The TownhallPolitics

Russia and Africa’s symbiotic relationship could become parasitic

By Gugulethu Hughes

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

The recently ended Russia-Africa Summit comes during the war in Ukraine, now over one year old. Western forces aligned to the USA, including NATO, EU, and the UK have invested heavily in isolating Russia from participating in global trade. The USA has gone to the extent of creating the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act. The law seeks to punish African countries that warm up to Russia. The International Criminal Court was also used by the USA to issue a warrant of arrest for Russian President Vladimir Putin, preventing him from attending the BRICS Summit in South Africa. On the other hand, Russia is exploring opportunities for deepening ties with Africa back to the levels of the Soviet Union during their wars of liberation. By doing so, Russia will create alternative supply chains for its own economic growth. 

The Russia-Africa Summit means more to Russia than it does for African countries whose representatives are mostly excited by the prospects of photoshoot opportunities with President Putin. Russia, as the host, sets the tone and agenda of the Summit which in its wording is inclusive. In the words of the Russian Federation President, “We highly value the results of our joint work at the Summit. I am sure the achieved results are creating a good foundation for further deepening the Russia -Africa partnership in the interest of our nations’ prosperity and wellbeing.”

Russia is very affirmative in its approach and is giving attractive offers to attract African leaders. Some of these include debt cancellation and free grain and wheat. The countries set to receive these “free” supplies include Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic.

It is important to consider what opportunities these free grain destination countries present for Russia. With the world moving towards sustainable energy, which has increased demand for lithium batteries, the need for control over the lithium supply chain has increased subsequently. Zimbabwe holds the highest lithium reserves in Africa, occupying the sixth position globally. For Russia, the country presents opportunities for Russian investments in the lithium industry, in particular the mines and processing, if they’re not too late.

China and Australia are already dominating the Zimbabwean lithium industry. In 2019, Australian lithium developer Prospect Resources signed a memorandum of understanding with Uranium One, the Canada-based unit of Russia’s state-owned energy company Rosatom. That memorandum would see the miner take up a stake in Prospect and purchase over half of the lithium from Arcadia Mine in Zimbabwe. Prospect Resources eventually sold its 87% stake to China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt.

Russia is seeking other opportunities in Zimbabwe’s lithium rich areas of Arcadia, Goromonzi, and Kamativi. At the July Russia-Africa Summit, the two countries reached an agreement on nuclear energy cooperation at the back of a memorandum of understanding to explore nuclear energy generation which was already in place in 2021. Earlier this year, Zimbabwe also received 18 helicopters from Russia for use in policing. It goes without saying that Russia, as an integral part of the Soviet Union, also gave military and intelligence training assistance and weapons supply to the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army during their struggle for independence.

Mali, which recently passed a new mining code raising gold concessions, allowing the state to take up 30% of all new mineral projects, is also rich in lithium and manganese. Russia’s Wagner Group is countering USA and European mining activities in Mali by investing in gold, manganese, and lithium mining activities. The group also provides help for the new Malian government, led by Asime Goita after the coup on Western-aligned Ibrahim Keita in 2020. Access to Malian minerals seems to be the only plausible option for Mali to continue gaining protection from Russia in the face of provocations from the West.

Perhaps Russia’s biggest trump card is its military supply chain capability to provide security for African governments with frostier relations with the West. Africa alone has not built capacity to stand up to bullies which in turn makes the continent vulnerable for exploitation on both ends.

Russia’s Nordgold, owned by billionaire Alexei Mordashov, has had a stellar gold mining run in Burkina Faso building and buying gold mines. In 2013, Nordgold built Bissa Mine and expanded it with new addition Bouly three years later. The company enjoys a majority stake in both mines while the Burkina Faso government owns the remaining 16%.

The new Burkina Faso government granted Nordgold a new gold exploration and mining permit in December 2022 much to the dismay of the Western governments like the USA who themselves have put Nordgold under sanctions. Alexei Mordashov is also being targeted by the EU sanctions brigade for his stake in Rossiya Bank, the bank of choice for senior Russian government officials. South Africa’s Western-funded opposition caused a fervor last October after South Africa allowed Mordashov’s yacht to dock in Cape Town. After the 2022 coup in Burkina Faso, Russian flags were waved in the air by the Burkinabes as a sign of confidence in Russia to thwart potential aggression from colonizer France. 

The Central African Republic is rich in deposits of gold, uranium, iron ore, copper, and manganese. In 2021, the Wagner Group fought on the side of CAR President Faustin Touadera who was facing attacks from military rebels linked to former President Bozize. This Wagner support led to the CAR government making Russian the third official language in CAR and making it mandatory in universities. From 2018, Wagner has secured significant mining concessions in CAR for gold, diamonds, and timber. Wagner currently controls Ndassima Gold Mine where it runs one of its biggest operations in the Central African Republic. Returns are expected to reach up to a billion US dollars. These healthy returns are crucial for Russia’s expansion into Africa. The Russian flag has also become a common sight in the Central African Republic, once again exhibiting high approval ratings for Russia in Africa.

Russia has in recent years signed several agreements with Eritrea to expand its naval base and construct a logistics center in the country, too. Eritrea itself shares with Russia the similar burden of Western economic sanctions. For Russia, Eritrea provides the opportunity to have control of the logistics, military, and economic trade activities in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, Suez Canal, and the Indian Ocean due to Eritrea’s strategic positioning. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is a close ally of President Putin and in his address at the Russia – Africa Summit made a compelling proposition for the partnership between Russia and the continent. 

In his address, President Afwerki stated that, “Africa owns 60% of global natural resources and it is high time for Africa to fully exploit its potential to guarantee prosperity of its peoples and that Russia’s potential and capabilities can be tapped in the endeavor.”

At the Summit, Russia granted Somalia a debt relief worth US$684 million and promised free grain. Russia has also consistently supplied the Somalian authorities with weapons to deal with the terrorism. Somalia meanwhile presented Russia with a unique opportunity to expand its renewed interest in the entire Horn of Africa where it is employing the strategy of weapons first and concessions later. The other superpowers USA and China also have vested interests in the Horn and so are the Arabian countries UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Horn of Africa’s significance for military logistics and all maritime activities cannot be underestimated.

What is clear is that Africans understand that they remain under the yoke of Western colonialism and the West gives incentives to the black political elite to continue administering their subjugation. Africans also understand that the West runs a sophisticated system of punishing those who refuse to toe the line, and because Africa does not own the intellectual rights to its cosmetic liberation, cannot wage a war against the West on its own. This is because the West has exported its flawed democracy to Africa whose success is dependent on subscription to Western values and positions. Due to the disconnect among Africans made possible by colonial pedagogy, Russia comes across as an ally strong enough to deliver Africa from Western imperialism.

Russia is a mighty superpower which has stood the test of time and continuously kept the West at bay. The Ukraine situation which is an economic attack on Russia by the West has sparked a more intentional will to partner with Africa. Russia is exploiting Africa’s displeasures with the West to bolster its own economic prospects while Africa is seeking military assistance from Russia.

The danger with Africa not having unity of purpose and common agenda is that the continent risks transferring its imprisonment from the West to Russia. There is no common African charter that Russia can utilize as a tool for cooperation. Frankly it is not Russia’s duty to do so but rather Africa’s. In other words, in all fairness, Africa is not ready for any form of cooperation that will lead to the improvement of economic fortunes for its citizens.

Russia’s fallout with the West has presented Africa with the best opportunity to develop a people-driven win-win form of partnership with Russia governed by Pan-African ideals. We are at the confluence where Russia needs us and we need Russia, but African leaders lack foresight and continue to miss the boat.

We are highly pedantic in articulating our challenges but very mediocre in taking measures to robustly address those challenges. Our behavior is childish, focused on seeking guardians rather than true liberations. Burkina Faso’s President Ibrahim Traore has given Africans a challenge for the next Russia- Africa Summit, “Yesterday, President Vladimir Putin announced that grain would be shipped to Africa. This is pleasing, and we say thank you for this. However, this is also a message to our African heads of state, because at the next forum, we must not come here without having ensured… the self-sufficiency of the food supply for our people. We must learn from the experience of those who have succeeded in achieving this in Africa, weaving good relations here, and weaving better relations with the Russian Federation, in order to provide for the needs of our peoples…”

I’ll go a step further: The next Africa-Russia Summit should see Africa setting the agenda derived from a common Pan African goal, purpose, and vision.

Subscribe to get early access to podcasts, events, and more!

Gugulethu Hughes


Gugulethu Hughes is the ScoonTV Africa correspondent

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Previous Post
The real Harvard is FREE
Next Post
BRICS is no cure for Africa’s problems

Related Articles

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,