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Russia-Africa: Putin’s Conquest of Africa Amid Hopes and Disappointment July 31, 2023

The Russia-Africa Summit in Saint Petersburg concluded on Friday, July 28th. It was a diplomatic event designed by Putin to portray Russia as a major power with many global friends, despite its destabilizing war in Ukraine.

The program was packed with events, featuring panels on nuclear energy, the environment, development, women’s empowerment, and “New World Order: from the legacy of colonialism to sovereignty.”

However, only 16 African heads of state participated, while other countries sent prime ministers and foreign ministers, less than half of the 43 that attended the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. According to presidential aide Yury Ushakov, it was a considerable disappointment for the Kremlin, despite numerous diplomatic efforts by Foreign Minister Lavrov in Africa, including various missions across the continent.

According to the Washington Post, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the West for the reduced number of attendees, claiming that there had been “blatantly undisguised interference from the United States, France, and other states” to discourage them from participating. “This is a fact, and it is outrageous,” he said. It is more likely, however, that African nations were disheartened by a war that increased food and fuel prices, harming vulnerable populations, and were greatly disappointed by Moscow’s withdrawal from the grain agreement.

In fact, the timing of the meeting is embarrassing. Just last week, Russia renewed its blockade on Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain amid a food security emergency and drought in the Horn of Africa. This was despite a recent African Union mediation mission, led by South Africa, attempting to end Russian aggression in Ukraine and pleading with Russia not to follow through with the announced withdrawal.

Putin did not apologize as Moscow aims to replace Ukrainian grain in the global markets, increasing its influence in Africa and damaging the Ukrainian economy, which heavily relies on agriculture. Surprisingly, Moscow announced that it will provide between 25,000 and 50,000 tons of grain free of charge to six African countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Somalia, and Eritrea) in the coming months. While this move appears shrewd, it does not address the structural issues raised by African states following the grain agreement’s breakdown. They want structural solutions aimed at stabilizing skyrocketing food prices, which have been affected by market turbulence due to speculation on a product whose supply has been severely disrupted while global demand grows each year. Additionally, Africans intend to increase their production capacity.

The report titled “Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact” suggests that Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is driven by its pursuit of global power status. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to the countries with which it has security alliances.

Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to successfully gain a strategic foothold in partner countries. However, the lack of transparency in interactions, limited impact, and high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limits of this partnership in addressing the challenges for peace and development in African host countries, as stated in the report.

Much of the existing literature on Russian foreign policy emphasizes that Moscow’s desire to regain great power status has largely been pursued by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile African states.

Russia-Africa Summit: A Symbolic Victory Sought by Moscow

According to the analysis by Joseph Siegle from the Center for Strategic Studies for Africa (CSA), the summit confers evident advantages to Moscow. It communicates the perception of a return to normalcy after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant issued against Putin, and the failed rebellion of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. The summit shows that Russia is not a pariah but enjoys implicit support from African heads of state despite these violations of international law, as if nothing happened.

In the United Nations vote on March 2, 2022, just over half of African countries voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Russian invasion, 7 abstained, eight did not vote, and one – Eritrea – voted against.

For the majority of African countries, their intention is to remain neutral, finding a balance between their commercial ties with Western economies and their diplomatic ties with Russia and China. There is no doubt that this strategic knot will be addressed at the Saint Petersburg summit, influencing the fate of Africa in the new surge of the past decades.

Although economic ties between Russia and Africa are modest, the continent provides Russia with a global platform. Russia will undoubtedly use the summit to assert that Western sanctions are limiting Russian (and Ukrainian) food and fertilizer exports to Africa, diverting attention from its own guilt in triggering disruptions in global grain supplies. This includes the Russian bombing of the Ukrainian port of Odessa in the days leading up to the summit, just as grain destined for Africa was being loaded.

The summit also emphasizes the growing importance of Africa to Russian foreign policy. Africa remains the most receptive continent to Russian engagement. It is also the region least inclined to criticize Moscow for its seizure of territory in Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has visited Africa at least eight times since Russia attacked Ukraine in March 2022.

Despite weakened economic ties between Russia and Africa, the continent provides Russia with a global platform from which it can claim a more significant geostrategic position than it may seem. Africa is more important to Russia than Russia is to Africa.

According to a Washington Post analyst, the relations between Russia and Africa are, at best, irregular. Some African leaders see the Kremlin as a useful obstacle against the West but also as a source of destabilization and disinformation in Africa, with modest trade and small investments.

African leaders are accustomed to foreign leaders making grand promises and failing to deliver. But statistics tell a particularly harsh story of unfulfilled Russian promises. At the 2019 Africa summit, Putin pledged to double trade with Africa to nearly $40 billion, from about $16.8 billion, within five years. By 2021, it had only reached $17.7 billion, according to the state news agency Tass, citing Russian customs data, primarily from Russian arms and grain exports. It is a paltry sum compared to the European Union’s $295 billion, China’s $254 billion, and the United States’ $83.7 billion.

Despite these weakened economic ties, Russian influence in Africa has grown rapidly since the first Russia-Africa summit. This has been largely achieved through the use of irregular means, including support to isolated and autocratic regimes through a combination of deploying Wagner Group paramilitary forces, election interference, disinformation, and arms deals in exchange for resources.

Each of these tactics destabilizes the country where it is deployed. As expected, half of the half-dozen countries in which Russia exerts influence are in conflict. Russia has also undermined United Nations operations in African countries it seeks to influence, increasing instability there.

Anemic investments, the normalization of autocracy, the promotion of instability, and interference in domestic politics do not seem to be a winning strategy for building a long-term partnership. So why do African leaders want to be seen in Saint Petersburg? It’s not just about not aligning on the issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that may seem very distant. But why would an African leader continue to engage with a foreign actor with a reputation for undermining the continent’s stability?

A realistic assessment of national interests is not very convincing. The instability caused by Russia’s irregular tactics threatens to spread beyond borders. The way and extent to which Russia has gained influence in the Central African Republic, Mali, and Libya have generated sovereignty crises on the continent. By breaking the rule of law in this way, Africa is damaging its emerging reputation as a reliable destination for investments and international partnerships.

Each leader makes their own political and financial calculation. Russian influence operations are almost always aimed at helping a regime (normally autocratic) to remain in power. Opague mining and arms deals are often part of this package. African leaders who take advantage of these tactics accept these Russian openings. Ordinary citizens are the big losers of these exclusive agreements, facing increased taxes, instability, and repressive policies.

Other African leaders see their engagement with Russia as a cover to get more Western support. A minority may naively believe that their participation will give them a real opportunity to secure Russian investments or encourage more constructive Russian engagement on the continent. The expectations of the mining, energy, grain, transport, and digital markets will serve as fig leaves, even if they are never executed.

But in reality, the Russian strategy of co-opting elites widens the gap between the interests of African leaders and those of their citizens. The latter regularly proclaim that they want more democracy, job creation, and the maintenance of the rule of law, even though Russian activities in Africa undermine all of these.

This “gap between interests” of African leaders and those of citizens highlights another important change since the 2019 summit: there are more governments trending toward authoritarianism, partly as a result of Russian interference. Therefore, most African leaders will not promote governance reforms based on the priorities of citizens, such as stronger governance, development, and security. Leadership on these interests will need to come from civil society, the media, and an independent judicial system rather than from leaders.

Much has changed since the last Russia-Africa summit, including the fact that Russia has clearly revealed its game in shaping the continent. However, Moscow will undoubtedly use this meeting in Saint Petersburg to conjure an image of shared interests between Russia and Africa. The key question for African citizens, however, remains: whose interests are being protected?

Russia, for its part, has stated its intention to renew this type of meeting to perpetuate relations between its country and those of the continent, while expressing the willingness to double the volume of trade between Moscow and African capitals (which in 2018 amounted to around $20 billion, of which $7.7 billion was for Egypt alone). A bet that was not won, as the figure fell to $17.7 billion in 2021. On July 24, as a prelude to the Saint Petersburg summit

, Vladimir Putin assured that “the network of Russian embassies and trade missions in Africa will be expanded.”

While economic and trade results have not been achieved, Russia has clearly advanced its pieces on the military and security front. Through the Wagner Group, several countries – especially the Central African Republic and Mali – have made Moscow their new ally at the expense of France and Western countries. According to a report published in March by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia has thus overtaken China between 2018 and 2022 to become the leading arms seller in sub-Saharan Africa with a total market share of 26%.

Diplomacy of Arms

Among the areas of cooperation between Russia and Africa, the arms sector is probably the most talked about. In recent years, Moscow has announced the strengthening of its military partnerships with many countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Africa, Central African Republic, and even Mali.

These agreements are far from new. During the time of independence, the USSR had invested in this area, supplying weapons to many African countries. Partnerships that were suspended after the fall of the Soviet bloc, which Moscow has committed to reactivating in the last two decades. At the same time, in recent years, the Wagner Group has extended its presence in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and even Libya.

Between 2018 and 2022, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia surpassed China as the top arms exporter to Sub-Saharan Africa, increasing its market share from 21% to 26%.

Russian trade and investments in Africa have grown significantly, particularly in North Africa. However, Russia remains a minor economic player on the continent compared to China, India, or the United States. Russia’s support for smaller states, especially those that have been avoided internationally, gives Moscow significant influence in those countries. Compared to Chinese or American exchanges, Russian data remains weak, but the momentum is building. And the economic situation is conducive to it. After five years of Western economic sanctions, Russia is seeking new partners. A search for opportunities to which most African countries are responding. “From a strategic point of view, Russia can benefit, like China, from its non-interference,” explains Derek Elzein (2014) in an article in the Geoeconomics magazine. This argument, which may seem trivial, is often crucial for formerly colonized countries that refuse to be dependent on Western powers again and see these two countries as key to geopolitical and economic emancipation.

• In the fall of 2019, Russia concluded military cooperation agreements with 21 African countries and is negotiating the establishment of military bases in several states. It also provides anti-terrorism training. Russia is currently the largest arms supplier to the continent.

In November 2019, President Vladimir Putin hosted the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, securing trade agreements, energy projects, and military agreements with many African states. Similar to Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Russia views Africa as a power vacuum that it can use to expand its sphere of influence by exploiting conflict, manipulating governments, and selling arms to secure deals for its state energy companies. As a revanchist power, Russia seeks to enhance its position in the world order, and a foothold in Africa has become a critical goal pursued persistently in recent years. St. Petersburg is preparing to host…

However, according to the same report, arms deliveries to Africa represent only a small portion of Russia’s arms exports (12% in 2022), which have also significantly decreased in recent years, especially due to the conflict in Ukraine.

“Military exports to Africa are not the most significant for Russia, neither in terms of technological level nor foreign currency earnings, although they are one of the vectors of Russian influence in the region,” emphasizes Julien Vercueil, an economist specialized in Russia and vice president of the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco).

This analysis is shared by Maxime Ricard, a researcher specialized in West Africa at the Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School (Irsem). “Throughout Russia, these deliveries remain relatively small, but they have a strategic interest for Russia’s influence in Africa. By supporting political elites that are not attentive to human rights, they have an important political dimension as they contribute to the strengthening of authoritarian regimes. For leaders of states like Mali or Burkina Faso, military partnership with Russia is a major issue, especially as they have called for the withdrawal of French forces.

The Wheat Diplomacy at the Heart of the St. Petersburg Summit

By withdrawing from the agreement on Ukrainian grain exports (Black Sea Grain Initiative), Vladimir Putin risks exacerbating food insecurity on the continent, already hit by rampant inflation.

The weekly Jeune Afrique headlined the food crisis that will worsen following Russia’s withdrawal from the agreement. “Hundreds of millions of hungry people and consumers facing a global cost of living crisis will pay the price,” warned Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. The same magazine predicts “catastrophic consequences that are even more disastrous in the continent, where several countries are extremely dependent on imported cereals, especially from Russia and Ukraine. Before the war, 30% of the continent’s consumed wheat came from these two countries.”

African leaders are aware of this and seize every opportunity to reiterate the centrality of food security among the priorities of the global agenda. A note from AGI highlights African concerns through the words of Senegalese President Macky Sall. “We have serious problems of food security and agriculture,” explained Senegalese President Macky Sall in an interview with the Financial Times, emphasizing that “we buy fertilizers from Russia and today, with sanctions, we have difficulty paying for these goods. That’s why we’re talking to both parties. We know it’s very complicated, but we think this opening to dialogue has been well received.” Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of food security, despite agriculture employing over 60% of its workforce and contributing to about a third of the continent’s GDP. 278 million people, 20% of the African population, suffer from chronic hunger.

In reality, as reported by the IAI (Institute of International Affairs), the true beneficiaries of the agreement are not Africans. To understand the scenario, several aspects must be considered. Since the implementation of the grain agreement, 39.2 million tons have been exported, but among the top five recipient countries, China comes first, significantly with over 8 million tons, followed by Spain (6 million), Turkey (3.2 million), Italy (2.1 million), the Netherlands (2 million), and then Egypt (1.6 million) and Bangladesh (1.1 million). From Africa, countries such as Tunisia (713.5 k), Libya (558.5 k), Kenya (437.5 k), and at the bottom of the list Ethiopia (282.5 k), Algeria (212.5 k), Morocco (111.2 k), and Sudan (95.3 k) are still present, but with much lower quantities.

Many experts emphasize that, according to data compiled by UNCTAD for the period 2018-2020, 25 African countries import more than a third of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and 15 of them import more than half. Benin and Somalia are the most dependent countries: Cotonou imports 100% Russian wheat, and Mogadishu receives 70% from Ukraine and 30% from Russia. Other countries like Sudan (75%), the DRC (68%), and Senegal (65%) also heavily rely on these two sources of supply. While most countries turn to Russia, which supplies 32% to Africa (compared to Ukraine’s 12%), Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania largely depend on Ukrainian wheat (from 30% to 50% of their imports). (Jeune Afrique, 31/10/22).

Furthermore, it is necessary to emphasize, as the IAI (Institute of International Affairs) does, that the resumption of Black Sea Grain exports has avoided cost increases and related

distorting effects on insurance and freight rates that have a significant impact on trade traffic.

In any case, the Russian announcement of the “Black Sea Grain Initiative” has caused turbulence in the cereal market, contributing to heating up the trend of the unbearable inflation of basic food prices, which has reached 186% in some countries. Several European powers have denounced the Russian decision: it could cause a surge in food prices and jeopardize the food security of vulnerable countries.

Vladimir Putin’s opening speech was broadcast on Russian television, with the announcement that everyone was expecting: “in 3 or 4 months, Russia will be able,” he said, “to provide free deliveries of 25,000 to 50,000 tons of grain to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea.” Vladimir Putin added: “even more so since this year we expect a record harvest.”

Thus, wheat has become a powerful tool in Putin’s hands to redesign international balances within the continent, AGI points out. It is not a coincidence, it points out, that Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Verchinin, in a press conference, hastened to say that Russia understands the concerns of African countries after the Kremlin abandoned the agreement on Ukrainian grain exports: “We understand the concerns that our African friends may feel, it is understandable and will be taken into account. Needy countries, through our contacts with them and the Russia-Africa summit, will receive the wheat.”

Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of food security, despite agriculture employing over 60% of its workforce and contributing to about a third of the continent’s GDP. 278 million people, 20% of the African population, suffer from chronic hunger.

Africa has been a net importer of agricultural products since the 1980s. Food production has not kept up with population growth, and the lack of supply has been met by imports. Africa’s dependence on food imports is expected to reach $110 billion by 2025. This contributes to a significant deficit in Africa’s net agricultural trade balance. In 2021, the deficit reached $36.3 billion. This deficit is partly explained by the fact that yields in Africa are much lower than those in other regions of the world. For example, low-income African countries produce 1.3 tons of cereals per hectare, which is half the yield of India and less than a quarter of China’s. In other words, even though the standard of living in many African countries has increased over the past two decades, one in five Africans suffered from hunger in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has further slowed progress, and levels of malnutrition and undernourishment have increased. (African Development Bank data, Nourrir l’Afrique, 2022)

“Grain imports pose an ideological problem for Africa, as it is unacceptable for it to remain dependent on third countries for food, 60 years after independence,” analyzes Adama Gaye, a Senegalese journalist and essayist specializing in international relations. “If Russia wants to develop long-term partnerships with the continent, it must support its food independence by helping to develop its productive capacity for fertilizers and cereals, building factories, and providing production tools.”

But in the long run, the focus should be on local cereals and moving away from colonial practices that replaced, for example, wheat bread with imported local flours.

In 2008 and 2009, the continent paid a high price for the surge in cereal prices, and several countries had experienced “food riots.” In West Africa, particularly affected, governments had reacted by launching extensive programs aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency, multiplying initiatives to develop local rice chains. More than ten years later, however, the results are still “confused,” according to Patricio Mendez del Villar, a specialist in international economics on rice at the International Center for Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD).

The CIRAD researcher, on the other hand, calls for diversifying the response and not relying solely on the agro-industry of rice. “It is a mistake to think that significant investments in infrastructure to intensify rice cultivation and improve processing quality can be sufficient to develop the enormous agricultural resources available to the African continent and ensure food security,” he summarizes.

Africa possesses indigenous cereal varieties like millet, sorghum, fonio, or even teff, whose nutritional qualities are no less than those of Western or Asian grains. These latter varieties have been dominant in dietary habits during the colonial period, and then they benefited from assertive, if not aggressive, policies by exporting countries. This unfair competition, in the case of European wheat, has been fueled by massive subsidies granted to large cereal producers under the Common Agricultural Policy.

However, traditional seeds seem to be better suited to arid ecosystems, which cover 45% of the continent. Beyond recent disruptions in international markets, they could also prove strategic in adapting to the effects of climate change and in the fight against food insecurity.

According to Jeune Afrique Economie (03/10/22), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its report of February 28th, highlights the fact that local African communities that have already converted their maize fields to plant sorghum and millet in order to cope with the lack of rain. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) has also made this a focus through the “Smart Food” program launched in 2013, advocating for their update through education, research, and even cooking shows, such as the Smart Food Reality Show that has been airing since 2017 in Kenya.

This was exactly the prophecy of Thomas Sankara, the Pan-African revolutionary from the “land of the upright men” (Burkina Faso), when he urged Africans to produce what they consume and consume what they produce. This means seizing the ongoing food crisis to revolutionize the vision and refocus efforts and resources on the African land instead of continuing to look to the skies for aid, whether Western or, as in Putin’s “gift,” Russian.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Africa is still far from realizing its agricultural potential. The continent would host 60% of the world’s uncultivated land. Globally, it is projected that the demand for agricultural products will double as the world population reaches 9.1 billion by 2050. Africa is therefore on track to become a strategic continent for the global agri-food industry, with nearly 60% of the world’s uncultivated land. African agriculture has significant potential to increase its agricultural production and meet local demand, replacing imports with local products. Africa must therefore develop its agricultural production and create more jobs in the agri-food sector to ensure families have access to affordable food.

This is a great opportunity that the continent must seize to make the agricultural sector a driving force in the diversification strategy of African economies.

Wagner, the New Looters of Africa

To mention Russia in Africa is to mention Wagner. Since 2017, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s private military company has been the Kremlin’s armed arm on the continent, advancing Russian interests with operations of significant influence. Libya, Sudan, but above all the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali: its personnel are present in various countries, serving as auxiliaries to local armed forces, thriving in their affairs, especially in the mining sector.

Since Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed rebellion against the Vladimir Putin regime, Russian authorities have sought to regain control over the activities of the Wagner group. Expelled from Russia, its leader and the few thousand loyalists now have their rear base in Belarus. From their new headquarters in Asipovichy, near Tsel, Prigozhin publicly spoke for the first time after his failed coup attempt. In a video released on July 19th, the Wagner boss announced that his troops would no longer fight in Ukraine and would now focus on Africa.

Russia uses the Wagner group, managed by oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef,” to promote Russian state interests unofficially. Wagner, an international private military company, often blurs the line between private and Russian state interests in Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, and Mozambique. In resource-rich Libya, General Khalifa Haftar fights with Russian weapons supplied by Egypt, and around 1000 Wagner mercenaries support Haftar’s forces. Wagner also trained the forces of former Sudanese dictator and Russian ally Omar al-Bashir, who then granted Prigozhin’s mining company, M-Invest, access to gold mines. M-Invest has ties to the Russian Ministry of Defense and provided Bashir with a framework to suppress protests that led to his ousting. Additionally, in CAR, Wagner has provided bodyguards and signed exploitation agreements with President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, but has also discussed platinum and mercury access agreements with the Séléka rebels. These moves generate resources for Russian state-linked companies while supporting both sides of the conflict, keeping the situation unstable for Russia’s perpetual activity. In 2018, Wagner continued its subversion in Madagascar, unsuccessfully attempting to rig Malagasy elections in favor of Henry Rajaonarimampianina, a candidate who would lease chromium extraction, a key resource in steel production, to a Prigozhin-controlled state-owned enterprise. Finally, after Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi met Putin and signed energy agreements in August 2019, 200 Wagner mercenaries landed in Maputo to support failed counter-terrorism operations in the energy-rich northern Mozambique region of Cabo Delgado. Each instance represents Putin’s commitment to non-state actors to safeguard natural resources and facilitate power vacuums in which Russia can increase its influence.

Moscow uses Wagner to advance each of these objectives. Drawing from its playbook in Syria, Moscow follows a model of intervention with irregular forces to support politically isolated authoritarian leaders facing crises in strategically important countries, often endowed with abundant natural resources. These leaders then become indebted to Russia, which assumes the role of a regional power.

The fact that the entry point for Wagner’s deployment is often an

autocratic leader operating without national checks and balances is no coincidence. Lacking legitimacy or popularity, these leaders are easy targets for Moscow to rapidly and cost-effectively expand its influence. This results in a tainted partnership – an irresponsible regime hosting irresponsible mercenaries – and a perfect trouble-making factory. In fact, every Wagner force deployment in Africa, seemingly to support stability, leaves a trail of instability for the citizens of the host country and further entrenches illiberal actors.

Although rationalized for security reasons, Wagner’s force deployment should not be confused with cooperative security intervention. Wagner often receives cash compensation and access to natural resources from the host regime. Moreover, the relatively small number of irregular forces that Moscow deploys in these contexts (usually in the order of hundreds or a few thousand) is often insufficient to alter the security environment of African countries facing insurrections. However, these forces are sufficient to help maintain the regime in power, which is the primary means by which Moscow can assert its geostrategic interests.

Solitary authoritarian leaders benefit from these Wagner agreements through increased regime security, access to weapons, accelerated revenue flows from natural resources, and an international sponsor that provides a veneer of credibility and a veto in the United Nations Security Council. The questionable legitimacy of these leaders and the extralegal tools that Russia typically uses to gain influence and sustain these regimes – mercenaries, disinformation, intimidation, and electoral interference – are inherently destabilizing.

The application of Russia’s international order in Africa thus serves the elite actors involved in these opaque agreements, to the detriment of the general population. It is important to bear in mind that the former do not speak for the latter. The inevitable trajectory of this order is one of increasing disparities in access to resources and political voice.

According to J. Siegle, prioritizing democratic governance, including condemning coups and isolating their perpetrators, deprives Russia of a key entry point for influence. This should be a priority for democratic powers in Europe and the United States, in close collaboration with African civil societies.

Moscow is trying to showcase the Russia-Africa Summit as evidence of “normalcy” and diplomacy as usual between the Kremlin and the countries of the Global South. But many African leaders are likely concerned about Putin’s grip on power and stability in Russia more broadly, following the Wagner rebellion. For the most part, Russia remains marginalized on the global stage, heavily sanctioned, and exposed as a second-rate power resorting to nuclear blackmail to coerce its adversaries. Those countries that remain in Russia’s orbit are a gallery of rogue states, including Belarus, Iran, and North Korea. The poor performance of the Russian military in Ukraine is a poor public relations case for its training capabilities and is unlikely to have inspired much confidence in African capitals. And for someone who has done everything to present himself as a master strategist, Putin’s tactical and strategic mistakes in the invasion of Ukraine have made him vulnerable. In response to Russia’s bellicosity in Ukraine, both Sweden and Finland have joined the alliance, and most Western leaders have expressed positive comments about Ukraine’s prospects for following suit in the future. The summit is an opportunity for Russia to try to reassure African states, and Moscow plans to engage closely with heavyweights including Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Senegal. But Russia has undoubtedly lost influence in the past year and a half, so placating African demands may not be easy for Moscow, which has little to show for its ill-fated invasion of Ukraine.

Just as the St. Petersburg Summit was taking place, the feared and repeatedly announced coup d’état in Niger materialized. The country was considered – perhaps too superficially – an oasis of stability and a reliable ally of the West, hosting military bases from France, other European countries, and the USA. Niamey, the capital of Niger, has received millions of euros for both combating illegal immigration and fighting jihadism. International pressure is underway to restore constitutional order, but the issue in Niger and the Sahel remains the absence of political solutions. Prioritizing security while failing to address the economic and social challenges of a predominantly young and frustrated population is a serious failing of local elites and the international community. On these frustrations, as well as on unresolved failures in building a national community, terrorist groups have thrived, turning the Sahel into one of the most unstable and dangerous places on the continent. Will the Nigerien coup leaders also follow the Russian and Wagner sirens, riding the wave of anti-Western and pro-Russian sentiment spread among the public and young officers? It’s likely. But the issue remains for the Sahel and the entire continent: When will African solutions to African problems be implemented without succumbing to the neocolonialist temptations of the current “master”?grazie

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