Copyrighted material


by Kester Kenn Klomegah

Africa Nervous as Pentagon Launch of AFRICOM Nears

(IPS) MOSCOW -- A $500 million development assistance package to Africa marks a new move by Russia to catch up with Chinese expansion into Africa.

"During the Cold War the U.S. and the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Soviet Union) competed for influence in Africa by granting development assistance to ideologically sympathetic clients. When the Soviet Union and its economy collapsed in 1991, that competition came to an end," Tom Wheeler, research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs told IPS from Braamfontein in South Africa.

"As a minerals producer and producer of oil and gas, Russia sees a way of strengthening its role in a multi-polar world by buying into Africa's mineral resources. Now Russia is seeking to achieve in Africa through capitalism what the Soviet Union failed to achieve through communism."

Russia will have to compete for Africa's resources with Europe, the United States, India, China, Japan and South Korea. There remain questions how far the new moves will take Russia, particularly given the rapid advance by China.

Russia and China have irreconcilable geopolitical interests in Africa. Russia is resource-rich while China is relatively resource-poor. "But both countries have an economic-expansionist agenda and lots of cash reserves to invest in Africa's economy," Bright Simons, development director at IMANI, a think tank based in Ghanaian capital Accra told IPS. The IMANI Center for Policy Studies is a non-profit organization for educating the public on policy issues concerning business, government and civil society.

"But still, Russia's influence in Africa is not really pronounced after the Cold War," Simons said. "The pro-Russian African states are not many. Even worse, Russia's trade with Africa is paltry, making its economic clout next to negligible."

African countries may not be overenthusiastic about alignment with Russia after three of Russia's competitors in the 'BRIC framework' (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have held high-level summits with Africa as a continental bloc (most recently India), Simons said.

"But if Russia wants to expand the scope of its engagement with Africa, it will have to pay closer attention to burnishing or branding its image in Africa," said Simons, who has researched Sino-African economic cooperation for many years.

Russia is pushing ahead in that direction. Addressing a large gathering of the African community last week, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian companies are expanding their activities on the continent, and that Russian investment in Africa is increasing.

"Steady economic and social development is largely determined by the level of stability in the region. We welcome the efforts of the African states to settle and prevent conflicts. For our part, we are interested in expanding cooperation, particularly in the creation of an African anti-crisis potential," Lavrov said.

Mikhail Afanasiev, Russian ambassador to Ethiopia, who announced the $500 million development aid package, explained that his country's policy in international development assistance is primarily to fight hunger, poverty, infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS and to address other development related problems on the continent.

He declined to mention specific areas, or which countries will benefit directly from the assistance.

"Assistance to the African countries will be offered in accordance with the recommendations of the UN organizations, including the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), international financial organizations, as well as upon individual requests from African countries themselves -- without any political strings," Afanasiev told IPS from Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"Russia's activities within the framework of international development assistance do not mean rivalry with any country, including China, and are dictated by the necessity of helping to establish a democratic world order, based on principles of equality and partnership, as well as by obligations assumed within the framework of the Group of Eight (G8, the eight most industrialized nations)."

But influence has long come into the aid business. Prior to the Soviet break-up, several African countries were officially considered "socialism oriented" -- Algeria, Libya, Zimbabwe, Guinea Bissau, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Benin, Congo (Brazzaville), Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mali, Zambia and Cape Verde. Besides, Sudan, Ghana, Somalia and Guinea were also considered socialist earlier.

But that does not now make them 'pro-Russia.'

"A few African countries are showing some interest simply because they want to strengthen economic ties with Russia for their benefit," Dmitri Bondarenko, deputy director at the African Studies Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences told IPS. "Although there are clear prospects for economic cooperation between Russia and African countries, the progress is very slow."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   June 19, 2008   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.