Russian-African Cooperation: In Search of a Youth Format
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On December 11, 2023, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion titled “The Young Generation in an Era of Change: Dialogue Between the Civil Societies of Russia and Africa”. The moderator was Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Club. 

Pavel Shevtsov, deputy head of Rossotrudnichestvo, emphasised that Russia, when working with foreign audiences, should first of all seek to work with young people, who in the near future will become decision-makers, shaping the foreign policy of their countries. He called graduates of Soviet and Russian universities in Africa the “golden fund” of Russia. “The future belongs to the African continent, we are one hundred percent sure of this. This is a continent that is gaining strength,” Shevtsov added. He noted that Africans are now showing great interest in education in Russia. Against this background, the state needs to think about what it can offer them in this area, since education is an important tool for political influence and cultural presence. In this regard, new approaches are being developed, primarily with respect to education. Shevtsov also noted the importance of paying special attention to information support. 

Andrey Avetisyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to the Republic of Tanzania, called the issue of the role of youth in Russian-African interaction extremely timely and relevant. In his opinion, African countries now face the problem of gaining economic independence. Neither their former European metropolises nor the United States are interested in these countries’ development, and they are trying to impose their agenda on them. African youth play an important role in this fight and are becoming increasingly active. The new generation does not remember the period of colonialism, strives to go beyond the borders set by the West and welcomes Russian assistance in the economic development of Africa. Ties in the educational sphere are extremely important, but it is also necessary to develop business and cultural ties, focusing on youth, Avetisyan noted. At the same time, he admitted that now Russia and Africa do not know enough about each other, and this should be corrected. He examined specific areas of possible cooperation, using the example of relations with Tanzania. The diplomat is sure that this is actually about developing Russia’s friendships. 

The issue of civil society interaction has been brewing in the international field for some time now, and the geopolitical events that have led to a new paradigm of relations have only increased its relevance, said Nathalia Zaiser, Chair of the Board of the African Business Initiative Union. She considers mutual low awareness to be an important problem. “The Russian-African agenda is still dominated by a situation where there’s a lack of knowledge both on the Russian side about the African continent and in Africa about Russia,” she noted, adding that Russian-African relations should be perceived as “a two-way street.” In this sense, it is necessary to take into account how the agenda of cooperation with Africa will be presented to Russian youth. “It is necessary to involve the youth format in Russian-African relations using all possible methods,” Zaiser said. 

Andrey Maslov, director of the Centre for African Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, noted that the Soviet Union had a good experience interacting with Africa, but the USSR worked practically without competitors, because the West was not ready to train African personnel in such numbers. Now Russia is encountering fierce competition, and this means that it will not be possible to use the quantitative factor; it is necessary to train the best, those who will occupy leading positions in their countries. To do this, it is necessary to increase the teaching of Russian in African countries, expand competition, and introduce additional scholarships and non-financial targeted support measures for the most talented students, as well as develop targeted training programs, including bilateral Russian-African ones.

Leonid Protsenko, Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology of Personality Development at Moscow Pedagogical State University, examined the topic of discussion from a theoretical perspective. He pointed out that strategic vectors for working with youth have not yet been set in Russia. “When a strategy is blurred, there are a lot of different tactics that don’t lead to much movement,” he explained. It is necessary to create conditions, motivation, and prerequisites for exploring other regions. After this, conditions can be created for the interaction of communities and space for the next level of exchange. In addition, at the human level, Protsenko considers it necessary to work with the personal reflective position as a fundamental factor.