St. Petersburg July 2023 Russia-Africa Business Forum:  Pre-Summit  Conversations Present an Even Mix of ‘Hard Power’ and  ‘Soft Power’ for Russian Influence in Africa

By TZBN Staff and Kestér Kenn Klomegâh in Moscow

On July 12, 2023 Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the African Union, hosted a ’round-table’ titled “Towards the Second Russia–Africa Summit and the Russia–Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum”.  

The discussion at this pre-summit round-table focused on the prospects for the development of Russia-Africa economic and social partnership relations. Delegates from Russia at this round-table included representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (called AFROCOM), and from relevant ministries, industry associations and business associations.

While discussions at this pre-summit round table in Addis Ababa sounded like it was all hard business talk, the schedule at the main event at St. Petersburg reveals a different story: besides business, Russia wants to improve ‘cultural ties’ with Africa—a component aimed at boosting Russian soft power in Africa.  In the past, Russia’s association with Africa was primarily through ‘hard power’ military links. But times have changed and Russia seems to understand this. A two-pronged approach on influence in Africa is evident.

“Expanding cultural ties and developing cooperation with Africa will be discussed at the Creative Business Forum’s field session at the Second Russia–Africa Summit and Russia–Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum”, a website focused on the 2nd Russia-Africa Business Forum, reports. (Copyrighted information from used in good faith).

On the other hand, the privately owned Wagner Group, a militia known to be involved in military intervention on behalf of the Russian Federation has established operations in several African countries. Many of its operations focus on security services and paramilitary assistance in Africa on behalf of ‘Mother Russia.’ The American Think Tank Council on Foreign Relations says Wagner Group is most active in the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Mali, and Sudan. It was also reported in Mozambique in 2019.

Pre-Summit Roundtable meeting in Addis Ababa

In an exclusive interview, TZBN Correspondent Kestér Kenn Klomegâh asked Chairperson  of  the Russian Africa Business Initiative (ABI), Nataliya Zaiser, a question on soft power: Why have Russia’s efforts to regain its economic influence achieved little success; why is soft power softer than in Soviet days?

Nataliya replied: We shouldn’t say whether power is “softer” or “harder” than in the days of the Soviet Union. It’s just different. Times have changed significantly: new economic and political environment,  new challenges,  new competitive conditions, new bases for cooperation. People are different,  minds are different, technologies are different.

In all that, we have to find absolutely different approaches and strategies to building business relationships. What remains the same is a will, a very loyal mutual attitude between Russia and African countries and a strong desire to push forward these mutual efforts.

Nataliya Zaiser

The Innosocium Foundation, the social platform of the Roscongress Foundation, will host a field session of the 7th Creative Business Forum (CBF) at the Second Russia–Africa Summit and Russia–Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum, which will take place in Saint Petersburg on 27–28 July 2023.

The Summit is the largest in Russian–African relations and is designed to define the forms and directions of cooperation for the long term. The humanitarian component plays a significant role in this interaction as reflected in the name of the event.

The programme of the CBF field session focuses on exploring the potential of creative industries as a tool for creating a sustainable future through ergonomic solutions, the synergy of innovation and creativity, and the harmonious integration of traditional culture into a world where modern technology and scientific advances play a central role. The main theme of the session will be the development of a creative economy based on domestic potential and national identity.

“The renewed format of the Creative Business Forum expands the geography of its topics. Developing ties with African countries in the fields of education, science, culture, inter-civilization dialogue and civil society dialogue is more relevant today than ever before. Given the turbulence of the global economy and the transformation of international economic associations, this facilitates the exchange of knowledge and experience and the establishment of effective partnerships in the creative industries,” said Anton Kobyakov, Advisor to the President of the Russian Federation.

During the field session, there will be a discussion titled “Creative Economy: Developing Cultural Projects and Brands. Prospects for Russia’s Interaction with the African Continent”. Participants will discuss new opportunities for cooperation, the development of culture and the arts, the expansion of cultural ties and the implementation of joint creative projects between Russia and African countries.

Invited guests from African countries include: Mourad Chouikhi, Director General of the National Centre for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (Algeria), Ahmadou Aly Mbaye, Rector and President of the Cheikh Anta Diop University Assembly (Dakar), Mamadou Diombera, Director General of the National School of Traditional Arts and Crafts (Senegal), Benedict Okey Orama, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export–Import Bank (Afreximbank), and Ahmed Mohamed Zahi, Founder of the Al Fustat Centre for Traditional Crafts, Pottery and Ceramics (Egypt)

Others include Professor Avo Mana Asiedu of Ghana State University’s School of Stage Art, Lulseged Retta, Chairman of the Ethiopian Artists Association, who happens to be a graduate of the V.I. Surikov Academy of Fine Arts, and Usman Diona, General Director of the Daniel Sorano National Theatre Company (Senegal).

The year 2023 marks 60 years since formation of the Organization of African Union (OAU) which has now rebranded into the new name of African Union (AU). Officials in Russia say the date for the second Russia-Africa Business forum at St. Petersburg in July, 2023 was picked to coincide with the 60th birthday of the organization of African Unity to celebrate Russian people’s contribution to African independence and self determination. 

The Second Russia–Africa Summit and the Russia–Africa Economic and Humanitarian Forum will be held in St. Petersburg at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre on 27–28 July 2023. The events are aimed at comprehensively strengthening cooperation between Russia and Africa and are designed to determine the trajectory of Russia’s relations with African countries in the long term. The Forum programme includes more than 30 panel sessions and thematic events on the most important issues of interaction between Russia and African countries.