Russia’s Growing Influence in Africa
With the collapse of the superpower in 1991, things began to change. Today, there is much being talked about India and China’s role in the African continent, ignoring the expanding interest of Russia and her presence in Africa. Until the end of the cold war, the former Soviet Union played a significant role in the African continent. Moreover, it had a great influence in the economic and political arena of the region. Military support was provided from the Soviet Union to the government of countries like Mozambique, Somalia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Angola and many other countries of Africa in the post-independent period. In the present era, Russia is trying to establish and reinstitute its ties with African nations by deepening her engagement in order to strengthen its position in the continent.
Recently, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has come up with new objectives in order to restore its relations with Africa. We see that the trade between Russia and Africa has gone up by 185 percent from 2005 to 2015 (Quartz Africa 2018). While in 2017, the trade again rose by 26 percent raising the figures to USD 17.4 billion (Financial Times 2019). Through strategic investment in the fields of minerals, energy, besides using military and soft power, Russia has developed a clout in Africa. Russia’s great interest in Africa is much to do with energy, and the areas of investment are primarily in the fields of oil, gas and nuclear power sector. Moreover, several Russian Companies are present and active in Africa. Some of them are Lukoil, Rosatom, Gazprom, etc. Today, in Africa, approximately 620 million people are deprived of electricity. Here, Russia’s nuclear power industry plays a significant role, as it acts as potential market for the continent. Also, Moscow and Egypt have recently agreed on establishing country’s first nuclear plant in Egypt.
For minerals, Russia’s interest is clearly evident in countries like Angola, Namibia, DRC, Zimbabwe and CAR. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the biggest customer for Russia is Algeria in Africa, besides Egypt being an important customer too. The Institute also revealed that in 2016-17, Russia received major orders and made deliveries to number of African nations by transferring weapons to them. Some of the countries are Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, South Sudan and Sudan (Kumar Malhotra, 2019). Since the Russian military equipment’s are comparatively cheaper than that of the Western suppliers, its demand in poor nations are higher. Also, Russia is the second largest exporter of arms globally, and over the past two decades, it has supplied its arms to many African nations. Moreover, Russia has strengthened its military ties with Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe and many other African nations. The figure below shows how Russia has widened its scope in Africa.
Russia Widens Scope in Africa
(Source: The Financial Times, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/a5648efa-1a4e-11e9-9e64-d150b3105d21)
Throughout the African continent, Moscow has stationed teams of military instructors to upskill the elite presidential guards. They have also sent arms shipments and assisted shaky autocrats with election strategies. It has also promised to build nuclear power plants, and develop oil wells and diamond mines. During the recent visit of the defence minister of Central African Republic, it is also presumed that a military base will be established in CAR very soon by the Russian. Recently, in Namibia an inter-governmental commission was established for economic cooperation between the two countries, with a hope to increase exports of Russia’s agricultural products like wheat, dairy products, poultry, etc. to Namibia. In order to boost the Sudanese military capacities, President al-Bashir has agreed on a programme with Russia, which will help Sudan to counter any kind of threat. Subsequently, the air force of Sudan constitutes mainly the Russian warplanes. Even the traditional military equipment that is present in bulk in Sudan are mostly supplied by Russia.
In South Africa, Russia never had a very strong presence. But recently with Zuma’s visit to Russia for medical assistance a nuclear deal was signed with President Putin, indicating that Russia is trying to expand its control in Africa right from Algeria to South Africa. The Russian Foreign Minister stated that the “Russian-African relations have a rich history, while, unlike the former global powers, Russia has not tainted itself with the crimes of slavery and colonialism”. He also mentioned that, “in the middle of the last century, Russia actively contributed to the achievement of national independence and sovereignty of African nations and leaders from Africa are aware of that” (Financial Times, 2019). Furthermore, the first Russia-Africa Trade and Investment Forum (RAfTIF) was held in November last year, where this international forum brought together leaders and policy makers, along with investors from Africa and Russia under the same Umbrella. The platform was utilized to discuss the opportunities for mutual agreement for trade and investment between Russia and Africa.
Russia being the major power in global politics is eager to play an important role in Africa. With the frequent visit of Russia’s delegation to Africa, it is crystal clear and evident that the country is preparing itself to get back to Africa.
Dr Neha Sinha (VIF)
28 February 2019
- The Financial Times, 2019 ‘Russia: Vladimir Putin’s Pivot to Africa’. https://www.ft.com/content/a5648efa-1a4e-11e9-9e64-d150b3105d21
- Theo Neethling 2019, ‘Russia is expanding its strategic influence in Africa’, Quartz Africa. University of the Free State, February 8, 2019.
Kumar Malhotra, 2019: ‘Russia in Africa: Is it becoming a key player?’ BBC News. 9 January 2019