The authorities have also made persistent efforts to inform the elites and business community about the positive developments and emerging economic opportunities in Russia, but Russian media and policy experts say there is still much room for improvement.
Quite recently, Olga Kulkova, a research fellow at the Center for Studies of Russian-African Relations, Institute for African Studies in Moscow, noted in her opinion article that “in the global struggle for Africa, Russia is sadly far from outpacing its competitors. In terms of stringency of strategic outlook and activeness, the country is seriously lagging behind China, US, EU, India, Brazil.”
For example, at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting, both China and Africa have fixed a “China-Africa Press Exchange Center” in China to encourage exchanges and visits between Chinese and African media, and China already supports frequent exchange of correspondents by media organizations of the two sides.
Professor David H. Shinn, an adjunct professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs George, Washington University, thinks that China Central Television, China Radio International, China Daily, and China’s official news service, Xinhua, have made a major media push into Africa. This effort coincides with China’s expanding economic and political engagement, including the fact that China is Africa’s largest trading partner at more than $200 billion annually,
Shinn, who was a former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia (1996-99) and Burkina Faso (1987-90), wrote in an emailed interview to Buziness Africa: “Neither Russia nor the government-controlled media of any other country has made a comparable media outreach effort in Africa. This situation speaks more, however, to the extraordinary effort China is putting into its African media campaign than it does Russia’s comparative lack of effort.”
Kulkova suggested that “Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and quality analytical articles about the continent, on-the-spot TV reports in order to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. More quality information about modern Russia should be broadcast in African states. Indisputably, it would take a lot of money and efforts, but the result will pay off.”
The 21st century is the century of new technologies bringing international communication to a qualitatively different level, it is a time for new methods of “struggle for the hearts and minds” of African partners. Russia ought to take that into account if it wants to improve the chances for success in Africa. All the leading countries have been doing that quite efficiently for a long time, Kulkova noted.
While many experts say African media seem uninterested in developing links to Russia, Vasily Pushkov, an independent expert on international media relations argues that “it works both ways and moreso the two regions are very far from each other. They are not as interconnected as they were during the Cold War era. But, the interest in the media is relatively high right now.”
He explained that Russia might have an image problem among African elites, “partly due to the fact that Russia had to somewhat reduce its different development and investment programs in the African continent compared to the Soviet era. There is also a communication problem. Most African media get their global news from the leading Western media outlets, which in turn have a nasty and longstanding habit of always portraying Russia as the world’s bogeyman.”
Some problems and challenges in developing the media connection to Africa still remain. Pushkov said: “Africa is a huge continent. And it is only fair to remind oneself again and again that it is not a single entity. It has multitude of languages, cultures, nations, customs and regional or global interests. This is something that many people tend to forget when dealing with the continent.”
“But this diversity also means that you can not cover the whole continent by firmly establishing yourself in just one part of it. This calls for a very complicated and structured work that requires a lot of resources the amount of which has been significantly reduced by the global financial crisis,” Pushkov explained assertively.
He, however, points to positive trend in media cooperation. Last year for instance, Russian media made somewhat of a breakthrough in establishing partnership relations with African media companies.
The main progress was reached during the forum of the heads of the BRICS countries’ leading media outlets “Towards creating a common information space for the BRICS countries” which took place in October in Moscow. This resulted in a number of signed cooperation agreements between Russian and South African media companies. Furthermore, leading Russian media outlets have continued their work to expand coverage of events happening on the African continent.
China is leading among the BRICS. During the Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in December 2015 in Pretoria, both China and Africa aspire to reach new milestones in many spheres, one of which is to train hundreds of journalists, help them with skills development and skills transfer programs.
According to the official reports, this will provide an opportunity, by using the power of modern media, for advancing the common interest of the two regions in a mutually beneficial way.
For the past few years, Russia has made some efforts to return with investment and business to Africa, but unfortunately only a few of those development projects have been made public.
“Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
“To certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. But in Russia’s case, the main drivers of any cooperation are more traditional rather than political interests of the state and economic interest of big companies. Soft power has never been a strong side of Russian policy in the post-Soviet era.”
But, this trend may be changing. In a foreign policy speech, President Vladimir Putin urged all his Russian ambassadors and diplomats to actively use new technologies to highlight Russian success stories, improve Russia’s image and defend its interests abroad, according to Russian daily Kommersant, quoting an official who attended the meeting.
“It’s not enough to just crow something onceâ€¦ We should explain our positions again and again, using various platforms and new media technologies, until they understand,” the official, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, quoted Putin as saying.
According to experts, the level and intensity of cultural influence can be raised by the effective use of soft power, and of course, social media as pointed out by President Putin in his mid-July address to Russian diplomats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
But the primary task is for diplomatic representations both in the Russian Federation and inside Africa to recognize these new methods of disseminating information, work with transparency and self-dedication, and keep up their legitimate responsibilities within the policy framework.
*Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent research writer on Russia-African affairs and a member of the Regional Council on Development of Relations with Africa.Post published in: Business
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russian President Vladimir Putin has assertively reminded 17 newly arrived foreign envoys to make efforts to facilitate the development of multifaceted relations with Russia in every possible way, strengthen political dialogue, boost trade and economic relations, deepen humanitarian and cultural ties.
“The role of diplomacy and diplomats are particularly important,” he explained and gave the assurance that Moscow was committed to constructive dialogue with its foreign partners and would unreservedly promote a positive agenda.
“For our part, we are ready to welcome your constructive initiatives, you can count on the support of Russian authorities, state institutions, business circles and the public,” Putin said, addressing the foreign ambassadors in a special ceremony held in the Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace.
The 17 newly appointed ambassadors are from Austria, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Italy, Jordan, Nigeria, Montenegro, Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, The Gambia, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
During the speech, Putin strongly reminded them about the growing challenges and threats confronting the global community and urged them to play a pivotal role in ensuring sustainable development, global peace and stability.
“As for Russia, it will continue to consistently be committed to strengthening global and regional security and stability and fully comply with its international obligations, build constructive cooperation with partners based on respect relying on international legal norms and the United Nations Charter,” the Russian leader said.
According to Putin, “diplomats are called upon to facilitate the joint search for answers to large-scale challenges and threats, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and climate change.”
In addition to supporting greater security, stability and delivering promptly on its international obligations, Putin also emphasized the readiness of Russia to continue boosting overall ties both at bilateral level and on the world stage with African countries. According to the longstanding tradition, the Russian leader said a few words about the interaction with the individual countries in the welcome speech.
Of particular importance, Putin noted that Russia was interested in broadening ties with the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We very much appreciate our relations with Nigeria, an important partner for us on the African continent. We support the further expansion of mutually beneficial Russian-Nigerian ties, including cooperation on hydrocarbon extraction and aluminum production, as well as in the military-technical field,” he told the new Nigerian ambassador, Professor Steve Davies Ugba, who had arrived with an accumulated experience in corporate affairs and several years of academic teaching in the United States.
He went on to inform the gathering that the foundation for the cooperation between Russia and Ghana was laid over 60 years ago. “We have accumulated a great deal of experience in working together in both the trade and economic sphere and in politics. Currently, we are developing promising projects in the nuclear and oil industries, and we are discussing the prospects of supplying Ghana with Russian airplanes, helicopters and automobiles,” Putin said.
Oheneba Dr. Akyaa Opoku Ware, Ghana’s ambassador to the Russian Federation, was one of those who presented credentials to Putin. By profession, she is a qualified medical doctor from The Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and was appointed as an ambassador to the Russian Federation and former Soviet republics by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo on September 13, 2017.
With regards to the Arab Republic of Egypt, Putin offered a bit more saying that the strategic partnership with Egypt is being strengthened. In August, Russia and Egypt will mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Cooperation between Russia and Egypt is very active and includes the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Egypt, the establishment of a Russian industrial zone in the Port Said region, and the deepening of military and defense industry cooperation.
“I would also like to point out that regular flights between the capitals of the two countries have been resumed. We continue to work on resuming the rest of the flights,” he pointed out.
Last December, fruitful talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were held in Cairo, he noted, and added that they both maintained regular dialogue on a range of topics, including relevant international and regional issues because both countries have had close or similar positions. Quite recently, Putin heartily congratulated the President of Egypt on his resounding victory at the recent elections.
According to diplomatic sources, Mr. Ihab Talaat Nasr, the new Egyptian ambassador to Russia, has replaced Mr. Mohammed al-Badri who completed his mission late October 2017. Previously, Ihab Nasr was the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt responsible for European affairs.
The Gambia was in the Kremlin for the first time in the country’s history with the official opening of an embassy in Moscow. Madam Jainaba Bah, a Senior Member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), became the first resident ambassador of The Gambia in the Russian Federation.
“Our ties with the Republic of The Gambia are traditionally constructive. The Russian side is interested in expanding economic cooperation, including by increasing the supply of machinery and agricultural products to the republic. We will continue to expand the practice of training Gambian specialists at Russian universities,” the Russian leader explained.
Significantly, Putin underscores the fact that friendly cooperation is maintained with the Republic of the Congo. Bilateral cooperation covers a number of major projects, including the construction of a 1,334 km oil pipeline. In February, Rosatom and the Science Ministry of the Congo signed a memorandum of understanding. Over 7,000 citizens of the Congo have received higher education at Soviet and Russian universities.
Talking about Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, he said that Russia’s relations with the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire would continue to develop in traditionally constructive spirit.
“We mainly interact with the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire in the trade and economic sphere. Russia supplies to this country chemical and food products and imports cocoa and its derivatives. As part of our humanitarian efforts, medicine and medical equipment from Russia are regularly sent to the Republic,” Putin told the new ambassador, Mr. Roger Gnanga, who had served in diplomatic post in Washington.
Currently, Côte d’Ivoire is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Russia also stands ready to work with the Ivorian side at the UN.
Interestingly, Benin has frequently changed its ambassadors. Mr. Noukpo Clement Kiki, the newly appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Benin to the Russian Federation, is a professional teacher and administrator for over 20 years. Quite recently, he had a short diplomatic stint in Canada and now transferred to Moscow.
Relations with Benin are developing in a constructive spirit. Russia cooperates on energy and transport. Russia exports food and chemical products. Over 2,500 citizens of Benin have graduated from Russian universities, according to Putin.
Whatever the possible shortfalls, Putin optimistically expects that, with active participation of the 17 newly arrived ambassadors, these relations will develop dynamically for the mutual benefit of the peoples of their individual countries and Russia, and in the interests of international stability and security.
“I am confident that your time in Russia will allow you to better know our country and its rich history and culture, and will leave you with new unforgettable impressions,” Putin, elected for another six-year presidential term and will be inaugurated into office on May 7, told the gathering.
In conclusion, Putin congratulated the new foreign envoys with the official beginning of an important and honorable diplomatic mission, and with the hope that their activities in the Russian Federation will be productive and promote the development of relations between the countries they represent and the Russian Federation. *Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent research writer on Russia-African affairs and a member of the Regional Council on Development of Relations with Africa.