When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo in late July, it was to show that there are other states which are willing to interact with Russia and not bandwagon on NATO’s isolation policy against Russia.
While Moscow will aim to strengthen its relations with as many developing countries as possible, Kremlin’s ability to establish a strategic relationship with countries on the African continent is limited for now.
However, the limit to Russia’s ability to establish a strategic foothold in Africa will partly benefit African states.
Both used Africa as a dumping ground for obsolete weapons to fuel wars during the Cold War era.
Western regimes through the IMF and World Bank also trapped Africa into a debt trap when in fact the continent is extremely rich in mineral resources.
For decades, western regimes plundered its natural resources while famine stalked much of the continent as wars ravaged many countries.
The year 2022 is probably the only time in several decades when African countries have found multiple policy options.
This is partly due to the significant engagement of two countries with the continent: China and Turkey.
These two provide opportunities for African governments to utilize multiple routes for economic and political engagement with non-African states.
Another opportunity has been created by the Russian attack on Ukraine.
From the outset, it became apparent to western and African policy makers that Africa has gained an opportunity to play big power interests, rather than being played by them.
Take the case of Tanzania.
Sensing Europe’s desperate need for natural gas, the President of Tanzania offered its natural gas as a substitute.
A similar pitch has been made by Algeria.
However, neither offer was made in a blind manner of courting western interests.
This is a positive development for the continent that was forced in the past to blindly follow the strategic policies of outsiders.
At the moment, Russia’s presence in Africa is centered on hard power via its private and secretive security company, the Wagner Group.
This sort of involvement in Africa plays against Moscow, as it is reminiscent of its negative involvement in Africa during the Cold War era.
On the other hand, this could also benefit African states.
They can extract higher economic concessions from Russia and demand that Moscow prove its improved intentions on the continent in tangible terms.
This will not be by simply establishing military presence, but via development and income generation projects.
For this to happen, African governments will have to develop people-supported leadership.
Many developing African countries which cannot afford western products are suitable markets for Russian goods.
Russian products are far more reasonably priced compared to western-produced goods.
Take the example of Russian cars.
They would be more affordable for an average African consumer rather than German or Japanese cars.
Broadly speaking, if Russia focuses its presence in Africa in the economic domain, it will eliminate western adversaries from presenting modern day Russia as the old Soviet Union spilling blood in Africa.
Whether or not policy makers in Moscow understand this phenomenon is yet to be seen.