The St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018, one of the annual international platforms that brings together political, industry and business leaders to discuss the most pressing issues affecting global economics, development and finance, will take place on May 24 to 26 in St. Petersburg.
Ahead of the forum, the official website of the President of the Russian Federation has published his welcome greetings to participants, organisers and guests. In his greetings, Putin expressed his confidence that ideas and initiatives to be developed during the forum would facilitate the recovery and growth of the world economy.
“By harnessing the wealth of scientific and technological potential which is rapidly expanding in digital and other areas today, we can improve quality of life and boost stable and harmonious development in all nations and across the world as a whole,” he stressed in his message.
“And it is crucial that we strive towards increasing mutual trust, promoting wide-ranging integration processes, realising large-scale and promising projects. Russia is always open to this kind of partnership and cooperation,” Putin said.
According to RosCongress, the event organiser, about 15,000 guests from more than 140 countries expected to participate in the forum. France, China, India and Japan as guests of the forum will have their own exhibition pavilions on site, which will house a presentation area and a business space for delegations and representatives to interact with business partners from other countries.
Delegations from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Greece, Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Vietnam, USA, Canada, African countries and others will participate in various business events. BRICS member states (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) have been prominently represented there.
For foreign participants, including Africans, the forum is very useful for networking and discussing business strategies, and serves as an important study platform useful for deepening knowledge about the economy and possible ways of transacting business in Russia.
Series of official speeches and panel discussions will undoubtedly dominate the three-day event. The special sessions on business and investment opportunities will include the "Russia – Africa Business Dialogue" that has generated increasing interests among Russian and African businesses, international companies, African governments and institutions.
According to Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the President of the Russian Federation and Executive Secretary of the SPIEF Organising Committee, the upcoming forum will hold two special celebrations marking the occasions related to the continent: Africa Day and the 55th anniversary of the African Union.
“Economic cooperation between Russia and Africa has been developing rapidly during recent years. We have seen a positive dynamic in trade with Ethiopia, Cameroon, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other countries”, says Kobyakov. “I strongly believe that Russian-African cooperation at SPIEF, Russia’s largest forum will stimulate trade and economic ties, as well as investment activity.”
Kobyakov further disclosed that during the event, experts will share best practices and discuss new opportunities for implementing joint projects in the BRICS countries. Sergey Katyrin, the President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, will moderate the session.
“The paramount task for BRICS is to continue strengthening efforts aimed at solving international issues in the spirit of unity, mutual understanding and trust. The prospects for cooperation and joint efforts of the BRICS member states will be discussed at the SPIEF 2018. I am confident that this will give momentum to further development of a fruitful dialogue on key world issues,” Kobyakov says.
Over the past few years, Russian authorities have made relentless efforts toward raising Russia’s political influence and economic cooperation in some African countries. Thus, discussions at the forthcoming forum will undoubtedly focus on reviewing the past and the present as well as proposing practical and the most effective ways to facilitate investment activities and that might include promising areas such as infrastructure, energy and many other sectors in Africa.
On her part, Alexandra Arkhangelskaya, a Senior Researcher at the Institute of African Studies and a Senior Lecturer at the Moscow High School of Economics said in an interview with me that Russia and Africa needed each other – “Russia is a vast market not only for African minerals, but for various other goods and products produced by African countries.”
Currently, the signs for Russian-African relations are impressive – declarations of intentions have been made, important bilateral agreements signed – now it remains to be seen how these intentions and agreements will be implemented in practice, she pointed out in the interview.
The revival of Russia-African relations have to be enhanced in all fields. Obstacles to the broadening of Russian-Africa relations have to be addressed more vigorously. These include, in particular, the lack of knowledge or information in Russia about the situation in Africa, and vice versa, suggested Arkhangelskaya.
“What seems to irk the Russians, in particular, is that very few initiatives go beyond the symbolism, pomp and circumstance of high level opening moves. It is also still not clear how South Africa sees Russia's willingness (and intention) to step up its role in Africa, especially with China becoming more visible and assertive on the continent,” said Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria, in South Africa.
Today, Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. Given its global status, Russia has to be more active in Africa, as Western Europe, the European Union, America and China are, but Russia is partially absent and playing a negligible role, according to the views of the retired diplomat who served previously as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
“Russia, of course, is not satisfied with this state of affairs. At present diplomacy dominates its approach: plethora of agreements entered into with South Africa and various other states in Africa, official visits from Moscow proliferate apace, but the outcomes remain hardly discernible,” he said.
“The Kremlin has revived its interest on the African continent and it will be realistic to expect that the spade work it is putting in now will at some stage show more tangible results,” Professor Olivier wrote in an email query from Pretoria, South Africa.
Last June 2017, the African representatives including heads of state, deputy president, ministers or their deputies, entrepreneurs and diplomats came to the St. Petersburg forum from Angola, Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
*This special report from Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent researcher and policy consultant based in Moscow.
The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) has recently been in the news for the wrong reasons. There have been allegations of abuse of power by its Cameroonian president, Nkodo Dang. He’s been accused of refusing to table a report about the organisation and its finances.
His lavish lifestyle at the expense of the South African government has further tarnished the institution’s image.
The PAP was established in 2004 by the African Union. The protocol that established it gave it an advisory role only. It envisaged that a conference would be organised to “review the operation and effectiveness” five years after it was set up. That conference should have happened in 2009, but never has.
The PAP is made up of 250 members representing 50 African Union (AU) member states. Each member state has five members. It is headed by a president, who is supported by four vice presidents. The president and vice presidents represent Africa’s five sub-regional zones. The parliament is funded by the AU and other external donors including the European Union (EU), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United Nations Development Programme.
The PAP is different to the EU parliament in two crucial respects: members aren’t directly elected and it has no binding legislative powers.
The PAP’s lack of meaningful legislative powers and lack of accountability are already major concerns. Negative messages about profligacy could further diminish its legitimacy and if not addressed, could threaten the parliament’s very existence: funders could walk away.
The parliament’s legitimacy rests on two points. One is its ability to exercise full legislative powers. African leaders have not shown any intention to empower the institution. The 2014 PAP Protocol gave the parliament only powers to submit “draft model laws to the Assembly … for its consideration and approval”. This position makes it nothing more than an expensive talk-shop, where no binding rules or regulations can be enacted.
The point relates to accountability. Two factors affect this – firstly, the issue of the direct election of PAP members. Its representatives are national legislators chosen by their respective countries. This means that members don’t necessarily owe any allegiance to citizens. They’re answerable only to national parliaments or governments.
The other factor affecting accountability is that, since representatives can’t make binding laws and aren’t directly elected by citizens, they are not obligated to render an explanation of their stewardship to civil society.
It is this point that appears to have emboldened Dang to behave as though he’s above scrutiny. If he was directly elected, he might have a keener sense of obligation to his constituency, with the understanding that any misdemeanour would lead to him being punished at the polls.
This is not to say that directly elected representatives can’t be corrupt, but to suggest that the involvement of civil society in electing PAP representatives would improve awareness and oversight activities.
Allegations of corruption and wasteful expenditure at the PAP have a number of damaging consequences. One is the possibility of donors reassessing their contributions.
Apart from foreign donors, the PAP also gets support from the African Development Bank. South Africa provides funding for its operations.
While the South African government is yet to comment on the allegations, major newspapers in the country have been extremely critical. It’s not inconceivable that Pretoria might be forced to re-assess its financial contribution in the face of civil society pressure.
The other danger is that bad publicity could dent the PAP’s efforts to secure more meaningful legislative powers. This is seen as important in the broader context of the drive to great integration on the continent. In addition, being able to make laws will improve the parliament’s relevance and give citizens a stake in the regional integration process.
The image of the parliament as corrupt is also bound to raise even more questions about its continued existence. The PAP is costly to run. Some may question if it’s worth keeping or whether it might be more productive to channel the funds that keep it afloat to other strategic regional integration projects. These include infrastructure development and the promotion of good governance.
A clean PAP is imperative
The controversy about the PAP’s leadership doesn’t augur well for Africa’s integration drive. It has caused division within the institution, a factor that could slow down the quest for autonomy to make binding laws.
The AU has to step in. The AU Assembly should urgently insist that the PAP releases its financial report and investigates the accusations against Dang.
The South African representatives to the parliament have already expressed concerns over Dang’s leadership, accusing him of corruption. If he’s found guilty, the organisation shouldn’t hesitate to act appropriately against him. By doing this, the AU will be sending a clear signal that it disapproves of any irregularities. It will also highlight the importance of having a clean organisation at the core of the regional integration process.
The principle of accountability cannot be separated from the exercise of full legislative powers. The AU cannot afford to allow the parliament’s leadership to stand in the way of deepening Africa’s regional integration process.