This week the Russian government staged its first ever Russia-Africa Economic Forum in Sochi, in the hope of stepping up its influence on the continent and tapping into business and investment deals.
The two-day event, co-hosted by Russia and Egypt, aimed to foster political, economic and cultural cooperation, the organisers said.
As the event wrapped up on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that $12.5bn worth of ‘deals’ had been signed, including a fleet of defence contracts for equipment and aircraft.
A $14bn tranche of weapons, including armoured vehicles, military equipment and anti-tank missile systems, would be delivered to African countries in 2019, Russia’s state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.
Moscow also sent two Tupolev Tu-160 bombers – the world’s biggest military aircraft – to South Africa on Wednesday, as part of a defence cooperation agreement.
Another deal saw Nigeria agree to buy 12 helicopter gunships for their fight against Boko Haram, a Russian military official told RIA news agency.
As the conference kicked-off on Wednesday, Putin pledged to double Africa-Russia trade over five years – it sat at $20 billion in 2018 – and expand its network of trade missions in Africa.
Putin has stepped up efforts to re-engage African nations after the West imposed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea. The Africa charm offensive has a a heavy emphasis on energy and defence deals, NJ Ayuk, the CEO of Centurion Law Group and executive chairman of the African Energy Chamber told African Business.
“Russia is the second-largest arms seller to Africa, has the largest peacekeeping contingent on the continent, and — according to many reports — has mercenary forces in some African countries.”
“Its big state-owned companies have invested mostly in the energy sector — including building nuclear plants — and in minerals extraction.
“Russia has far less money than China or the United States to pump into Africa’s economies. So it is making strategic investments — ones that not only offer an economic return and help Africans, but also bolster its image on the continent as a re-emerging power,” he says.
The Sochi forum offers African leaders the chance to seize on Russia’s power industry expertise, at a time when two-thirds of the population lack electricity Russia also offers African leaders an alternative to long-term Chinese loans.
As Africa ripens for a golden age of big-power courtship, the emerging rivalries present opportunities that could transform the continent and peoples’ lives.
Leaders need to seize the moment, insists Ayuk.
“With big powers more intent than ever on wooing Africa for strategic reasons, savvy African leaders have their best chance in years to cherry-pick investments.”