Historic Russia-Africa Summit: A Long Way to Go
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)
List of speakers

In late October, Sochi hosted the first Russia-Africa summit, which was attended by heads of state or government from nearly every country in the continent. Although experts have shifted their attention to the global results of the forum, the discussion at the Valdai Club, held on October 28, focused on bilateral relations between Russia and African countries, with all their political, economic and cultural aspects, as well as on the prospects for cooperation between Russia and the countries of the continent.

According to Oleg Barabanov, programme director of the Valdai Club and discussion moderator, Africa is now firmly on the Club’s agenda: a separate session was devoted to it at the 2019 annual meeting, and a report was made, titled “Russia's Return to Africa: Strategy and Prospects”. Thus, the expert discussion became a logical continuation of this line of thought.

Dr. Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Ambassador of Rwanda to Russia, remembered that 46 years had passed since the first France-Africa summit in 1973, when the nations of the continent first acted as full partners on the world stage. “We have something to offer the world, and vice versa,” she said. “But as for the Russia-Africa summit, we want the outcome of this summit to be different from previous and subsequent ones. Russia never took part in the colonisation of Africa, but helped in the development and training of its inhabitants, and in the democratisation of the continent. That is why we want the summit to lay a foundation for African-Russian cooperation.”

“I would like to express optimism that we will achieve more with Russia than after the African summits with other countries. Russia is a true friend, a friend in need is a friend indeed, and we want this dialogue to deliver sustainable results. This forum has taught us that you can’t leave anything behind. However, we have a long way to go and a lot of work,” the ambassador concluded.

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Expert Opinions

Oleg Ozerov, Deputy Director of the Africa Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, said that he fully supports the previous speaker in her assessments and optimism. According to him, although it is still difficult to assess all the political, economic and cultural results of the forum, it is obvious that we are talking about a historical event. “For the first time, representatives of all 54 countries, recognised by the UN, came to us, including 47 heads of state and government. Many of them had bilateral meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin. This is a significant result: the city of Sochi these days has become the centre of world politics. It’s time to forget about the ‘isolation’ of Russia – the West is more likely to be isolated,” he said.

The two main components of the event were politics and economics; the speaker drew attention to the former. “Following the summit, a final declaration was signed between Russia and all African countries,” he said. “This is a very serious, deeply developed document, which reflects all the main problems of interaction. This is a kind of manifesto against hegemonism, attempts to establish a unipolar world, unilateral sanctions, colour revolutions, and against the revision of international law. This is a declaration for building a multipolar world based on the UN Charter. In this document, you can read what Russia and Africa think about bilateral cooperation. In addition, two memorandums of understanding were signed – between the African Union and Russia, and between the African Union and the EAEU. In general, we intend to build equal relations. It is no coincidence that the slogan of the summit was ‘For Peace, Security and Development’ – this is what unites us. But to achieve these three goals, we need to unite our potential.”

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Expert Opinions

According to Nathalia Zaiser, Chair of the Board and founder of the Africa Business Initiative Union, the agenda for the forum has been accumulating for at least 20 years, and it will take some time to analyse its results. Regarding the question stated in the title of the discussion – “What's next?” – she pointed to two components, “actual” and “desired”. “I will support the colleague who spoke about the declaration: there are fundamental issues in all areas – politics, security, counter-terrorism, ecology, and economics. You can rely on it during the work on international and bilateral platforms.”

The main question, in her opinion, is to what extent these statements will lead to practical results. However, she supported the optimism of other speakers: “The current summit made it clear that we absolutely have companies that have shown complete competence in their work on the African continent. The forum showed interest from big, medium and even small businesses in very related sectors of the economy. Talking about innovations in Africa is considered strange, because now there isn’t even complete electrification, but it is developing very quickly and making great strides, so our companies are ready to provide it with technology,” Zaiser said.

The last issue, raised by her and also by other experts, touched upon the potential that Russia has opened up for Eurasia as a whole. “It made it possible to sign the EAEU-Africa memorandum, so here we are talking about a multilateral format. There is still mention of the BRICS format – this is another platform where you can promote the African track,” she concluded.

In general, experts agreed that the summit was a significant and extremely successful event for Russian diplomacy, and its results are an indication that Russian-African relations are built on mutual respect and a spirit of cooperation. As Natalia Zaiser summed up, the challenge now is to bring the summit agreements to life as much as possible – and this requires the combined efforts of politicians and businesses.