By Kester Kenn
Klomegah, GNA's Moscow Bureau Chief
MOSCOW, Russia, Jan 11, GNA - Despite its highly praised global status, experts and researchers said Russia has still lagged far behind economic engagement, compared to key foreign players, in Africa since Soviet’s collapse in 1991.
In separate interviews, they pointed to how the African continent is more confidently integrating into the world economy and called for more development-oriented foreign policies that would help the continent overcome its development problems.
In an exclusive interview, the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, said Russia has a long history of bilateral engagements with the Southern African countries.
"The most recent visit of the Russian Foreign Minister H.E. Sergey Lavrov to the Republics of Angola, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zimbabwe, (as we understand it) was largely focused on signing of economic cooperation agreements to attract Russian investments in key areas such as mining, aviation and energy sectors, as well as fostering military technical cooperation."
Like most of the developing countries, Southern African countries have, over the years, largely relied on multilateral and regional development financial institutions to fund their development projects.
In this regard, SADC welcomes investors from all over the world, she said, and added "In reality, Russia has not been that visible in the region as compared to China, India or Brazil. But, it is encouraging that, of recent, Russia has positioned herself to be a major partner with Southern Africa and being part of the BRICS promotes her engagement with the region, particularly in investment in minerals, aviation, defense and energy sectors".
In March 2018, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited the Southern Africa region where he held talks with the Presidents of Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Hommes d’Afrique magazine before embarking on the African tour that "our African friends note the need for Russia's active presence in the region, and more frequently express interest in holding a Russia-African summit. Such a meeting would undoubtedly help deepen our cooperation on the full range of issues."
"The most conspicuous aspect of Russia's involvement in Africa is its absence," says John Endres, Chief Executive Officer of Good Governance Africa from South Africa, adding that "whereas the Soviet Union was quite extensively engaged in Africa, Russia has almost entirely abandoned the field to other foreign players during the past two decades."
Professor Gerrit Olivier at the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, and former South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation, said Soviet influence in Africa disappeared almost like a mirage with the collapse of the Soviet system in 1991.
And today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal.
Dr Ojijo Al Pascal, Ugandan lawyer and business consultant based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in East Africa, suggested that "Russia needs to have its own mega or corporate projects. And it should have them in strategic economic areas."
Ojijo underlined the fact that Russia, in essence, could use its history of electrifying the Soviet rural areas to help Africa.
It could promote the establishment of manufacturing hubs and mega projects, promote its technologies in mutually beneficial spheres while cooperating with individual countries in Africa.
Rex Essenowo, Member of the Board of Trustees of Nigerians in Diaspora Europe and Senior Executive of Asian Africa Trade, a Moscow based business lobbying NGO, said African leaders also have to treat Russia with some kind of objective understanding.
"Apart from sanctions, Russia is struggling with the challenges after the breakdown of Soviet Union and economic meltdown of the 90's in the country. Russia, as it seeks to restore and strengthen its position, has very limited human resources specially trained to implement policies in Africa," he added.
"Nevertheless, diving into muddy waters could be very risky and dangerous for Russia. On the other hand, Russian authorities are studying what the Chinese and other foreign players are doing very closely before even thinking about going into the first five or ten preferred destinations within the next five years in Africa. Watch out my words!"