Saturday, August 5, 2023

Saint Petersburg, formerly Petrograd, then Leningrad, our venue last week for the well-attended Second Russia-Africa Forum with at least seventeen presidents, and forty-nine delegations of African governments and Regional Organisations is Russia’s second largest city of seven million after Moscow with fifteen million people. Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Cyril Ramaphosa, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Mackay Sall, and Azali Assoumani (the Comoros) and AU Chairman to mention just a few were there. Interestingly, Mohamed al-Menfi, Chairman of the Presidential Council of the State of Libya too was there. 

A confluence between old and new eras since Peter the Great in 1682, is where Vladimir IIyich Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) in 1917 started the Bolshevik Communist Revolution that over threw the Tsars in 1923. It was besieged by Nazi Germans and allied Finns during World War II although they failed to gain its centre. It’s also the birthplace of President Vladimir Putin.

The old city has multiple wide and straight streets you can see from end-to-end, and are perpendicular to each other with most buildings no more than four- storeys, a sign of the old rigid order under Tsars and Communist reign. Even today, unlike Kampala, there’re building marked for historical significance and preserved by law, and exterior physical alterations can be made without prior approvals by the city authorities.

Traveling from its Pulkovo International airport is the newer part of St. Petersburg with very wide, tree-lined multi-layered and multi-storeyed highways criss-crossing each other with inter-changes offering the unfamiliar traveler an expansive view of the sprawling green city built after the collapse of the Union of Socialist Soviet Union (USSR) in 1989. Again, unlike Kampala, here you escape the chaotic congestion and gullies on the roads where street vendors live happily side by side with heaps of decomposing rubbish spewing offensive odour, and of course the buzzing swarms of flies.

From our two-day engagements across sectors of the economy, one could see that the gaps being created by sanctions or withdrawals of Western companies from Russia are opportunities for African businesses to fill the supply chain along a wide range of investments portfolios. The ongoing conflict between Russia and allied western axis over Ukraine offers Africa immense opportunities to extract investment, trade, market, technology, entrepreneurial and skills transfer from Russia, the world’s sixth largest economy as Western sanctions flounder.

However, to gain, the global South must remain steadfast in rejecting bullying, and also quickly develop viable trading, insurance and payment systems away from the dollarization of international commerce that has been weaponised by US and its allies since end of World War2 in 1945. We must expose African Western-sponsored quislings doubting Africa’s abilities including to close itself out. While Africa works with the West, it should not allow them to define for us who our ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ are, as has been done over the past century.  

Western exploitative groups have been in Africa officially since 1884 digging out and transferring precious raw materials especially minerals like gold, diamonds, coltan and uranium while wrecking intractable conflicts and paying peanuts. They process the minerals from their own countries taking away jobs, refusing to transfer skills and technology, and along with it high revenue for themselves and to other parts of the world as if it was their own. Similarly, the West has been buying grains, food, fertilizer and fuel on the cheap from Russia and selling to Africa at exploitative prices while keeping all the profits for themselves. 

As looters from Imperial days, today using the guise of sanctions they have now confiscated Russia’s sovereign funds and other savings especially from the so-called Russian oligarchs in their capitals, a repeat of strangulation on German under the League of Nations after WW1 in 1919 creating the stage for Adolf Hitler’s rise and World War II. They seek to settle old grievances, with small dogs (EU) barking while the big dog is behind. It’s now Africa’s opportunity unlike during the Cold-War era and the last three decades, to engage directly with Russia an old ally, and other emerging economies by inviting them to invest in Africa preferably in joint ventures written in the laws.

The Russia-Africa Forum in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg offered a broad perspective on what and how an invigorated and purposeful strategic engagement can offer particularly when added to the Road and Belt Initiative (RBI) that is bringing exponential growth in the stock of infrastructure, industrial investments, outputs, and two-way trade between African countries and China.

Although they continue referring themselves as the G7 or G20, the West no longer account for the biggest share of world population, market or GDP having been overtaken by China, Russia, India, Brazil, India, Argentina, Malaysia, Nigeria, and South Africa. With an enlightened African leadership that can withstand the usual Western blackmail, Africa should be able to take a stand and implement independent geo-political decisions for its own socio-economic transformation and advancement in peace.