Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday will welcome dozens of African leaders to the Russia-Africa summit holding in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
With at least 50 African Presidents, heads of state and delegation in attendance, the summit represents a unique opportunity for Russia to display its new big boy status in the continent as a serious and important player in Africa.
The two-day Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum has brought a sea of African leaders to Sochi, more than those who attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York last September.
Western media argued that President Putin would use the summit to gain an edge on the other powers vying for influence and commercial opportunities in Africa, including the U.S. and China.
Newsweek recalled that “Africa has massive economic and political potential. Around 60 percent of the continent’s population—which is growing rapidly—is under the age of 25, offering a vast pool of workers even if many are not yet highly skilled. The continent has abundant natural resources and since 2000 its combined GDP has grown by 5.1 percent per year on average”, adding that Russia has joined the ‘scramble for Africa’ and is hoping to compete with the United States, China, Europe, Japon, India and the rest.
These global players are bringing with them huge investment that has prompted some to term this era a new “scramble” for Africa.
But Russia’s footprint on the continent remains much smaller than those of its rivals.
“This week’s summit is part of its efforts to shift the balance more in its favor,” Newsweek argued.
In an interview with state news agency Tass published this weekend, Putin said the summit would focus on “African solutions to African problems.”
The Kremlin has sought to portray Russia as a more sympathetic partner for African nations compared with the U.S. and China—two of the leading foreign investment giants, Newsweek added.
The magazine quoted Alex Vines—the head of the Africa program at the Chatham House think tank—as saying that this week’s summit is part of “a serious tilt by the Kremlin at re-engagement in Africa” and represents “the public launch of a two-year-old strategy”, although Paul Stronski—a senior fellow for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank’s Russia and Eurasia Program—suggested the summit’s prime value is on the public relations front.
“What Russia is trying to do with this summit is to try to sort of convey that it is an important geopolitical player on the continent and geo-economic player on the continent,” Stronski told Newsweek.