By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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Russia President Vladmir Putin says Moscow will encourage African countries to table their own development proposals for discussion during the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit that opens on Wednesday October 23.
Mr Putin offered what he called a vision for cooperation with Africa as some 3,000 delegates continued arriving at Sochi resort city. At least 35 African heads of state and government have confirmed attending.
Against claims that Moscow is playing catch-up with its BRICS peers India and China and other rivals like the EU, Japan, Turkey, UK and United States, Mr Putin said Russia would bring resources and technology to Africa leaving business and political leaders to determine how they are utilised.
“We expect that our African colleagues, representatives of the business community will come to Sochi with a solid package of proposals aimed at enhancing bilateral relations, while heads of Africa’s regional organisations will share their ideas as to how we could jointly develop our multilateral cooperation,” Mr Putin said in an interview with local TASS news agency on Tuesday.
He also said projects agreed upon could be launched right away, suggesting they would not be tied to undue bureaucracy and conditions that have made African governments frown at project financing from the west.
The two-day conference begins with a business summit involving private investors and policy makers as Russia seeks to lift its business dealings in Africa where it has traditionally supported liberation movements with one eye on military sales.
In the first half of this year, Russia state-arms dealer Rosoboronexport reported sales of $5.7 billion across the world.
In its search for new horizons, chief executive officer said in June Rosoboronexport would target Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Apart from arms Russia’s trade and investments on the continent have been increasing driven by energy and related infrastructure.
It is a key buyer of tea, coffee, flowers, spices, fish, seafood and cashew from several African countries including Kenya, Uganda and Seychelles.
According to the Russia Customs Service, Russia exports food items and agricultural raw materials, as well as machinery, equipment and vehicles to Africa.
In exchange, it gets citrus fruits, manganese ores and concentrates, cocoa and its products, vegetables, clothes and shoes, fruits, tobacco raw materials and tobacco waste, hydrazine and hydroxylamine, artificial corundum and flavored tea.
Trade between Africa and Russia rose to $20.4 billion in 2018 and is heavily in favour of Moscow which shipped out goods worth $17.5 billion against $2.9 billion.
Between January and August this year, Russia sold $7.1 billion in exports to Africa and imported $1.8 billion of goods.
Mr Putin said a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation were currently in the pipeline and would be rolled out in five years.
Although he did not name them, Russia’s key investment partners in Africa last year were Angola, Ghana, Guinea, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Congo, Nigeria and South Africa.
Russian companies made investments valued at $47 billion in the countries.
However, a $30 billion investment by nuclear Company Rosatom, which signed agreements with several African governments to explore atomic energy, in Egypt claimed the bulk of the commitments.
Russia oil company Lukoil last year acquired a 25 per cent stake in the Marine XII gas project in the Republic of the Congo from New Age M12 Holdings Limited for $800 million.
Egyptian Presiden Fattah al-Sisi who is the Africa Union Chairman will co-chair the summit with Mr Putin.
Russia is hoping to further trade ties by starting negotiations for its Eurasian Economic Union bloc to exchange preferences with the African Continental Free Trade Area which comes into force in July next year.
Egypt is in advanced talks to join the $4 trillion bloc that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
“Both Russia and Russian companies have substantial resources. We hope that our partners, in turn, will create the necessary stable and predictable business environment and investment protection mechanisms and ensure favourable investment climate,” Mr Putin said.
He said competition for investment and profit in Africa had seen some rivals go beyond the bounds of decency.
“We see a number of western states resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail against governments of sovereign African countries. They hope it will help them win back their lost influence and dominant positions in former colonies,” he said.
The Russia approach, he said, would have foremost regard of Africa’s population, environmental or other risks.
“We intend to discuss relevant ideas with our partners, systematise and reflect them as concretely as possible in the final declaration,” Mr Putin said.
Moscow officials have recently being talking down financial aid and loans to Africa saying a more diversified toolkit was needed to establish a mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and African countries.”
This would include debt swapping, humanitarian actions against diseases and disasters, settlement of conflicts such as that on the Nile and diffusion of further crisis.
Politics will also be at play as Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, says it defends sovereignty of African states from foreign, read western, interference.
What is on the table in Russia
Energy and infrastructure with Africa leaders having leeway to decide which projects are appropriateIncreasing trade volumes and investments by supporting Russian firms to venture in AfricaTechnology transfer through scholarships to pursue science and technology courses in Russia as well as cultural exchanges.Debt forgiveness and swaps with Mozambique already a beneficiaryRussia support for ‘African solutions to African problems’ and bids to reform the UN to be more accomodative.Cooperation in counter-terrorism measures in tackling al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terror merchantsIntelligence co-operation to fight drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking.