How Will Russia’s G8 Presidency Affect Africa?

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As Russia assumed the Presidency of the G8, New Era’s Max Hamata approached the Russian Ambassador, Nikolay Gribkov on the essence of Russia’s G-8 Presidency to Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He spoke on the need for African permanent representation on the United Nations Security Council and Russia’s role in the stabilization of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and how Russia’s G-8 Presidency will affect relations with SADC. MH: Russia has enjoyed sound relations with most African countries. In fact Russia played a crucial role in the emancipation of African countries with Namibia’s independence having largely been a factor of Russian support. What can Africans expect from your G8-Presidency? NG: Let me first first explain Russia’s relations in the context of the G-8 Presidency? Despite major changes in Africa in the past decades, it still remains the most distressed region in the world. Numerous armed conflicts still rage on the continent, resulting in millions of casualties recently. The socioeconomic situation in many African states is quite complex, often having a chronic crisis nature. The region’s real problem is poverty, with a substantial share of the population of African countries being on the edge of physical survival. The unfavorable situation in Africa has obstructed full-scale participation of countries on the continent in global policies and international economic ties, having turned into a factor posing a threat to regional, as well as global, stability. Huge material and human resources have been employed in peacemaking operations in the region, humanitarian aid and post-conflict restoration. In this context, it is very important to make sure that what is happening in Africa should get adequate and increasingly active reaction on the part of the international community, including the G8 group as a club of the world’s most influential countries. MH: When has Africa become a concern to the G-8 and why? NG: Africa has been in the center of attention of the G8 for a rather long period, but it has been given more focus in its agenda since 2001, when during a summit meeting in Genoa, Africans presented to the G8 leaders their New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) program aimed at turning the continent into an area of peace and stability and putting it on the path towards sustainable economic growth and development. The program, the first document of its kind developed by Africans themselves, proclaims own responsibility of countries in the region for their development. At the same time, it states the need for the international community to provide maximum assistance to Africa. G8 leaders hailed the NEPAD program and agreed to support efforts by African countries aimed at dealing with acute problems on the continent. A decision was made to shift to new partnership relations with African states, based on the principle of mutual responsibility: with Africans being responsible for radical economic and democratic restructuring and G8 members providing support for countries showing their readiness to implement reform. In pursuance of those accords and with the purpose of promoting the implementation of the NEPAD program, a long-term action plan for Africa was adopted by the G8 during a summit meeting in Kananaskis in 2002, which is to serve as an instrument for the mobilization of wide international efforts in support of own steps made by countries on the continent. The plan was drawn up by specially appointed personal representatives of the G8 leaders for Africa (the personal representative institute still functions, dealing with the goal of monitoring the performance of the plan). MH: What is your position on Africans demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and will you use your influence during your Presidency to push for a permanent African seat? NG: We support the initiative for Africa to be represented on the Security Council. It is out of respect and dignity that we feel that Africa gets a permanent seat on the Security Council. What is needed is to find consensus on the subject and we hope this does not lead to division of the UN. MH: How does Russia intend dealing with African armed conflicts during your presidency? NG: While favouring the shaping up of a complex approach to dealing with Africa’s acute problems, our country, in line with its UN Security Council status, has made a weighty contribution to peacemaking activities on the continent, including the drawing up, in the Security Council’s framework, of a strategy for the settlement of particular armed conflicts and defining mandates for relevant peacemaking operations. Russian troops and Interior Ministry employees – around 140 at the moment – are employed in all UN peacekeeping operations in Africa – in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sudan. Russia is training peacemakers for Africa. Opportunities are being considered for wider cooperation with African states in that sphere. Our country intends to continue to do everything possible to promote the strengthening of stability in Africa, promote the development of African countries’ own anti-crisis potential. Practical aspects are being elaborated for Russian organizations’ participation in the realization of relevant international programs. MH: Are issues of trade deficit with G-8 countries, education and health on your agenda ? NG: Our assistance to Africa is certainly not limited to that. Large-scale trade preferences have been granted to countries in the region. Russian legislation stipulates that traditionally exported goods of the least developed countries, including African countries, shall be exempt from import customs tariffs. The preferential treatment regime applies to the bulk of African imports into Russia. Our assistance to Africa is certainly not limited to that. Large-scale trade preferences have been granted to countries in the region. Russian legislation stipulates that traditional exported goods of the least developed countries, including African nations, shall be exempt from import customs tariffs. The preferential treatment regime applies to the bulk of African imports into Russia. Substantial assistance has been provided to the continent in the sphere of personnel training. More than 700 scholarships a year have been provided from the federal budget to African countries. Since 2004, cooperation in that sphere has widened to include personnel training for subregional organizations, in particular, the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A substantial number of African citizens study in our country on a compensation basis. A new form of cooperation is the creation of joint educational institutions in Africa. Preparations are underway for the opening of Russia-Egypt University in Cairo. Substantial assistance has been provided in the health sphere. In line with Russia’s previous commitments to contribute $20 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, from 2002 through 2006, $15 million has been transferred into the Fund. A decision has been made to contribute an additional $20 million between 2005 and 2008. Besides, $8 million was transferred to the Global Poliomyelitis Eradication Initiative between 2003 and 2005. Joint “field” projects with G8 partners look very promising, in particular, plans to send Russian specialists in laboratory HIV/AIDS diagnostics, in line with the Russian-US accords reached at the top level, to Ethiopia and Namibia to train local medical personnel. MH: Will your Presidency adversely affect your relations with Africa? NG: The overall direction of our efforts, joint activities of the G8 with Africa will not change in the future, in particular, in 2006, when our country chairs the G8. During the period of Russia’s presidency, plans call for ensuring succession in Africa-related activities of the G8 by integrating African problems in the general context of priorities such as energy security, education, combating infectious diseases, and the holding of a meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum in Moscow in October next year. During the APF event in October, plans call for adopting the first report on the headway of realization of the APF joint action plan mentioned above. It is to be prepared by the APF Secretariat now being created at OECD headquarters. Besides, we are ready to consider providing assistance in the holding of an APF meeting in Africa in April. Plans call for organizing, in the APF framework, separates events for personal representatives of the G8 leaders for Africa and holding in Moscow two meetings of experts on peacemaking on the continent. Russia intends to continue to energetically promote finding comprehensive solutions to problems facing the continent. It is open for constructive interaction with the G8 partners, other concerned countries and African states with the purpose of attaining the goals. It is very important to make sure that what is happening in Africa should get adequate and increasingly active reaction on the part of the international community, including the G8 group as a club of the world’s most influential countries. MH: Moving to SADC what is Russia’s involvement in stabilizing the DRC? NG: Russia is also training peacemakers for Africa. Opportunities are being considered for wider cooperation with African states in that sphere. Our country intends to continue to do everything possible to promote the strengthening of stability in Africa, promote the development of African countries’ own anti-crisis potential. Practical aspects are being elaborated for Russian organizations’ participation in the implementation of relevant international programmes. MH: Can your elaborate on the Russian-SADC partnership in the context of your Presidency? NG: We should primordially mention that the positions of Moscow and SADC nations are essentially congruent in the multilateral approach to the main problems of the modern time, emphasizing international law and the UN central coordinating role. SADC welcomes Russia’s growing political and economic presence in Southern Africa, considering this to strengthen regional and global stability and balance. It also enables the SADC nations – and most of them maintain friendly relations with Russia since long ago – to be more autonomous in their internal and external policy, based on priority of their national interests. Nowadays, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and SADC, signed in September 2003, is the basis for the development of Russia-SADC relations. That MoU is the first document of this kind in our relations with Africa’s regional organizations. It is a frame agreement. More ones must be signed to specify directions of the cooperation. Those could be e.g. political interaction, trade and economic cooperation, bridging between enterprises and financial structures, culture, science and technologies, health, agriculture, transport and communication, prospecting for mineral and other natural resources, ecology, emergency situations control, energy. Most promising for the nearest future are mining, energy, infrastructure development, and education. Particularly in 2006, the year of Russia’s G8 presidency, brought about a relevant example of G8 joint approach to fighting dangerous infections in SADC region. A group of Russian physicians has recently toured Southern Africa to study the HIV/AIDS and TB situation. And this is only the very beginning. More Russian doctors are to come to the SADC region through bilateral, Russia/SADC, and G8/SADC programmes. The Russian Federation has provided targeted humanitarian aid to African countries for clean-up after natural calamities, has taken part in the financing of the humanitarian activities supervised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office and the UN World Food Program. The overall direction of our efforts, joint activities of the G8 with Africa will not change in the future, in particular, in 2006 – the year our country chairs the G8. During the period of Russia’s presidency, plans call for ensuring succession in Africa-related activities of the G8 by integrating African problems in the general context of priorities such as energy security, education, combating infectious diseases, and the holding of a meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum in Moscow in October next year. During the APF event in October, plans call for adopting the first report on the headway of realization of the APF joint action plan mentioned above. It is to be prepared by the APF Secretariat now being created at OECD headquarters. Besides, we are ready to consider providing assistance in the holding of an APF meeting in Africa in April. Plans call for organizing, in the APF framework, separate events for personal representatives of the G8 leaders for Africa and holding in Moscow two meetings of experts on peacemaking on the continent. Russia intends to continue to energetically promote finding comprehensive solutions to problems facing the continent. It is open for constructive interaction with the G8 partners, other concerned countries and African States with the purpose of attaining the goals. MH: Thank your for your time. NG: My pleasure.