Por Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
Until recently, Africa was not high on Russia's political agenda. African leaders must understand that Russia has kept Africa low on its political agenda for the past three decades. Following the end of the Soviet era, Russia has been largely focused on the United States and Europe and dreams of becoming part of Europe, part of the configuration of the Global North. Russia's low economic presence from 1991 to 2019 was proof that Africa was low on its list of priorities. Of course, the October 2019 summit was symbolic, but after that Russia reneged on most bilateral agreements in Africa.
The United Nations Security Council, which has been putting pressure on Russia since February 24, 2022, urges Russia to aggressively request support in Africa. Last July, in an article published on his official website, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wrote: “Developing a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains one of the top priorities of Russian foreign policy; Moscow is open to further developing various relations with Africa."
In his opinion piece, Lavrov argues: “We have been rebuilding our positions for many years. The Africans reciprocate, they are interested in having us. It is good to see that our African friends have a similar understanding with Russia." However, Lavrov reported on the expansion of African affairs "in the new version of the concept of Russia's foreign policy in the context of the weakening of the Western leadership." and that this will objectively contribute to increasing the African leadership in the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Lavrov constantly shows his passion for historical references. Soviet support for the struggles for political independence and against colonialism should lie dormant in the archives. The best way to combat neocolonialism is to speak out by investing in these competitive sectors and moving away from hyped up rhetoric about an endless list of sectors. In practice, we tend to deal with the development challenges of today and what is in store for the future generation. Africa today does not need anti-Western slogans; Africa simply needs external players who invest passionately and honestly in critical sectors of the economy. The basic fact is that Africa is making efforts to transform its economy to create jobs, modernize agriculture and industrialize the continent, most notably with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Despite all the criticism, China has built an exemplary economic power in Africa. Along with China, Africa benefits greatly from aid flows and from economic and trade relations between the European Union and the West. By comparison, Russia plays a very small role in Africa's infrastructure, agriculture and industry, and makes little effort to utilize the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community pays little attention to the importance of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which offers companies a unique and valuable platform to access an integrated African market of more than 1.3 billion people.
Lavrov's efforts to build non-Western relations at this crucial time are highly commendable, especially with Africa. But the highly respected minister easily and mainly forgot the fact that Africa was desperate for vaccines in every corner of the world during these two or three years of a global pandemic, the coronavirus, that was engulfing the planet. Health authorities continue to warn that Covid-19 has not been fully combated throughout the world.
Quartz, a respected global media outlet, reported earlier this year that "by the end of 2022, about a quarter of the population in African countries will be fully vaccinated against covid-19, according to the latest figures from the Africa CDC. Coverage varies greatly by country.In Liberia, for example, nearly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated, compared to just 34% in neighboring Sierra Leone.Congo, Sudan, Senegal, and Madagascar have less than average coverage. 10%
In his report, Ouma said that the target for Africa remains to vaccinate 70% of the population. However, this target has been set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the general population. Those numbers are about to change, and not because of an increase in vaccinations. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the Africa CDC, announced in a video briefing on December 22 that he would change the way he reports vaccination rates. Instead of reporting coverage for the entire population, only immunizations for eligible populations 12 years and older are reported.
Due to delays in international vaccine shipments, Africa lags behind the rest of the world in covid vaccination rates and is the only continent where less than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated. To date, just over 800 million doses of vaccines have been administered in Africa, or 80% of the total received. About a third of the vaccinations were made with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, followed by Pfizer (22%), AstraZeneca (17%), China's Sinopharm (15%) and Sinovac (7%).
Several reports overseen by this author show that Russia has played a minimal role in the broader healthcare sector in Africa. With the Covid-19 vaccine, Russia randomly distributed a few thousand as humanitarian aid to its "Soviet friends", including Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Worse still, however, was Russia's sudden failure to send the 300 million vaccines through the African Union (AU), especially in times of health crisis.
An authoritative policy report released in November 2021 titled "Situation Analytical Report" and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts led by Sergei A. Karaganov specifically noted the failure to supply Sputnik vaccines to the African Union. The report criticized Russia's current policies and its tepid approach towards Africa.
“In various respects, Russia's chances are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The delivery of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is one example. After signing contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to several African countries, the Russian suppliers failed to fulfill their contractual obligations on time," said parts of the report.
The coronavirus outbreak was a pandemic on March 11, 2020. It is worth noting that Russia claims that it was the first to find a cure for the coronavirus. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not certified Russia's vaccines to date. On the other hand, all vaccines registered in Russia - Sputnik V, Sputnik Light, CoviVac and EpiVacCorona - are produced in large quantities by Russian pharmaceutical companies and are currently used for vaccination.
The director of the Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, Alexander Gintsburg, has repeatedly highlighted aspects of vaccine production and marketing. He pointed to the increased attractiveness of vaccines in foreign markets, including countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
The Russian direct investment fund tasked with marketing the vaccines abroad has faltered, particularly in Africa. Of course, he took action and quickly registered the vaccines in more than 20 African countries, but he missed the delivery deadlines terribly. Worse was the Russian direct investment fund, which was supplied to several African countries at exorbitant prices through intermediaries in the United Arab Emirates. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry has retained several African foreign ministers during this Covid-19 period and repeated at a desperate time to help with direct supplies to Africa. This is Russia, which is considered a reliable partner for Africa.
Earlier thoughts by the Covid-19 business provided the reasons why Russia flatly refused to join and be part of the Covax facility, which is acting as a global collective bargaining initiative to secure vaccine doses for countries that have signed up, including this self-financing of their purchases, as well as donor aid for the poorest developing countries. In fact, the first vaccines purchased through Covax were destined to reach Africa. That was, monitored by this author, around 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines distributed to 47 countries, including Africa, in the first half of 2021. In the same year, during the virtual meeting of the leaders of the G7, the European Union announced that it had donated another 500 million euros to the COVAX programme. The World Bank has also pledged $12 billion in concessional loans to help African countries access foreign vaccines.
That's not all from multiple monitored reports. In April 2022, co-authors Matthew T. Page and Paul Stronski wrote under the headline, "How Russia's humanitarian vacuum hurt its vaccination diplomacy in Africa," both noting in 2020 that Russia offered shipments of protective and medical supplies to several African countries. countries, while the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine raised hopes that African countries could soon launch large-scale vaccination campaigns. Russian efforts to promote Sputnik V in Africa have stalled for a variety of reasons, including regulatory concerns, production and logistics shortfalls, bureaucratic inertia, and even the impact of the label. However, there is another key factor behind Moscow's failed vaccination diplomacy: its traditionally low post-Soviet development presence on the continent.
Compared to Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and even many foundations, Russia has provided a small share of international development assistance to African countries since the end of the Cold War. Unlike India and Cuba, it has provided or underinvested in medical supplies to African countries.
Suppose Russia wants to be influential on the continent. In that case, Africa's political and economic leaders should demand more from Moscow and not simply settle for the token diplomatic compromises or deals that characterize the Russian leadership. In fact, for the past three decades, Africa has hardly figured high on Russia's foreign policy agenda and has been mentioned little in the country's key security documents, except as a partner in an emerging multipolar world or as a source of instability.
Indeed, it is time for African leaders to come together to ensure that no effort is spared to facilitate and support the building of large-scale vaccine manufacturing capacity on the continent. The African Vaccine Manufacturing Summit held in April 2021 was an encouraging start. The focus must be on the development of real R&D capacities for vaccines, which must inevitably lead to medical devices. This requires significant investment and a long-term commitment. Similarly, the leaders under the aegis of the African Union must start looking for internal solutions instead of pinning their hopes on these geopolitical games, with the major external powers only seeking support for their particular or narrow-minded interests.
While Russia is striving to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, it is understandable that Russia simply lacks the ability to deliver on its various promises in Africa. Certainly, African countries need to start reassessing their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything concrete from meetings, conferences and summits. Very little has been achieved since the first Russia-Africa Summit in 2019. Given the severe sanctions imposed following Putin's invasion of neighboring Ukraine, Moscow is even less likely to allocate sufficient financial resources to investments in economic sectors.
In stark contrast to major global players like the United States, China, and the European Union and many others, Russia obviously has limits. Still, to regain some of its Soviet-era clout, Russia needs to address its political approach, and this time try to move to new paradigms: implement some of the promises and promises of decades ago and those bilateral agreements; second, the promotion of development-oriented policies and how these strategic efforts can be made more practical, consistent, effective and, most importantly, admirably results-oriented with African countries.