The Russia-Africa summit just concluded in Sochi today, Thursday. Jointly chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and African Union chair Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the summit was attended by heads of state from 54 African countries. It was the first such event at this level in the history of Russian-African relations.
Participants had looked forward to the opportunity to broaden horizons in economic cooperation in the Russia-Africa Economic Forum that was held concurrently and that was attended by the heads of state at the summit as well as by representatives from the Russian and African business communities and organisations active in Africa. The forum was timely. The world is increasingly aware of the immense potential that African countries have, and these countries themselves have grown increasingly aware that if they utilise their resources effectively, they can make their mark among the ranks of the strongest emergent economies.
In fact, African countries have already taken great strides forward at the political, economic and social levels in recent years. Economically, Africa has seen impressive growth rates during the past decade, reaching 3.55 per cent in 2018.
The outputs of the first conference of this sort have great chances for success in light of other crucial economic indicators. According to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, trade between Russia and African nations has grown exponentially over the last 10-15 years (up 185 per cent overall). In 2018, trade increased by 1.7 per cent over the previous year, yielding a volume exceeding $20.4 billion, with Russian exports to Africa climbing 18.2 per cent to around $17.5 billion and Russian imports from Africa climbing 11.5 per cent to nearly $3 billion.
Promoting trade and economic cooperation was the summit’s most salient dimension. This was clear in President Putin’s welcome address to participants: “The rich history of relations between Africa and Russia has never seen an event of a similar scale. Members of government agencies, the business community and experts are meeting at this forum to substantively discuss the current status and prospects of cooperation and a wide range of topical issues of the world economy... Today, the countries of Africa are well on their way towards social, economic, scientific and technological development, and are playing a significant role in international affairs. They are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union and other regional and sub-regional organisations across the continent.”
Noting the dynamic growth in Russian trade and investment in Africa, as well as the many joint projects that are currently in progress in mining, agriculture, healthcare and education, the Russian president added that, “Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience in upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructures.”
The forum lived up to its promise. The numerous proposals for joint initiatives presented in these last few days herald new and qualitative inroads in Russia-Africa cooperation that will stimulate growth in our countries’ economies and prosperity for our peoples.
President Al-Sisi, for his part, underscored the importance of this landmark event against the backdrop of major international transformations. The summit, a response to the aspirations of the peoples represented there, launched “a comprehensive framework of expanding Russian-African relations towards broader horizons for joint cooperation in various domains”, President Al-Sisi said in his address to summit participants. He observed how African nations and Russia shared a common outlook on international relations, an outlook “based on respect for the rule of international law and the principles of equality, non-intervention in the internal affairs of states, and the peaceful resolution of disputes”. Both Africa and Russia, he continued, “reaffirm their commitment to promoting multilateral action against the new international challenges from terrorism and extremism in all their forms, to declining growth rates”.
On the economic dimension, Al-Sisi said: “The two sides share a firm conviction regarding the need to strengthen trade flows and to support mutual investment in ways that realise security, peace and development for the African and Russian people,” adding that Egypt hoped that “the Africa-Russia summit will contribute to the establishment of a constructive strategic relationship based on partnership in diverse fields”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.