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Russia-Africa Summit: Can Russia’s return to Africa transform into meaningful re-engagement?


By Hassan Mohamud

This article looks at Russia and Somalia relation for the last 60 years, in brief, Russia’s presence in Africa and its intends to return. The report also explores opportunities for Russia-Somalia re-engagement.

In the last two-decade when we talk foreign investment in Africa, our minds firmly highlighted the USA, China, India, Turkey, and Brazil but missing out is a once major superpower and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Russia and Africa had long-lasting diplomatic relations. A large number of Africa nations remember Russia for their independence days, although it harmed the public or citizen rights while the Soviet regimes propped up dictators in power.

Russia lost contact with Africa after its economic failures or breakup of the Soviet Union

in 1991.  After three decades, Russia’s is returning to Africa market through trade and economic development, while business has a direct relation with diplomacy and military power.

The Horn of Africa became an entry point for Russia and the US during the 20th century as both sought to install their presence in Africa. Now Africa is attracting international investment with potential for natural resources

Russia held its first-ever Africa and Russia summit this past week bringing together more than 3000 delegates, including over 40 state leader’s discussion on economic development, business, and military developments. It came at a time of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s leadership of Africa Union, Egypt, and Russia made more than 5.5 Billion business trade-offs.

Russia’s investment in Africa covers oil and gas, mine and mineral, nuclear energy, agriculture, and armory, high-technology. It has also engaged implemented or plans to implement nuclear energy in countries such as South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Algeria.  Statistics show that over 600 million African don’t have access to electricity and that creates potential business opportunities for Russian nuclear power energy companies.

Russia-Africa Summit

The summit aimed to increase bilateral relations with African nations through economic investment and financial support. President Vladimir Putin pledged African leaders 20 billion debt relief and investment without condition and political influence, although Russia firms are controlled by the government .

Russia’s trade profits in Africa increased by 185% in the last ten years. In 2018, Russia did a 20 billion business trade-off with Africa.

Russia has also sold weapons to governments and militias and its weapons are visible in conflict zones in Africa, and there are several allegations against it of illegal military activities like establishing mercenaries and fueling state clashes.

In his opening remarks, Putting said, “The industrial chamber of Russia has set up coordination commission for the economic corporation with African countries, it has proven a self-support mechanism for Russia entrepreneurs, and it’s market exploration for Africa.”.

Additionally, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi who co-chaired with Putin Russia and Africa summit said: “Africa welcomes international partners with collaboration to leap the moderation on continental industry and development infrastructure.”

China and India also have business influence in Africa contests with the USA and EU.  Analysts believe Russia’s aim is commercial and defense while the western government focuses on peace, democracy, and security. Russia has historic and robust military relations with African. Weeks before Sochi summit, Russia deployed 2 Tu-160 Nuclear heads to South Africa in a Display of Defense Cooperation. Also, Russia did military exercises with Egypt.

Russia aimed to double its trade with Africa over the next five years.

Horn Africa And Russia

The relation between the horn of Africa states and Russia dates back to the Soviet Union era where it had a military connection with Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, also some reports show that Russia was involved in wars and conflict between horn states both directly and indirectly.

Russia had diplomatic relations with Ethiopia for the long term, both military and economic cooperation, it supported two times in war against Somalia regime and Eritrea.

In Sudan, Russia had a secure connection with military administration, and it signed military development agreement, economic development like establishing nuclear power, oil-exporting, and agricultural enhancement; also, it had education and culture relationships.

Somalia and Russia relation

Somalia and Russia established their first diplomatic relations in September 1960; after three months of Somalia’s independence. By the end of that year Soviet Union appointed its first-ever Ambassador to Somalia Mr. Gennady Fomin, while Somalia sent Mr. A. M. Hassan to Moscow.

Somalia was a new state of the world placed in a strategic location that attracted international eyes for an economic and military exercise. At that period, Somali politicians had a dream decorated on great Somalia, and it had diplomatic hostility with its brothers or neighborhood states like Ethiopia, Kenya, and French Somaliland. Somalis were willing to ‘liberate’ the Somalis in these countries so they were hungry for military power for liberation movements.

After the diplomatic connection established in the two countries, Russia offered Somalia education scholarship, capacity enhancement projects for civil servants and military personnel and cultural relation like opening Mosco radio station in Mogadishu, and it provided military equipment to Somali force. So, Russia became the most significant donor of Somalia in the era.

Before 1969, Somalia had a democratic parliamentary governmental system allied with western, but not without infiltration. Somalia signed a military agreement with Russia. Russia infiltrated military personnel sympathies with ‘great Somalia’ ideology, and spread propaganda on governmental system accusing of corruption and mismanagement to overthrow it. However, some East Africa researchers believed that Russia was not involved in the coup in 1969.

Russia and Somalia’s relations reached its peak when the military took power. Communist ideology was implemented in Somalia with the Soviet sending a large number of experts to improve socialism activities by training national staff, USSR put massive investment in Somalia military and develop its capabilities, Somalia became USSR member. It shifted allegiance from the West to the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, diplomatic misunderstanding broke out between the two states. When the Soviet rebuilt the military and diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, in November 1977, Somalia denounced its friendship with Russia. Russia evacuated its citizens from Somalia, and vise versa including more three 300 Somali students in Russia.

It was the end of the round 20 years relationship, and it never re-established until the Somalia government collapsed.

Somalia state collapsed in 1991, and it disappeared from world politics for more than 20 years, recently emerged and formed a democratic federal government backed by western states and the United Nations.

Now both states have a federal system with different backgrounds and re-established their diplomatic relations. In July 2019, Somali President received credentials from the new Russia ambassador after four decades of absence of a diplomatic relationship. While Somalia’s government appointed a new ambassador to Russia in 2015.

We cannot say Russia was deaf on Somalia’s political process since it has a strong relationship with Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan, and other influential Horn of Africa states.

Russia is willing to expend its influence after USSR collapsed in 1991. Somalia was one of the strategic locations planned to have an impact both politically and socially. The Horn of Africa attracted international powers China and Japan have the only overseas military base, also French, the USA has stations and involved military movement in India Ocean.

Although reports say Russia planned to establish a military base in Africa it is not clear where it intends to set and how that will pan out with already presence of China and USA.

Russia investments in Somalia

Somalia is recovering from years of destruct and is now dealing with a new security challenge-terrorism. It needs to rebuild its security forces. Humanitarian challenges and state building processes remain a challenge and western powers such as the US, Britain and even Turkey have been heavily involved.

Debt relief is also another area of support Somalia requires as it endevours to access concessional loans key to rebuilding the country and jumpstarting the economy.


How Somalia take advantage of that Russia pledge?

Will Somalia survive from the new competition in Africa economics?

How will Somalia balance the rising actors in Africa?

Can Somalia take advantage of these new engagements to deal with the security challenges once and for all?

These questions will need good answers going forward as the Horn of Africa looks forward to the return of Russia or as Russia looks forward to returning to the Horn.