BRICS Summit: Russia's Return to Africa

BRICS Summit: Russia's Return to Africa
Next week's BRICS Summit in the South African city of Johannesburg will see President Putin's personal participation in a symbolic move that heralds Russia's return to the continent.

The event will also bring together the leaders of the organization's other four members too, as well as Turkish President Erdogan and a few other distinguished guests, but it's President Putin's visit that carries with it a lot of historical weight. The Soviet Union used to be one of the most powerful forces in Africa during the Cold War, but Moscow's influence drastically waned over the past two and a half decades to the point where there was scarcely any Russian presence there at all the first time that President Putin visited sub-Saharan Africa in 2006.

In the half-decade since his last visit in 2013, a lot has changed across the world with the advent of the New Cold War, but especially in terms of Russia's newfound role in Africa. Moscow has taken the lead in training the armed forces of the Central African Republic using a handful of its own troops and several dozen private security contractors under the aegis of the UN, thereby helping to stabilize parts of this war-torn country that the rest of the world had written off as a hopelessly failed state. Russia's renewed relations with some former Soviet partners like Mozambique and Angola are also figuring more prominently in its continental policy, as is its fast-moving friendship with Sudan. Moreover, energy and mining interests have come to replace outdated ideological ones all over the continent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently paid an unexpected working visit to Rwanda, the sitting chair of the African Union, and announced that his country plans to host a Russian-African business forum next year that observers predicted would be modelled off of what China's been doing there for years already. Russia's new appeal to Africa is that it could become a provider of comprehensive security, energy, and mining solutions, thus making it an alternative to the more or less binary choice between the US and China nowadays, though it lacks the economic development expertise to confidently compete with either of those two in that particular sphere, ergo next year's planned forum. In any case, the occasion of President Putin's return to Africa is a relevant reason to discuss Russia's strategy towards the continent and its future prospects after the BRICS Summit.

Engin Ozer, Political analyst and editor of the Voice of Africa information agency, and Kwanele Mkheswa, Johannesburg-based financial consultant and political commentator from Nkayi, Southern Zimbabwe, join the show.

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