Africa is increasingly becoming a continent of opportunity – Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin will this week host about 50 Heads of State from Africa for the Russia-Africa Summit. It will take place in the Russian city of Sochi. President Paul Kagame is expected to attend the summit. Ahead of the high-level meeting, President Putin had an interview with TASS, the largest Russian news agency.

Below is a translated version of the interview.

The Sochi Summit is meant to open a new chapter in the relations between the Russian Federation and African countries. Its participants will bring to Sochi their ideas about ways to develop cooperation. What does Russia, in its turn, have to offer to the states of the African continent? What is Russia’s biggest competitive advantage that you will present to the heads of delegations at the Summit? What volume of Russian investment in African economies do you expect to achieve, say, in the next five years?

Russia and African states have traditionally enjoyed friendly, time-tested relations. Our country has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid. 

Later on, we helped the Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces.

Important infrastructure facilities, hydroelectric power plants, roads, and industrial plants were built by Soviet – and subsequently Russian – specialists. Thousands of Africans received quality professional education at our universities.

This is well remembered by many current African leaders, who value our support. We too keep the memory of those pages of history.

Today, the development and strengthening of mutually beneficial ties with African countries and their integration associations is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities.

We will shortly be witnessing an unprecedented, benchmark event: on October 24, Sochi will host the Russia-Africa Summit. This will be the first full-scale top-level meeting, to which we have invited leaders of African states and heads of Africa’s major regional associations.

The idea to organise such an event emerged quite a long time ago; however, it has taken some time and considerable preparatory work to make this Summit a starting point for building fair partnership relations based on equality and mutual practical interest.

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.

We will consider these initiatives with great interest and decide what could be launched right away and what will require further elaboration.

Russia also has its vision of how to ensure further development of its ties with the African continent.

We intend to discuss relevant ideas with our partners, systematise and reflect them as concretely as possible in the final declaration. Besides, it is important to identify mechanisms for implementing agreements that would be reached at the top-level meeting in Sochi.

I am sure that the Summit will be a success since all the necessary prerequisites are there. Today, the Russian-African relations are on the rise. We maintain a close political dialogue, including on the issues of global and regional security.

The ties between our parliaments are expanding. Our mutual trade is steadily growing and diversifying.

Russia, together with the international community, renders comprehensive assistance to Africa, inter alia, by way of reducing the debt burden of its states. With a number of countries we are carrying out debt-for-development swap programmes.

Russia supports efforts aimed at controlling the spread of infectious diseases (including Ebola haemorrhagic fever), natural disaster relief, settlement of existing conflicts and prevention of new crises.

Russian universities provide professional training for national specialists from African countries both free of charge and on a commercial basis. Our defence and law enforcement agencies are stepping up their cooperation as well.

However, these are by no means all the items on our cooperation agenda. Our African partners see and appreciate the fact that Russia’s foreign policy, including in relation to their continent, is of constructive nature; that Russia, as one of the UN Security Council permanent members, advocates democratisation of international affairs, supports the legitimate aspiration of African states to pursue their own independent policy, to decide on their own future without imposed ‘assistance’ by third parties.

When doing so, we do not make our support and joint development projects which we offer contingent upon the fulfilment of political or any other preconditions or so-called ‘exclusive’, but in fact enslaving trade and economic preferences; we do not impose our views, respecting the principle of “African solutions to African problems” proposed by the Africans themselves.

As for the potential level of investment in Africa in the next five years, the figure is expected to be quite high, with a number of billion-dollar investment projects with Russia’s participation currently in the pipeline. 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 a favourable investment climate.

Competition in today’s world is extremely high. Is Russia ready for tough rivalry in Africa, say, with China or the US? Do you think there are risks of using protectionist policies, trade wars or unfair competition against Russia? What methods do you intend to apply to address them? Won’t this rivalry adversely affect the African partners?

Indeed, interest in developing the relations with African countries is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the US and the PRC, but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel, and Brazil.

This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness. Africa’s infrastructure needs are increasing, and the African population is rapidly growing, as are its demands.

All of this, in turn, calls for an expanded domestic market and greater consumption. Of course, where there are promising prospects for investment and profit, there is always competition, which, unfortunately, at times goes 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 and seek – this time in a “new wrapper” – to reap excess profits and exploit the continent’s resources without any regard for its population, environmental or other risks.

They are also hampering the establishment of closer relations between Russia and Africa – apparently so that nobody would interfere with their plans.

We certainly take note of these factors and draw conclusions. We are not going to participate in a new “repartition” of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa, provided that this competition is civilised and develops in compliance with the law.

We have a lot to offer to our African friends. This will be discussed, among other things, at the forthcoming Summit.

And, most certainly, we, together with our African partners, are committed to protecting our common economic interests and defending them against unilateral sanctions, including by reducing our dollar dependency and switching to other currencies in mutual settlements.

I am confident that the Africans are by no means interested in the escalation of the confrontation between the major powers in the continent. On the contrary, they would like the rivalry to give way to cooperation in addressing urgent challenges for Africa, such as terrorism, crime, drug trafficking, uncontrolled migration, poverty, highly infectious diseases. I would like to reiterate that this is the kind of work Russia is willing to participate in.

Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else, and we strongly oppose any geopolitical “games” involving Africa.

The Soviet model of cooperation with African countries often involved the lending mechanism. Did this policy prove effective? Does Russia plan to resume the practice of providing loans to African countries? What other mechanisms for offering support to African countries are you prepared to discuss?

Indeed, the Soviet-era model – with its pros and cons – proved quite effective at the stage of the development of statehood in African countries. We still continue rendering financial assistance to African states.

While in the past, these decisions were primarily politically motivated, now they are part of the humanitarian assistance.

As far as granting loans is concerned, today these loans are market-oriented. For example, a decision was made to grant a loan to Egypt in the amount of $25 billion for the construction of four power units for El Dabaa NPP. This is specifically market-oriented lending.

Let me point put that in the post-Soviet period, at the end of the 20th century, Russia cancelled $20 billion of African countries’ debts to the Soviet Union. This was both an act of generosity and a pragmatic step because many of the African states were unable to service those debts.

We, therefore, decided that it would be best for everyone just to start our cooperation from scratch.

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