Russia revamping its diplomacy, eyes Africa

Monday February 11 2019

Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African

Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Dr. Augustine Mahiga talks to Russian Ambassador to Tanzania Yuri Popov during the occasion to mark the Russian National Day held at the Russian Ambassador's residence in Dar es Salaam on Thursday evening. Looking on center is the embassy counselor Viktor Yevseev. 

By Nicole Mayani

Following a refreshing year of improved relations between Russia and African countries, there is a lot expectation in 2019, which brings the prospect of the first ever Russia-Africa summit.

The meeting has been planned for October this year, to acknowledge, according to President Vladimir Putin, the priority that Moscow gives to developing its relations with Africa.

With new political and humanitarian initiatives, as well as investment and infrastructure projects, Russia has shown major interest in engaging with Africa on a deeper and more comprehensive level.

This engagement builds upon the rich history of relations between the then Soviet Union and Africa, and the former’s input to national liberation movements and their struggle against colonialism on the continent.

In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “today Africa is an important factor for Russia, a participant in the emerging sustainable polycentric global architecture,” he said at a plenary session of the Russia-Africa forum late October last year.

“Our ties with the states on the continent have a value of their own and do not depend on fluctuations of the international situation. We know that our African friends adhere to the same stance.”

Despite enormous pressure from some Western countries, most African states adhere to their principled positions in terms of foreign policy approaches, which are in line with Russia’s.

Respect for international law and human rights, recognition of United Nations’ pivotal role in the international arena, rejection of interference in internal affairs are just some of the values espoused by Russia and Africa, including Tanzania.

Russian diplomats now eagerly tour Africa to boost ties with its regional and subregional organisations, primarily the African Union and Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc).

A recent visit by Lavrov to Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia has shown that Africans trust Russia and see it as a force that can help to achieve long-term strategic objectives.

Principle of free will

Russia never sought to ruthlessly exploit Africa’s riches, nor to impose its own rules on African politics. It has always founded its relationship with the nations of Africa on the principle of free will.

There is a lot of potential in cooperation between Russia and Tanzania based on partnership, equality, and mutual respect, as Moscow is more than ready, willing and able to offer investment, energy projects and other benefits to Dar es Salaam.

All these accomplishments are due to laudable diplomatic efforts on both sides, and the Diplomats’ Day is a good date to praise and celebrate them.

Russia is one of the few countries that celebrate Diplomats’ Day as a professional holiday on February 10. In 2002, a Presidential Decree established this date to commemorate the founding of the Russian Diplomatic Service in 1549. The date itself is closely associated with the history of Russia’s first foreign affairs agency – the Ambassadorial Department (or “Posolsky Prikaz”) in Russian. It is in February 1549 that the Department, set up by Czar Ivan IV, was first mentioned in official chronicles.

At the same time, the traditions of Russian diplomacy are much deeper seated in history. In 860, Ancient Russia received international diplomatic recognition by striking the “Treaty of Peace and Love” with Byzantine Empire. Exchange of envoys between Russia and Medieval Europe was also quite intense.

As Russia became a strong and consolidated state in the 16th century, the need for a body to implement foreign policy decisions became increasingly apparent.

Nicole Mayani is a history teacher