The recently concluded Second Russia-Africa Summit, held from July 27-28th in St. Petersburg, was a pivotal event that facilitated extensive interactions between Russian President Vladimir Putin and African leaders. The summit saw the participation of delegations from 49 nations, a notable increase from the previous summit co-hosted in 2019 by Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Sochi, which had 43 delegations in attendance.
While more countries sent delegations to this year's summit, there was a glaring decline in the number of heads of state present, with several nations opting to be represented by ministers instead of presidents or prime ministers. An example of this was Rwanda, a rapidly developing African country, was represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vincent Biruta, rather than President Paul Kagame. Additionally, the summit witnessed the presence of representatives from various non-governmental organizations, such as the African Union, BRICS New Development Bank, ECOWAS, and the Wagner Group, a Russian-affiliated paramilitary organization that has previously assisted some attendees, notably Mali, in combating incursions by Islamic terrorists within their borders.
A few countries participated in the summit for the first time, including Morocco, Tunisia, Zambia, and Guinea-Bissau. However, some previous attendees, like Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, and Togo, were notably absent this year. Kenya's decision to be represented by the African Union's Representatives, thereby opting not to attend the summit, was influenced by Western criticism over its involvement in the Ukraine conflict, indicating the country's focus on strengthening relations with Africa.
The timing of this year's summit coincided with significant political strife on the African continent, particularly in the Sahel region, which has witnessed conflicts with groups like Boko Haram and numerous overthrows of leaders. Over the past years, Africa has experienced 13 coups, with Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali witnessing overthrows of their Western or French-backed leadership in favor of establishing closer ties with Russia. The issue of security was a prominent topic during the summit, with Wagner Group Leader Yevgeny Prighozin holding discussions with African leaders, particularly Central African Republic's Presidential Advisor Freddy Mapouka, on ways the Wagner Group could provide assistance in countering Islamic terrorists and ethnic militias.
At the summit, many African attendees, especially Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, urged Putin to renew the grain deal and allow Ukraine to continue exporting grain through its Black Sea ports. Several African countries heavily rely on grain imports from Ukraine, and any disruption in the supply could cause a surge in food prices, particularly in Horn of Africa, which is already facing one of the most severe droughts in their history.
In response, Putin pledged to continue supplying grain and mineral fertilizer to Africa, even after withdrawing from the deal. He announced that Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic would receive substantial shipments of Russian grain in the coming months. However, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised concerns that these donations would not fully compensate for the impact of Russia cutting off grain exports from Ukraine, as Ukraine is a significant global grain supplier.
The summit showcased Russia's efforts to engage with African leaders and assert its presence on the global stage, a development that may keep France and the United States, two countries with interests and military bases in Africa, on alert. However, it also offered African leaders an opportunity to address concerns about the implications of Russia's actions on food security and international relations.
As we move forward, it is likely that Russia will seek to increase its economic and military influence on the continent, leveraging its anti-Western stance and forging closer ties with African nations, in an extremely similar fashion to the approach the USSR took in assisting African nations with their fights against colonialism. It is in this context that Russia is countering western influence in Africa by strengthening old alliances carried on from the years of the USSR.