Russia-Africa Summit open with low turnout of African leaders

Russia-Africa Summit open with low turnout of African leaders

Kremlin says 17 heads of state attending

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - The Russia-Africa Summit opens Thursday in St. Petersburg but with dozens of African leaders missing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the two-day summit is critical to bolstering relations with Africa.

He said the event would provide an opportunity for participants to share views on ways to strengthen the multi-faceted partnership.

“It is important that over the past few years, cooperation between Russia and Africa has reached new heights. We intend to continue moving in this direction,” Putin said in a statement on the summit’s website.

Putin is expected to highlight his vision of Russia-Africa ties, according to Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.

The summit comes on the backdrop of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, which has drawn criticism in Africa due to its effect on food prices on the continent.

Russia argued that the deal brokered by the UN and Türkiye did not meet a promise to facilitate Russian exports.

The termination of the deal that allowed Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea that helped tame surging world food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to dominate the agenda.

But unlike the maiden summit in 2019, when Putin hosted 43 African heads of state, this year, just 17 are attending, according to the Kremlin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attributed the low turnout to Western pressure which he said discouraged attendance.

But analysts believe the Russia-Ukraine war and the termination of the grain deal are responsible for the low turnout.

Louis Gitinywa, a Rwandan-based political analyst, said African leaders fail to use summits with high-profile countries to their advantage.

“For Russia, it is a fair deal hosting those African leaders in trying to boost its profile on the continent. What is unfortunate is that we (Africa) don’t understand the meaning of the geopolitics and how to reap from it,” he told Anadolu.

He said the summit, like others, with high-profile countries, would end up being “one of those many events, where African leaders rush to have nice photos, have interviews with Western media but at the end of the day we don’t see concrete results on the ground.”

At the first Russia-Africa Summit, Putin pledged to double Russia’s trade with Africa within five years. But it has stagnated at about $18 billion per year. In terms of foreign direct investment on the continent, Moscow offers less than 1%.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged African leaders at the summit Thursday to demand an explanation about the termination of the grain deal which could intensify a food security crisis.

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed are among those attending.

El-Sisi has criticized Russia’s withdrawal from the grain deal.

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