Following the Russia-Africa Summit, the president says the two countries want to partner with us for our ‘mutual benefit’ and not just to ‘expand their geopolitical influence’.
In the continuation of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s weekly letters to the country, he reports back from the first Russia-Africa Summit, declaring it a sign of the “dramatic rebalancing of the relationship between the world’s advanced economies and the African continent”.
The summit saw 40 African heads of state meet in Sochi, Russia, at the Black Sea Retreat.
According to Ramaphosa, at the Summit Africa put its foot down about no longer wanting to be “passive recipients of foreign aid” and were now “increasingly in need of foreign direct investment”.
The president mentioned Europe and colonialism, “where the economies of Europe were able to industrialise and develop by extracting resources from Africa, all the while leaving the colonies underdeveloped”.
He said the message from African leaders at the Russia-Africa summit was that economic relationships now needed to be for “mutual benefit”.
“The age where ‘development’ was imposed from outside without taking into account the material conditions and respective requirements of our countries is now past.”
The president took pains to deny claims that countries like Russia and China were only investing in Africa “to expand their geopolitical influence”, and denied that African countries “are being led into a debt trap as they take up loans to fund a number of projects in their countries”.
He said both the Forum on China Africa Cooperation and the Russia-Africa Summit showed that the focus was now on “partnership for mutual benefit, on development, trade and investment cooperation and integration”.
According to Ramaphosa, the intentions of Russia and China, as well as the 34 countries which make up the OECD, were pure.
These and “other large economies are eager to forge greater economic ties with African countries because they want to harness the current climate of reform, the deepening of good governance, macro-economic stability and the opening up of economies across the continent for mutual benefit,” the president said.
“It is an era of a confident Africa, of a growing Africa that knows its potential and its worth. This is an Africa that is able to trade and engage on its own terms. An Africa that has finally come into its own,” said Ramaphosa before signing off.
Not everyone agrees with the president’s assessment, with the Daily Maverick publishing an op-ed on Monday morning describing the summit as “Russia’s scramble for Africa”.
It argues that the summit proposed that talk of “mutual benefit” may need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as the affair aimed to “offer African leaders a renewed sense of partnership with Russia, who played the decolonial card with a firm hand”.
“African sovereignty, independence and a disdain for bullish western politics was the charm Russian President Vladimir Putin laid on thick,” said the op-ed, written by Dzvinka Kachur and Mark Swilling from the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University.
However, according to the piece, Russia’s motives may be self-serving.
“The symbolically laden event to bolster cooperation and trade comes as sanctions against Russia persist. Firming up a Russia-Africa trading bloc is clearly a way to escape these constraints by structuring more deals in Russian roubles to improve economic stability.”
The piece also says that many agreements made at the Summit “also assume state loans from Russia”.
“The structure of agreements hardly takes a ‘no strings attached’ approach”, and Russia is “believed to” have a “long history” of using loans for “political benefit”.