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SDGs Offer Russia New Opportunities in Africa

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By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW (IDN) – The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF-19) that brought together thousands of foreign delegates, including those from Africa, prioritized “sustainable development” as the key theme. It offered an opportunity to discuss in-depth the significance, challenges and prospects of sustainable development, and cooperation among state institutions and businesses as well as between countries in achieving the global development goals endorsed by world leaders in September 2015 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The discussions provided useful pointers to roadmap templates for the Russia-Africa Summit on October 24 in Sochi, roll out a comprehensive agenda and strategy, and thus uplift bilateral relations to a new level. The forthcoming summit will be co-chaired by Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, who is holding presidency of the African Union in 2019.

According to the Summit Organizing Committee, about 3,000 delegates including African leaders, ministers and high-level government officials, leading executives of large Russian and African companies, academic experts, business consultants and media representatives will participate in the Russia-Africa Summit.

Former Ambassadors who served in the Russian Federation have been impressing upon African leaders and entrepreneurs to prioritize their sustainable development needs for which they would like to seek Russian investors in economic sectors of interest to them.

In separate interviews, they have been abundantly clear how to stimulate African governments to explore best investment opportunities in Russia and woo Russian investors into developing Africa’s SDGs within a framework of bilateral cooperation.

Former South African Ambassador, Mandisi Mpahlwa, said that Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as most other major economies.

The reason: Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.

“Of course, Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically, but they are geographically distant, and the people-to-people ties are still rather under-developed. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a measure of fear of the unknown or the unfamiliar in both countries,” according to Mpahlawa.

According to former Ethiopian Ambassador, Professor Dr. Teketel Forssido, one of the biggest problems has been the keen competition from the United States, Europe, China and India, countries with more advanced technological and development oriented solutions. They have become, over the past decades, “investment patrons” in African countries. In fact, this is what Africa needs: policy directed towards the development needs of Africa.

Former Nigerian Ambassador, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, told this correspondent that Africa’s drive for sustainable democratic governance, backed by an enhanced economically viable environment, is of paramount importance. Many African leaders are realising the need to eradicate poverty and give people a sustainable environment.

“It is Africa’s hope that foreign authorities will back us in this direction. It is important to remind foreign investors that investment opportunities for developing large and medium-scale enterprises are abound in Africa. The importance of the informal sector in generating employment and promoting self-reliance through higher productivity. We implore Russian investors to take advantage of these new potentials,” Air Commodore Dan Suleiman stressed in discussions.

Undoubtedly, the Russian government’s stance on supporting an African policy that deploys plausible solutions to resolve the continent’s infinite problems should be extolled, wrote former Tanzanian Ambassador, Dr. Jaka Mgwabi Mwambi.

He said: “Tanzania is currently on the verge of a bitter wrangle with iniquitous restraints,” as the country “is proactively moving steadfastly toward a middle-income economy.”

Former Kenyan Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Dr. Paul Kibiwott Kurgat explained in an interview that any platform created for African leaders has to address thoroughly development-oriented questions. Kenya’s diplomacy has mostly focused on strengthening economic cooperation with foreign countries.

“Looking at the global development, Kenya would always like to build on this long history of strong and comprehensive engagement, first and foremost, through developing closer ties with Russia in trade, investment and economic cooperation. So, my advice to African leaders is to think objectively, first about effective ways how to improve the economy,” he said.

The Government of Kenya’s priority sectors range from infrastructure and energy development, industrialization and agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, among others. Development opens a myriad of investment opportunities to all potential foreign investors across the globe including Russia, Paul Kurgat added in his emailed comments from Nairobi, Kenya.

Former Mozambican Ambassador to Russia, Dr. Bernardo Marcelino Cherinda, emphasized that the changes in Russia have provided a greater impetus for forging new diversified relations, especially in the economic sectors, in Africa.

By this measure, African leaders have to work relentlessly for a more effective cooperation and use political dialogue to remove obstacles that might hinder smooth progress and development. Whether they like it or not, African leaders have to make rational decisions to align their efforts and policies with the key goal of developing or building their economies, the Mozambican diplomat said.

He urged both Russia and Africa to facilitate participation in the private sectors, and also get involved in medium-sized economic partnership, joint ventures, agro-processing industries, and health and education. African leaders do not have to, in the least, doubt the enormous potentials that exist, the former envoy added.

“And, I think it’s equally important that Russia and Africa focus seriously on cultural aspects in their activities in order to bridge the widening information gap between the two. Russia has made the mark and it’s respected for its indelible historical achievements, literature and for human values. The use of soft power as an instrument for new image-making initiatives has to be intensified,” Cherinda advised.

Stergomena Lawrence Tax, Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), during the Russia-SADC business forum held in February 2019 in Moscow, stressed in discussions with Russian authorities that strengthening ties in a broad range of economic fields would show that SADC truly remains as one of Russia’s key partners in Africa. SADC is an inter-governmental organization with its primary goal of deepening socio-economic cooperation and integration in the southern region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the first woman to lead the 54-nation African Union Commission (AUC), have also been discussing the ways and means of encouraging Russian corporations’ participation in major infrastructure projects on the continent. The current AUC Chairperson, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, has also held discussions on Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution and has been at pains to enlist Russia’s effective support for the bloc’s Agenda 2063.

On his part, Foreign Minister Lavrov for the past one and half decades, since his appointment in 2004, has also been holding in-depth discussions on the situation in Africa, repeatedly pointing to the possibility of continuing to promote effective bilateral cooperation in many spheres and working together towards exploiting the existing potentials.

Lavrov has many times assured that Moscow firmly supports the principle of “African solutions to African problems” within a framework of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as developed by individual African countries, sub-regional organizations and the African Union. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 June 2019]

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF-19). Credit: Russian President’s Website.

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