In response to the Valdai Club report “Russia and Africa: An Audit of Relations” released in the run-up to the Club’s African Conference, Ricardo Santos from Mozambique discusses shortcomings in the interaction between Russia and the African countries and identifies ways to overcome them.
While the Valdai Club report “Russia and Africa: An Audit of Relations” is very well structured and informative, I have a few comments that may serve as suggestions for new areas of research:
Mozambican perception of Russian investment in Africa: Indeed, Africans in general compare Russia to China, i.e., a partner focused on the so-called extractive economy. It takes everything raw,wins money, transforms nothing, and pays bribes to keep business. There is no consistent Russian presence in general, for instance among the final consumer goods and services segment. What could be done? Perhaps a more assiduous participation in our commercial, agricultural and technology fairs to make themselves known to the local business community, who mostly prefer to relate to the European Union, as they studied there and/or have their savings/credit lines in banks in Europe and the USA.
Even with a huge Russian embassy building in Maputo, thereis almost no home-work done – as far is of my knowledge – with local business to improve networking. At one point, the paper signals that small-medium Russian investors in Africa are prone to “quick gains”. And why? Is it not because of the high risk it presents? Well, as today’s Russian businessmen are typically investors driven by market economy, they certainly wouldn’t do it any differently. And even if they were American or European, they would do the same as the Russians if they were not supported by a “Trust Fund” of their government or by the World Bank. Also contrasting with its BRICS partners (China, India and Brazil), it seems that Russia never had that financial cushion for its small-medium entrepreneurs to venture into Africa.
Areas where Russian investment would always be welcome in Mozambique are, from this author’s perspective:
Infrastructure(railways, roads, waterways, telecommunications – I deliberately exclude civil air transport, as this sector has long been closed to Russian products), where OECD investment has always been scarce and China’s is directed only to the projects of its interest. But without infrastructure, it will not be possible to promote consumption in a country where 90% of trade is informal. This means that real economy where Russian investment is needed is based upon mobility, commodity exchanges inside and outside borders, which is also facilitated by the almost non-existent manufacturing industry.
Media and social communication, where the Russian presence became null, when satellite TV channels and even Internet sites were blocked by local providers. Today we only access RT News via VPN or Android App. The blackout is total. And why does this happen? Because the majority shareholders of media and media companies are from the OECD. In other words, locally distributed media and media content is shaped by programmes, news and documentaries produced in their countries, hence Mozambique suffers indirectly from the effect of the sanctions that are in place against Russia.
Education, but not in the manner presented in the paper, because this does not differ from the strategy that the OECD follows in Africa to promote elites faithful to their interests. Russian education would be much appreciated if it fostered “know-how” professional education. Mozambique has been trying for a long time to rehabilitate its technical schools to train blue-collar specialized workers, but no western partner is interested in the area because IMF and World Bank policies are always focused on financial and legal services that support their multinational-centred economy. Now there is one thing in which Russia could make a difference because it has a vast and diversified know-how in industry and agriculture. And because it is a Russian tradition in Africa. At the time of the USSR, our industrial schools and science faculties received a lot of technical and didactic support from that country. In addition, investing in professional education would also serve to increase local consumer confidence in Russian industrial and agricultural products, which would also help to eliminate the perception of “a partner focused on the extractive industry only”.
Higher education has always been a very appealing subject in Africaand Mozambique is not an exception: as it is the springboard for the social ascension of many young Africans. Russia should better study this social phenomenon, to take better advantage of the value that its universities can create in shaping elites in Mozambique. Crucially, Russia should open branches of its universities in Mozambique in areas – still unoccupied by the OECD – linked to science and technology. One of the factors that made Rwanda so pro-Western was the US pragmatism in satisfying the Tutsi affirmativeaction in education to take power back from the Hutu. And one of the things that the US sponsored was the opening of the Carnegie Mellon branch in Kigali. Although with courses mainly related to ICT (it recently expanded its portfolio to courses in electrical engineering, telecommunications and artificial intelligence), its presence influences all the elites of the East Africa Community. Rwanda is thus preparing to join Africa’s Silicon Valley. Sadly, Mozambique, a close neighbour of South Africa, bets on tourism exclusively for OECD elites.
The Russian language can be a disadvantage because the tradition of learning Russian was lost, when it was replaced by English, which today is the second language of any basically educated Mozambican. I think that learning Russian can be leveraged with the constant exchange of students, researchers, professional technicians in the suggested areas of cooperation above, because, this new generation of Russians is today much more cosmopolitan and knowledgeable of the world, and mainly, communicates in English very well. Opening cultural centres is instrumental, but they are also very expensive, bureaucratic and their impact is not spontaneous. The cultural centres of France and Germany in Mozambique can serve as a good example:they have been promoting language courses for at least 20 years, but few Mozambicans feel the need to speak French and German to work, do business or get a degree.
Mozambican perception of racial discrimination against Black people in Russia is strong for several reasons. First of all, ancient internationalist citizens from USSR usually never socialized with local black and mestizo people, except sporadicallyю So, in practice there was no difference between this stance and what the Boers in the Buffalo Battalion of the SADF or the whites in the Selous Scouts from Rhodesia would do with their black comrades. Secondly, once again, it is the influence of media and news from the OECD’s information channels, which often highlight cases of racism against black people in Russia, but also against Chechens, Armenians, Azeri and other peoples from Russia itself, albeit for other reasons.
Despite this, much of Mozambican elites still discern that racism against black people in Russia is due more to their lack of knowledge of the African continent, especially in the interior regions of Russia. And that by nature, a typical European Russian is quite reserved when he comes into contact with foreigners for the first time (just like a German, Pole, Serb, etc. would do in the same situation). However, this does not compare with the institutional racism seen in many OECD countries such as the USA, where Ghetto culture is promoted as a “minority right” just to keep social divisions between classes/communities marginalized by the establishment (divide and conquer) and divert the attention of Black and Latino people from the real socio-economic problems of their country.