Out of the 54 countries in Africa, only 17 heads of state have confirmed their attendance at the Russia-Africa summit, set to take place in St. Petersburg on July 27-28. Over 40 countries will be represented by vice presidents, prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, or heads of government. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, known as the “Crocodile” for his ruthless nature, has been confirmed among the attendees, along with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who once promised to eat his main opposition opponent.
Ahead of the summit, Vladimir Putin penned an article discussing the Kremlin's policy in Africa. He emphasized Russia's historical support for African peoples in their fight against colonial oppression, and highlighted the mutual desire for a relationship based on international law between Russia and African nations. Additionally, Putin mentioned Russia's capacity to provide Ukrainian grain both commercially and as aid, ahead of an anticipated record harvest.
“Only 17 heads of state have agreed to attend because the world is divided into two poles, like during the Cold War, and Africa is in a difficult position. Even if the US had not told African leaders not to go to Russia and threatened consequences, African leaders themselves realize that in a situation of war with Ukraine, if they come to Russia — their trade and investment with Europe and America could be affected. Duty-free trade treaties could also suffer. They have to be cautious because they cannot sacrifice this,” African studies professor Irina Filatova told The Insider.
According to Filatova, Russian capital investments in African countries account for only 1% of all capital and very little trade turnover. “At the last summit, Russia promised to double the trade turnover, and said it would invest in humanitarian spheres, but it has no money for that,” the expert said.
According to Filatova, African countries remain interested in Russian grain, along with supplies of food, fertilizers, and weapons. She also points out that Africa has a strong memory of the USSR's assistance in fighting colonialism, as emphasized by Putin in his article.
“Despite Russia pulling out of the grain deal, African countries acknowledge that Russia has the grain and the capability to supply it, so these shipments will largely come from [Russia]. They do not want to and cannot give [the grain supply] up. They are interested in the shipment of food, fertilizers and may be interested in other things, such as weapons — Russia is the largest supplier of weapons on the African continent. The Wagner PMC is still active, especially in Sudan, in Mali, and the Central African Republic (CAR). This remains crucial and necessary for Africans.
Moreover, the memory of the USSR's assistance in fighting colonialism remains strong, influencing the present sentiment. African countries hold robust anti-Western feelings, despite engaging in trade and investments. This anti-Western stance is rooted in their anti-colonial agenda, where Russia offers support against new forms of colonialism. Russia also possesses advanced technology that it can provide. There’s a political interest based on rejecting the Western agenda and embracing the Russian one, alongside technological, economic, and grain-related interests.”
Filatova notes that each African country has its own distinct interests, and it would be incorrect to assume that they all uniformly support Russia:
“Kenya's representative spoke very strongly about Ukraine at the first General Assembly vote against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kenyan president also spoke quite strongly about the summit and the Russian agenda. This is despite the fact that Russia supplied over 30,000 tons of grain [to Kenya] during [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov's last trip, either for free or at a very low rate.
For instance, the African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, has a strong alignment with Russia and shares a close affinity with its agenda. On the other hand, there are countries like Kenya that are not closely aligned with the Russian agenda and lean more towards the norms proposed by the West.”
According to Filatova, the summit will consist of two tracks — political and humanitarian. The expert notes that dealing with the humanitarian track will appear less challenging:
“The summit has two main components. The first is the political track, where Putin's participation is expected. It will focus on adopting a political declaration that highlights Russia's interest in a multipolar world, fair global infrastructure, equal relations, sovereignty, and adherence to UN principles. The idea is to counterbalance the Western rules-based order agenda.
I do not understand how the agenda of sovereignty and territorial integrity aligns with what is happening in Ukraine. For some reason, African countries do not ask these questions. The ruling parties of the BRICS countries recently met in South Africa, and they adopted a declaration proclaiming all these principles.
During the summit, Putin will hold meetings with visiting heads of state, and it's likely that decisions or agreements will arise, such as on grain supplies, weapons, or Russia's support for the African peace initiative. In the past, this peace initiative faced challenges due to the weight African countries lacked to influence Russia or Ukraine. But Russia now appears to be backing the initiative and repeating its theses.
The second part of the summit focuses on humanitarian and economic aspects. The humanitarian part attracts significant attention, emphasizing the importance of providing aid in education and cultural exchange. Many cultural events in Moscow, like forums, festivals, exhibitions, and the opening of a new African museum, showcase this engagement. This humanitarian and religious part will develop well. As for the economy, it will be a matter for each country individually.”
“Today, about 35 thousand students from the continent are studying in our country, of which over six thousand are on Russian scholarships. Every year we increase the number of scholarships allocated,” Putin's article reads. A recent investigation by media outlet Protocol and YouTube channel RZVRT shed light on the actual education process, revealing that young women from Africa are employed in unskilled labor at Tatarstan's Alabuga special economic zone (SEZ), where Iranian Shahed drones are assembled for strikes against Ukraine.
According to the investigation, students are allegedly compelled to connect with African girls through Tinder and similar apps, inviting them to come to Tatarstan to get an education. This tactic allowed the Alabuga Polytechnic college to attract several dozen African female students last fall. These students were housed separately and taught in English, with future plans to involve them in low-skilled work like cleaning and maintenance. The scheme of attracting young African women was reportedly devised by Timur Shagivaleev, the general director of Alabuga SEZ and a Tatarstan State Council deputy. The first enrollment of African female students occurred in the fall of 2022, as revealed by the investigators.