No Africans at Russian G8?

BY TREVOR GRUNDY LONDON - For decades after the 1917 Revolution, Moscow posed as a champion of Africa and the Third World. This year, Russia has a chance to put African poverty on top of the G-8 agenda at the club's summit in St Petersburg in July. Will it, or will it not? Two outstanding political

and economic heavyweights entered the same ring here last week and hit each other with words not gloves. Dr Vladimir Shubin is the Deputy Director of the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences – a heavyweight in more ways than one. Last year, the South African Government awarded him the OR Tambo Order of Companion Medal (Silver) for his contribution to Africa in the fight against apartheid and all white rule in South Africa. This big, jovial man is one of the best respected of all Russian experts on Africa, a close adviser to President Vladimir Putin. Sitting in the opposite corner was Sir Nicholas Bayne, an “old school” British diplomat, a former ambassador and a present Fellow at the International Trade Policy Unit at the London School of Economics. The venue was the Royal Society for International Affairs (the famous Chatham House) where the world’s top brains meet and exchange views. Sir Nicholas raised eyebrows (including those of Chairman Dr Adotey Bing, Director of the Africa Centre in London) when he said it was unlikely that President Putin would invite any Africans – indeed, any outsiders- to this year’s summit of the G8 in St Petersburg (the former Leningrad) in July. Russia has taken over the chairmanship of the G8 Group of nations for the first time. this provides Putin (once head of the infamous Russian KGB) with an opportunity to emphasise Russia’s role in international affairs. But some critics, notably US senators, have argued that with its terrible human rights record (not unlike Mugabe’s) Russia is not a fit country to head the group. Already the Russians are making it clear that they want energy and energy security to be top of the G8 agenda – not Africa. Sir Nicholas delivered a heavy blow to the head when he pointed out that when the former colonial power Britain chaired G8 last year the emphasis was on African Poverty while this year, under Russian leadership, it will be on Energy and Energy Security. With Ali-like footwork (but stinging like the proverbial bee) Sir Nicholas said: “I think that under the pressures of the last decade, or so, Russia has concentrated on its own problem and the problems (facing) countries in its immediate periphery. It simply hasn’t had the resources available that it had in the days of the Soviet Union to be so deeply involved in Africa. “So, for this Summit, the Russians have chosen the areas where they are strong and that is why they have given so much attention to energy and energy security because, as one of the world’s largest providers of oil and gas, they are proceeding from a position of strength.” Dr Shubin bounced back. He said that Africa would, yes, be on the G8 Agenda under the chairmanship of Russia “but it will not be a separate issue.” Indeed, the whole large audience breathed in when the hefty Russian dismissed the idea that the former KGB boss needed a Russian equivalent of Bob Geldof to prod and push him on the subject of African poverty. “I don’t think the President needs that. Some people are very skeptical about the role of that famous gentleman (Sir Bob) you see.” He said that if Russian musicians and dancers wanted to sing and perform to draw attention to the plight of so many impoverished African states “they are welcome to do so.” Last year, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor, Gordon Brown (backed by Geldof and Bono – or should that be the other way round?) drew the world’s attention to African poverty with the Irish rocker famously declaring that soon African Poverty will be History. Next to nothing happened after the 7/7 bus and underground disasters in London, although there has been some debt “forgiveness” especially to Nigeria, which is one of the world’s major suppliers of oil to the West. Dr Shubin underscored what Russia would be thinking about this year: “We should not forget that Africa – especially because of the troubles in the Middle East – is becoming a more and more attractive sources of energy. I think it has already been said in American newspapers if not officially, that the USA is planning to increase to 20 percent, maybe up to 30 percent, its oil from Africa mostly from West Africa. So I think that the subject of Africa is unavoidable (italics are mine).” At the end of the meeting, a former BBC producer whispered in my ear on the way out: “Methinks we will not be hearing too much about human rights abuses in Angola, Nigeria or the Sudan this year, not from the Chairman of G8, anyhow!” I said: “If only Robert Mugabe could lay his hands on some oil, we wouldn’t hear much about Zimbabwe’s human rights abuses, either.” – Trevor Grundy worked as a journalist in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa between 1966-1996 and is today a broadcaster and author living in the UK

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