Thirty five African leaders are expected to attend the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit this week. It will take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Together with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the summit will be co-chaired by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is also Chair of the African Union.
This gives the Summit extra impetus. Firstly, it clearly shows that it has been endorsed from the high echelons of Africa’s collective political power at the AU HQ in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The Summit also presents an incredible opportunity for Russia to re-establish its presence and influence in Africa. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 forced Russia to spent more time focusing on its domestic politics as the entire USSR unraveled with tricky consequences that threatened the demise of Russia itself. Eastern European countries jostled out of the USSR and scrambled for democratization in the wake of the end of the Cold War. For Russia and former member-states of the Soviet Union it was a road never travelled before.
But under President Putin Russia has managed to claw its way back to the table of global superpowers. The country remains one of the only five permanent members of the UN Security Council, possessing a veto power.
In recent history the re-emergence of Russia as a serious global player has been in the open for all to see. But it is in Africa where President Putin is ensuring that Russian tentacles must be stretched. Russia has invested heavily in gas and oil in both Nigeria and Ghana. This is remarkable because the two countries were low-key client states of the former Soviet Union. What stand Russia in good stead in the eyes of many African countries is that Russia was never a colonial power. Instead, the Soviet Union invested a lot materially supporting African independence movements, including the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela, Freelimo in Mozambique, MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia and ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, among others.
The huge influence, impact and indeed the legacy of Russia’s support for liberation movements can be seen today in many parts of Africa including Mozambique, where Kalashnikov rifle is on the country’s flag and in Angola, where the national flag is decorated in the communist hammer-and-sickle-style gear and machete.
The Russia-Africa Summit also comes at a crucial moment for the continent. There is ample chance for development in an era where human capital is more literate, the world is an inter-dependent, inter-connected one global village and technological development opportunities are available to Africa.
Over and above, the constantly changing international power relations are much kinder. A clearest example is BRICS. Although South Africa is the only official African member of this emerging global power bloc, at every meeting of the group in the continent the AU members-states are invariably invited to attend. This gives Africa a unique opportunity. The entire continent through the AU must foster closer ties with BRICS so that they can leverage the strategic position of both Russia and China, who are both global powerhouses. China, too, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, also with a veto power.
This provides a unique opportunity for Africa to re-position the continent as an emerging world power bloc, taking advantage of its strategic relations with Russia, China, Brazil and India.
The Russia-Africa Summit is a welcome development. For far too long the West has engaged with Africa as colonial masters, stealing the minerals and wealth of African countries and disenfranchising the African populations. Now is the time to rebuild our continent together with countries Africa can trust, countries like Russia whose friendship to Africa has proved sincere and genuine.