The main point of the Russia-Africa Summit was to strengthen economic cooperation between Russia and Africa. Russia pledged to increase trade with Africa to $40 billion by 2025. Russia also offered to help Africa develop its infrastructure, agriculture, and healthcare sectors.
The Russia-Africa summit that took place in Saint Petersburg on July 28, 2023, is, however, a turning point for both Russia and the African continent. For Russia, this summit was the opportunity for President Putin to shape his image on the international stage and to proliferate Russian influence in Africa. For Africans, this summit presented the opportunity to detach themselves completely from Western influence and to ascertain their sovereignty by sealing a partnership with Russia, which always presented itself as an ally of the decolonization of Africa.
More importantly, President Putin announced at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg, that Russia would forgive $23 billion in debt owed by African countries. The debt forgiveness was part of a broader effort by Russia to increase its economic and political influence in Africa.
The debt forgiveness was welcomed by African leaders, who see it as a sign of Russia's commitment to Africa. Thus, on paper, this partnership established between Russia and Africa seems to be a win-win for both. But the reality of this partnership is far more cynical than it looks.
Indeed, some critics have argued that the debt forgiveness is a cynical attempt by Russia to gain political favor in Africa. They point out that Russia has not forgiven the debt of any Western countries, even though those countries owe Russia billions of dollars. And they aren’t wrong. This partnership is not a partnership of equals. It is a new relation of power dynamics between dominant and dominated. While the face of the dominant is shifted, meaning a shift from Western powers to Russia, the dominated ones remain the same; Africa.
This partnership will not benefit Africa because there will be no transfer of knowledge that will take place. Russia will provide military assistance by selling weapons and imported goods to African countries, which will continue increasing their trade deficit. These weapons sold to African countries are goods that will eventually wear out. When worn out, what will these African countries do? They will continue buying more weapons because they do not have the technical knowledge to manufacture these weapons themselves. Thus, what’s happening in this partnership is a transfer of dependency.
African countries have always depended on goods imported from the West and now it will depend on goods imported from Russia. The inability of African countries to manufacture their own resources is the fundamental problem of their economies. As long as Africa will not be able to fully manufacture its own resources into consumable goods, it will always be dominated by those who provide it with these imported goods.
The problem of African countries is that they are rentier states, which means that they disproportionally rely upon one or several inherited sources of rent such as soft and hard commodities (cocoa, coffee, soybean, oil, mineral resources…etc.) to generate national income. Indeed, rentier states are based on three criteria. First, they rely on external sources; second, they do not depend on the productivity of their residents; and third, the national income goes primarily to the government.
We know that Africa is extremely rich in terms of natural resources. These natural resources are inherited, however. Africans did not create them. They were just lucky to be living on a land that has these resources and they simply use these resources by selling them as they are to generate income for their governments. As a result, the domestic productive sectors of African countries remain very weak since Africans do not manufacture their own resources.
Thus, this Russia-Africa partnership will only benefit Putin’s Russia and not Africa. Africans will never be seen as equals as long as they continue practicing rentier economics.