Article 2 August 8, 2023
New Eastern Outlook, article by Salman Rafi Sheikh , August 6, 2023
In 2019, well before the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, the Russia-Africa summit held in Sochi attracted 43 countries in total. The purpose of the summit was the “development and consolidation of mutually beneficial ties” between Russia and the African continent. Four years later, the 2023 summit held in St. Petersburg attracted 49 countries in total, with the summit ending with a 74-point-long joint declaration pledging cooperation across a large number of critical areas.
As is evident, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine (NATO) military conflict – and the West’s persistent attempts at ‘isolating’ Russia – has failed to make Russia unattractive to the African continent. In fact, the presence of 49 countries shows a reasonable expansion of the Russian influence in Africa, defeating the US-Europe agenda of imposing ‘isolation’ on Russia. Secondly, as the declaration shows, Africa is very much open to the idea of developing a multipolar world. To the extent that the West, led by the US, has been aggressively pushing for a reversal to the post-Cold War era unipolar global order, the joint declaration defeats it fair and square.
To quote from the declaration, Russia and the 49 African states agreed to “Enhance equal and mutually beneficial cooperation between the Russian Federation and African States in order to contribute to the establishment of a more just, balanced and stable multipolar world order, firmly opposing all types of international confrontation in the African continent.” Targeting unilateralism, a trademark US method of conducting geopolitics, the declaration also promises that Russia and the African states will “work together to counter the use of illegitimate unilateral tools and methods, including the application of coercive measures in circumvention of the United UN Council and their extraterritorial application, as well as the imposition of approaches that harm primarily the most vulnerable and undermine international food and energy security.” Reinforcing the mutual focus on a more just and multipolar world order, Russian President Putin said that Africa is the “new centre of power. Its political and economic role is growing exponentially. … Everyone will have to take this reality into account.”
Developing this multipolar world alongside Russia – and Moscow’s Chinese and other allies – makes sense for the African countries. For, most of the Russian investment in Africa comes without the conditionalities and strings that, for instance, are usually attached to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Although Russia is keen to enhance its economic footprint in Russia, the latter is also very much interested in developing ties with Africa in a way that extends Moscow’s geopolitical interests. In this context, the joint emphasis on developing a multipolar world underlines geopolitics more than geoeconomics.
This, however, is not to suggest that economic ties are not developing at all. For instance, between 2005 and 2015, Russia-Africa trade ties saw an exponential growth of 185%. In this context, the 2019 and the 2023 summits are part of a clear pattern of multilateral development that the latest joint declaration, too, fully endorses. This was further reinforced by Russia’s announcement to provide free grain to at least 6 African nations alongside many other development initiatives as well in such diverse fields as energy, nuclear power to help African countries compensate for electricity shortages in their countries, military ties, and other areas of development.
Now, the scale of this summit as well as how this scale reinforces ongoing patterns is at the heart of an extremely negative portrayal of the summit in the mainstream Western media. This is exclusively evident from the media’s focused attention on the presence of mere 17 heads of state, as opposed to the presence of 49 countries and their joint support for the declaration.
But the crucial reason why the West is opposing – and even undermining by putting pressure on African states – the summit is singularly because of the way 49 African states are a party to a politics that directly challenges the West. For instance, point 20 of the declaration states that all of them “strongly believe that the principle of sovereign equality of States is crucial for the stability of international relations.” Now, this point targets the neo-imperial domination of the West reinforced by the IMF and World Bank – institutions that, through their strings, render otherwise sovereign states into mere satellite states for the larger West. An alliance with Russia, on the contrary, promises a system that comes neither with conditionalities nor does it undermine state sovereignty.
In the same vein, article 22 of the joint declaration states that the actors will “adhere to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States and oppose the extraterritorial application by States of their national laws in violation of international law.” Again, this article targets constant Western interventions in these states, as also elsewhere in the world outside of Africa, to manipulate internal politics in the form of ‘regime change’ politics targeting anti-West leaders.
While mainstream Western media reports mentioned the so-called ‘Africa’s criticism’ – which was basically a call by some African leaders to end the “war” – of the “war in Ukraine”, article 23 of the joint declaration points to the imperative of resolving all international disputes through “dialogue, negotiations, consultations, mediation, and good offices …. [and] settle them on the basis of mutual respect, compromise, and the balance of legitimate interests.” Now, the only thing that triggered the military conflict in Ukraine was the US agenda of expanding NATO to encircle Russia and the only thing that has kept this conflict from finding a just resolution addressing Russia’s legitimate security issues is the constant supply of weapons by the West to Ukraine, with the only purpose behind prolonging this conflict being to weaken Russia and, thus, reinforce the old-world order.
To that extent, the Russia-Africa summit is nothing short of a major success for Russia, although it is difficult for the West to ‘see’ this success in the face of its own prejudices, media propaganda, and its institutionalised politics of undermining anything and everything that challenges its hegemony and interests.