they offer the most advanced technologies and engineering solutions.”

Some African leaders though suggested business or financial relations may have to be centred on security co-operation.

In a meeting with President Putin, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni asked Russia to set up a military equipment repair centre in Uganda to save Kampala the regular cost of ferrying broken aircraft to Russia for repairs.

“Number one is defence and security. We have been co-operating very well, we have supported our building the army by buying good Russian equipment, aircraft, tanks and so on. We want to buy more,” said President Museveni.

“We want to build a workshop for maintenance, overhaul and upgrade, because we have quite a bit of Russian equipment there. But for overhaul, we need to bring it all the way back here and then take it back at high transport costs. So we would like to localise the maintenance and overhaul.”

For years, Uganda has been buying military jets, tanks and other weapons from Russian state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport. But often, negotiations dragged on and Kampala was asked to pay in cash, according to President Museveni.

“What I propose is that you supply and we pay. That would be some sort of supply that would make us build faster, because now we pay cash, like for this Sukhoi jet, we paid cash,” he added, referring to the Sukhoi Su-30MK2 jets purchased from Russia seven years ago.

Russia has established 100 technical schools in Africa.