Emma Emeozor, emma_globecomm, @Emekili
Last week, African leaders and their Russian counterpart converged on the Black Sea city of Sochi for a 2-day summit to promote diplomatic, economic, military and social relations. The event was Moscow’s first Russia-Africa summit and was convened by Russian President Vladimir Putin. In this report, development economist, polymath and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia speaks on the benefits of revitalising Russia-Africa relations. He also discussed China’s abuse of economic franchise in Africa.
Mailafia was upbeat when he said he welcomed the summit and described it as a very good idea. He said: “Russia which led the old Soviet Union was a pillar of anti-colonial struggle in Africa. Without the support of the old Soviet Union, much of the independence of Africa would have been a mirage. But unfortunately, when the Soviet empire collapsed and Russia Federation emerged as an independent republic, somehow we lost out in the relationship.
“And of course, Russia was beset with its own internal challenges, but now that it is a consolidated country, this is the time to revitalise our old relationship. Russia is a world leader in oil and gas, they have vast technological prowess, and it is a leader in ICT and aerospace. So, I believe that Russia can be a strong partner for the emerging Africa in various areas of development. We need Russian investors to come here, we need Russia technology, machinery and know-how. There is room for very strong cooperation.
Taking a swipe at the West, the former ex-CBN governor said: “I understand that not too long ago that President Vladimir Putin complained bitterly that the Western petroleum companies were trying to block the entry of Russian players in Africa. We should not encourage such monopolistic behaviour, we should create an open playing field so that anybody that has something to offer us should be allowed to have a piece of the action. I think it is a historical opportunity on both side to build mutually beneficial relationship in the years ahead.
Mailafia disagreed with those who say the summit was part of Russia’s effort to win Africa to its side against the backdrop of a second Cold War with the West. Number one, I don’t think there is a second Cold War. I think it is a mirage. I have talked to my European friends. They even try to humiliating Russia by all means and I can’t understand it, I have spoken to the Germans, the French . . . regardless of what happened in Russia, they simply hate Russia.
“The Germans have a grudge because after War 11, Russia grabbed some territories that they believe belong to them. World powers want see Russia disintegrate so that they can have access to Russia’s huge natural resources. There is no country on earth that has the natural resources of Russia, even in land size, the Russian land mass is about nine million square kilometres, it is a huge territory.
“And of course, Putin has taken a stand, he has shown he is a strong man because it is only a strong that can keep such a huge size together. For example, if China came and set up military base in Mexico, there is no way America will accept such a challenge, so why did they think they can put military base in Ukraine, right next door to Russia.
“They are trying to lure Ukraine into NATO, lure Ukraine into the European Union orbit and they expect Russia to keep quiet, it is direct challenge to Russia. That is why Russia quickly reacted by annexing Crimea and that of course has led to what you might call the second Cold War.”
Mailafia wants Africa to stay clear of Russia-West politics. “For me, we (Africa) should not be implicated in their power struggle, which is their own affairs, ours is business, we should be open to anybody that has something to offer Nigeria and Africa, it is a win-win situation.
“Russia genuinely wants to be a friend of the West and it wants to be a civilised member of the international community. We should encourage Russia along that path, along the path of democracy, liberalism and civility in international relations.
Africans have been complaining about the exploitative attitude of the Chinese. Would the Russians not do the same? Mailafia’s response was explosive though patriotic. Hear him:
“Let me tell you one thing we must do. We should put a law in Africa which forbids Chinese from going to the villages or any rural setting, they must remain in the cities, and they should not be seen in any village because they are just going there to steal precious stones and minerals. They are there serving as conduit for illegal mining and smuggling of precious stones, gold, etc.
“We must put an immediate stop to it. I am not a xenophobic person but we cannot get rid of western imperialism only to become victims of a most pernicious form of economic imperialism as practiced by the Chinese. We should sign very strong contract, if they are building, majority of the builders should be local employees, the supervisors and managers can be Chinese or Russian as the case may be because they have the design and plan.
“But they must integrate our labour force into their companies even if they need to send them to China for training, they must do that. It is very wrong for our country . . . I believe it was only Tunisia under President Ben Ali that introduced such a policy of ensuring that the Chinese must employ their people, must train them in building bridges, airports, roads, harbours, so, 70% of the workforce must be our local people, but we don’t do that.”
Mailafia frowned at a situation where “we simply sign agreements, then they bring all their labourers, their supervisors from China and they do the job, collect their money and move on. Even maintenance, we have to go back and call them. To me, that is one of the worst type of economic enslavement that I can think of and I cannot stomach it.”
But what does he think about the Russians? “Well, I don’t think it can happen . . . look, the fault is with us, not with anybody, if a man is a fool enough to allow his home to be taken over by strangers, that is his fault, he has never been a wise person, we should be wise with Russia, China, everybody, we should sign very wise contract of engagement. It will happen with Russia if we allowed them. But if we take a strong and wise stand, it will not happen.”
Asked if African leaders will be able to sustain the new ties with Russia, Mailafia responded thus: “I am not an African leader, and therefore I cannot speak for them but by taking the move to go to Sochi to attend the summit, I’m assuming that there will be some level of commitment, eh…mm, Russia remains in many ways a world power, it remains a very important strategic country and for Africa . . . look, it is like a beautiful woman, everybody wants this girl, so everybody is coming to showcase what they can offer her if she agrees for their hand in marriage. Africa is the new bride and let many suitors come, it is up to her to choose who the best is and I welcome that development.
Mailiafia was emphatic when he said Nigeria should seek the following from Moscow: “Number 1. Russia should supply Nigeria weapons to eradicate Boko Haram . . . all these people trying to destroy our country. Russia will help us do that in a matter of months. 2. Russia is very strong in railway development, let’s bring them to help us build railways. On Nigeria’s desire to establish iron and steel industry, he strongly believes Russia will help “us revitalise Ajaokuta Steel Mill in no time.”The Russians of today are good business people, they want to see business being done, if it is a win-win, so be it.
“We have natural resources that Russia may need, we have a good market, they want to sell their products, we need to build very strong relationship, infact our relationship with Russia . . . they use to train our doctors, engineers, architects a long time ago, many of my colleagues still speak fluent Russia language, some of them married Russian women, so we have a basis, therefore, for continued cooperation. So, I believe that the prospects are very good.
“Also, it is good for Russia because the strategy of the West is to try to isolate and box it into a corner. But Russia is desirous of cultivating new friends and new areas of influence, so for us, it is a win-win. The fact that the West is trying to make Russia an enemy doesn’t mean that Russia should be an enemy to us, nobody has the right to choose our friend and enemies for us. We must be able to exercise our sovereign right to decide who our friend is and who our enemy is.”
Will Africa unite and present a common front in dealing with Russia? Mailafia expressed optimism. “Well we are to some extent disunited but to some extent we are also united. The African Union has made a lot of progress in consolidating African unity. The security architecture of the African Union is something that all of our countries have subscribed to. Right now, as we speak, the guns are fallen silent, there is no African country trying to invade another sister African country, so peace is returning to our continent.
“To that extent, I would say there is a lot of progress being made in African unity, so we should not exaggerate our disunity. He said if Africa is united, “the continent will get the best not only from Russia, but from other parts of the world and also, we will get the best from ourselves ultimately, getting the best from ourselves is the most important priority, first and foremost, before trying to get the best from others. I want Africa … I have a vision of an Africa that is an inner directed and an inner guided prosperous democracy that is at peace with itself and at peace with the world.”