Russia-Africa Summit: A diplomatic success combined with a trade offensive

African heads of state, who came in large numbers to Sochi for the first Russia-Africa Summit, responded to President Putin’s call and, beyond the renewed promise of a relationship « on an equal footing », made himself his country’s sales representative on the continent.

The first Russia-Africa summit was held on 23 and 24 October in Sochi. According to the Roscongress Foundation, which provided the logistics for the event, « more than 40 African heads of state » made the trip to the famous Russian seaside resort, located on the shores of the Black Sea. It must be said that for the continent’s leaders, the stakes were high: as a major player on the world geopolitical scene, Russia is a non-imperialist partner, willing, according to Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, to stand by African « friends » in their fight against new forms of « colonialism ». A skillfully benevolent diplomatic stance, supported by genuine know-how in several strategic areas for Africa: mining, hydrocarbons, nuclear… It is this business orientation that will have been favoured by the Russian host. After reminding his African peers that his nation had already cancelled 20 billion of the debts contracted at the time of the USSR, Vladimir Putin went on to say that he wanted to « double the volume of trade with the continent in four or five years. »
In fact, paradoxically, the world’s largest country remains a small player in this field (17 billion exchanges with Africa in 2018, mainly with North Africa) compared to the giants of Europe (275 billion), China (200 billion), India (70 billion) and America (53 billion).

Distribution of Russian exports to Africa, by country, 2018 Source: FMI

But Russian diplomacy has other assets for it, which often hit the nail on the head: erasing debt in exchange for increased military cooperation or the promise of access to natural resources, which will then be exploited by heavyweights such as Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil (hydrocarbons), Alrosa (diamonds), Rusal (aluminium) and Rosatom (nuclear). Several agreements have been signed since the summit was launched on Wednesday, such as the one concerning the project to build a petrochemical complex in Morocco, estimated at $2 billion and jointly led by the Russian Development Bank VEB (Vnesheconombank) and the Moroccan company MYA Energy. The VEB has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Société nationale des pétroles du Congo and Afreximbank for the construction of a pipeline that should link the deepwater port of Pointe-Noire to the Maloukou terminal (not far from Brazzaville). Finally, the Russian public company Rosgeologia, active in seismic exploration, has concluded an agreement with Rwanda to explore for hydrocarbons in Lake Kivu, while memoranda of understanding have been initiated with Equatorial Guinea and Southern Sudan.