Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Russia Is Back in Africa

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Russia Is Back in Africa

Article excerpt


The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought an end to the ideology driven special relationship between Russia and various African states. However, after ten years these relations were resuscitated due to major changes on both sides. Under Vladimir Putin's presidency and the economic recovery that followed, Russia made efforts to reclaim a leading role in global politics, while various African states grew politically more stable and economically more successful. This time around, relations were focussed dominantly on economics and trade, rather than on ideology as during the Cold War period. Attracted by Africa's abundant resources, particularly energy and minerals, a small number of mega Russian companies started to do business with the continent at the turn of the century. This reengagement with Africa came somewhat belatedly, after major players, particularly China, the United States and the European Union, had intensified their engagement. At the same time, Russia and Africa found common cause in international political relations, as witnessed by similar policies in multilateral organisations, particularly aimed against Western hegemony in world finance and economy. And as pointed out in this article, Russia needs to embark on a more integrated, user-friendly, transparent and competitive engagement strategy to become a major role player in doing business with Africa. Russia and Africa need also familiarise themselves better with each other, particularly how to do business with one another. As yet, one cannot really speak of a visible Russian pivot towards Africa in its overall international relations. However, if conditions remain favourable, this may develop over time.

1. Introduction

During the Cold War years, the Soviet Union (SU) was the ideological role model, ally and supporter of various African client states seeking self-determination and freedom, as well as diplomatic leverage in the struggle between West and East. Leaving aside the well-known negatives of the SU's involvement in Africa, its most lasting contribution was the important role it played in ending colonialism and racism on the continent, and helping to put African related issues squarely on the international agenda. But contrary to the colonial powers, which gave Africa the Anglophone, Lusophone, Francophone regions and lasting Eurocentric cultural traits, the SU did not leave much of a footprint in Africa. No socialist, Marxist or 'Russophone'-Africa survived the SU. On the up-side, however, the new Russia enjoyed the advantage of engaging Africa without the debilitating colonialist chip on the shoulder.

The SU invested substantially in the promotion of strategic geopolitical relations with "progressive" governments in the underdeveloped southern hemisphere, particularly Africa. Bilateral relations with newly independent states benefitted particularly from Moscow's authentic anti-colonial stance by way of supporting the liberation course at the United Nations (UN), substantial material assistance to liberation movements, economic and technical aid. Various future African leaders received education in the SU. The Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow was started specifically for the purpose of training of African and other 'third world' students (Feuchtwanger and Nailor 1981: Chapter 4; Saivetz and Woodby 1985: Chapters 1 and 3).

This involvement became largely undone when the SU disintegrated in December 1991, the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist dogma being no longer a motivational force, the Cold War over, democracy instated, a centrally planned economy replaced by a market-based economy, and Russia's global power and status utterly diminished. Henceforth the new Russia fundamentally reorganised and re-prioritised its foreign policy objectives and priorities. The ideological global ambitions and objectives of the old order were discarded and replaced by a much reduced regional Eurasian role. …

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