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23 April 2019
Africa’s New Electoral Playbook

Africa’s New Electoral Playbook

Africa Current Issues Vol. 2019-02

23 April 2019
Africa Digest, Volume 2019-01

Africa Digest, Volume 2019-01

Bi-weekly summary report on the trends and issues in the macro-environment and industry to promote knowledge and raise understanding of business in Africa.

23 April 2019
African SEZs & GVCs in the age of automation

African SEZs & GVCs in the age of automation

Is the African dream of industrialisation via special economic zones (SEZs) hosting global value chains (GVCs) feasible? 

23 April 2019
Nigeria's business prospects, investment opportunities to grow in government's 2nd term

Nigeria's business prospects, investment opportunities to grow in government's 2nd term

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari successfully secured a second term at the helm of Africa's largest economy. Despite the controversial circumstances surrounding the run-up to the February poll, this was a...

23 April 2019
Is Africa the next tourism growth frontier?

Is Africa the next tourism growth frontier?

Summary report of a panel discussion at the Africa CEO Forum, held in Kigali, Rwanda, on 25 and 26 March 2019.

12 April 2019
The Opportunity in Banking Consolidation in East Africa

The Opportunity in Banking Consolidation in East Africa

  The East African banking sector has made significant strides in the past several years. From an industry that was once blamed for its exclusion to now being praised for its...

22 March 2019
Belvie: Establishing a consumer goods business in West Africa

Belvie: Establishing a consumer goods business in West Africa

  BeIvie is a Niger-based non-alcoholic beverages manufacturing and bottling group founded in 2014. This case study looks at how, in a relatively short period, Belvie captured significant market share from...

22 March 2019
Trends and Events in Africa 2018

Trends and Events in Africa 2018

2018 has been an interesting year for Africa, with various events and trends becoming visible. 2016 saw the effects of the slowdown of China’s economic growth due to its rebalancing...

20 March 2019
Nigeria’s Opportunity to Enhance the CFTA

Nigeria’s Opportunity to Enhance the CFTA

  Synopsis: The Continental Free Trade Area negotiations should take the concerns of domestic stakeholders seriously, for its own sustainable development.

19 March 2019
Raising The Steaks: Africa’s booming meat industry

Raising The Steaks: Africa’s booming meat industry

  The rapid growth of meat consumption in Africa will provide attractive opportunities for investors, but making production more efficient, protecting the environment and improving the lot of smallholders, pose many...

05 October 2018
Cover story: Sudan: Lifeline for the banking sector

Cover story: Sudan: Lifeline for the banking sector

  Sudan, one of the largest countries in the heart of Africa, has been struggling to stay afloat economically since the US imposed crippling trade and investment sanctions in 1997. The...

04 October 2018
Involving youth in agriculture in Africa

Involving youth in agriculture in Africa

Africa’s youth bulge presents both an opportunity and a challenge. More must be done to involve youth in agriculture as a means of providing employment, say Johan Burger and MD...

27 September 2018
More Singapore firms venturing into “challenging” Africa

More Singapore firms venturing into “challenging” Africa

It is a “long-term” play, say experts, but there is potential in areas like services, infrastructure

27 September 2018
Manufacturing in Nigeria: Status, challenges and opportunities

Manufacturing in Nigeria: Status, challenges and opportunities

  According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Nigerian manufacturing sector is dominated by the production of food, beverages and tobacco, with sugar and bread products generating the greatest...

24 September 2018
Africa Rising will Lift Singapore Boats Too

Africa Rising will Lift Singapore Boats Too

If there is one thing that the recent Africa Singapore Business Forum (ASBF) reminded me of, it is what a polarising prospect the continent remains.

07 September 2018
Unpacking South Korea’s engagement with Africa

Unpacking South Korea’s engagement with Africa

  Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, South Korea prioritised its alliance with the United States in pursuit of economic growth and military security. It took more than...

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Positioning Russia in the 21st Century Africa
A new “fight for Africa” seems to be unfolding with China, the EU, and the USA as the main protagonists. India, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and some GCC countries have also entered this battle. Russia is also becoming more prominent.

The former USSR’s strong influence in Africa diminished after 1989. It now seems Russia has new aspirations for Africa, which is reflected in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Africa in early March 2018, during which he visited Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Russia’s main non-military interests in Africa are the following:
• Strengthening political cooperation and interaction with African countries to ensure support of Russia’s position on international affairs.
• Developing trade and economic relations – strengthening trade in various product sectors.
• Exporting Russian services and technologies – e.g. constructing nuclear power plants, building other infrastructure, oil refining and pipeline construction, and launching satellites.

Russia is involved with Zimbabwe in developing its huge platinum deposits. Russian involvement in Angola involves diamond mining, hydrocarbon production , building Angola’s second satellite, and cooperating in the field of military technology.

Russia and Mozambique are planning to jointly develop and produce military equipment. The agreement between the two countries, signed in late January 2017, stipulates the deliveries of arms and military equipment, as well as other military-oriented products, spare parts and components. The agreement, originally signed for five years, will be automatically prolonged for another five years unless one of the parties withdraws.

Namibia's uranium reserves are a huge attraction to Russia. Russia itself is the world's fifth largest uranium producer, but will be using the Namibian uranium for the nuclear power plant it is building in Turkey. In addition, it is exporting its agricultural products to the country, such as wheat, dairy products, poultry, etc.

In Ethiopia, Lavrov pushed for the building of a nuclear reactor as part of Russia’s policy of exporting nuclear power facilities. He also called for Russian membership in the AU’s Mechanism for Police Cooperation.

Russia was recently permitted by a UN sanctions committee to sell weapons to the government in Central African Republic (C.A.R.). The arms were accompanied by a small group of 180 Russian military trainers. The weapons involve 900 pistols, 5,200 assault rifles, 140 sniper rifles, 840 Kalashnikov machine guns, 270 RPGs and 20 anti-aircraft guns.

While the above paints the general picture of Russia in Africa, Russia’s presence in specific countries follows a similar pattern.

Russia in Sudan
Russia and Sudan have long enjoyed economic, political and military relations. In addition to providing UN support, Russia has been a major arms supplier to Sudan.

President al-Bashir recently announced that Russia would boost Sudan's military capabilities. Sudan's air force is comprised mainly of Russian warplanes, and the bulk of its military equipment has also been traditionally supplied by Russia. Al-Bashir recently discussed with Putin the establishment of Russian military bases on the Red Sea coast, and offered Sudan as a gateway into Africa for Russia.

Russia has agreed to supply Sudan with a small-capacity floating nuclear plant to produce electricity, while Sudan invited Russian companies to participate in developing its oil industry.

Russia in Somaliland
Russia is reportedly negotiating with Somaliland for a naval base outside Zeila to support its naval forces operating in the region. Russia offered to recognise the breakaway republic of Somaliland and train its military in exchange for permission to establish the base. Russia’s possible base in Somaliland can also be seen as part of Moscow’s “Pivot to Africa.”

Ethiopia’s joint development of a port in Berbera with the UAE, and Russia’s increasing relations with both these countries, indicate economic-strategic motivations behind Russia’s decision to build a base in Zeila. It could meet multiple objectives by strengthening its ties with all three parties.

The Horn of Africa is strategically important for a number of reasons, such as allowing power projection into the Middle East, influence over the Suez Canal through the Gulf of Aden, and entry into the Indian Ocean.

Russia in Egypt
As for Russia's ties with Egypt, Soviet advisers were expelled from Egypt by President Anwar Sadat in 1972. It seems that the then Soviet leadership underestimated the intelligence and pride of the Egyptian leaders in their deals with the Egyptians. Also, they refused to provide Egypt with offensive weapons to support them in their struggle against Israel (Sheehan, 1972).

Russia-Egypt ties improved significantly after al-Sisi became president in July 2013. They held their first joint naval drills in June 2015, and military exercises in October 2016. In October 2017, Egypt finalized negotiations with Russia to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.

Russia also undertook to build an industrial zone in Egypt. The size of this industrial park on the Suez Canal was expanded to 2,000 hectares, and has a friendlier tax regime for resident Russian firms. Russian companies will design and construct the industrial facilities, jointly produce and supply various types of equipment, and provide technical assistance at a cost of $4.6 billion by 2035.

General
Russia has a notable military influence in and is a major arms supplier to Africa. Many African countries attend the “military games” hosted by Russia, either to participate or observe.

Russian energy interests include oil, gas and nuclear, with state-owned companies investing both in northern and southern Africa. Its soft power is exerted by offering non-Western-centric avenues of diplomacy and support. Economically, the focus has been on energy diplomacy, targeting countries such as Egypt, South Africa, Uganda and Angola.

Russia’s activities in Africa have not been without controversy. Some accuse Russia of exacerbating conflicts by supplying arms and training to the region. The Russian nuclear deal in South Africa has also been shrouded in controversy.
Diplomatically, Africa is of strategic interest to Russia for the geopolitical support it offers – African states comprise the biggest geographic voting bloc across various global diplomatic, security and economic institutions.

Through strategic energy diplomacy, military might and soft power, Russia will gradually increase its influence in Africa. Russia is attempting to reclaim its influence in Africa. It has obtained a position of influence in Egypt. Sudan has invited them to develop a physical presence in that country. Having a military presence in Somaliland, will give them a third base alongside the Red Sea approach to the Suez. It is now optimally placed to project power into the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean region. Russia’s outreach to southern and central Africa is setting it up to becoming a continental player of note.

As for Africa, there is a new “scramble for Africa”, and they should exploit the renewed attention to their benefit. It is clear that Russia is trying to reclaim the influence it had in Africa before 1989, when Glasnost and Perestroika destroyed the former Soviet Union. In addition, it is using Africa as a base to expand its influence beyond Africa. It has now succeeded in taking over the Crimea Peninsula, and has obtained a position of influence in Egypt alongside the Suez Canal. Further down south, Sudan has invited them to develop a physical presence in that country. Having a military presence in Somaliland, would give them a third base alongside the Red Sea approach to the Suez. It is now optimally placed to project power into the Middle East, the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean region.

Africa, with this growing Russian presence, the existing Chinese presence, and the historical USA military presence, is becoming a possible future global power battlefield. This battlefield is becoming more crowded with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey also becoming players, albeit only economically for some of them. It is doubtful whether these foreign military bases are in Africa’s best interest!

This article was first published on How We Made It In Africa on 31 May 2018. Republished with permission.

The author, Johan Burger, is the director of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. Johan can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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