Dr. Basel Haj Jasem's Blog

In Africa: Rise of Russia or decline of the US?

May 8, 2024
Russian-African ties pose both opportunities and challenges for African countries, but Moscow's renewed engagement in Africa raises concerns among Western nations.

The African continent is witnessing a noticeable escalation in the competition between the United States and Russia. Both superpowers are seeking to strengthen their influence and expand their interests in this strategic region, rich in natural resources and a potentially huge market for products and services. It is an important arena for geopolitical competition, as both Moscow and Washington work to strengthen their influence in the world. It should be noted that the Russian-U.S. competition in Africa is not a bipolar struggle, and multiple factors interact within it.


Source: Daily Sabah

Overall, the Russian-U.S. competition in Africa has a complex impact on the continent. On the one hand, it can lead to increased investment and aid from wealthy countries. On the other hand, it can also lead to increased tensions and conflicts in some countries.

The tools of competition for Africa between Moscow and Washington vary between military support, financial aid, diplomacy and soft power. Some African countries fear being marginalized, while others fear that this competition will lead to a Cold War on the continent and that some of them will become dependent on one of the superpowers.

The world is witnessing a remarkable shift in international dynamics, in which some aspects of the decline of the U.S. influence in various regions appear, including the African continent. Perhaps the most prominent of these manifestations is the decline in U.S. developmental aid and the lack of interest in African issues, as the United States has become more focused on challenges in other regions such as Asia and the Pacific. This has led to the withdrawal of some U.S. forces from Africa, raising concerns about its ability to address security challenges on the continent.

For many years the United States remained the dominant power in Africa, through financial, military and political aid. However, the U.S. military presence in Africa has witnessed remarkable changes since 2020. These changes have been characterized by a reduction in the number of deployed forces and even withdrawals from some countries. Washington announced the withdrawal of its forces from Niger in 2024, after 13 years of military presence. The withdrawal is due to disagreements with the Nigerian government and growing anti-American sentiment. Since 2020, the United States has significantly reduced the number of its forces in Somalia. In February 2022, it announced the withdrawal of its special forces from Burkina Faso after six years of presence. The withdrawal is due to the deteriorating security situation and the growing influence of armed groups. And in 2022, Washington announced the withdrawal of its forces from Mali after 20 years of presence.

The Pentagon is forced to withdraw U.S. forces in response to demands from African governments. These demands come from these countries after years of cooperation with Washington, while they are getting closer to Russia and establishing closer security ties.

Russian influence in the region

Russia's return to Africa also coincided with (and encouraged) the decline of U.S. involvement on the continent, including the Trump administration's 2018 decision to scale back U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the region, despite the growing terrorist threat in many African countries.

Moscow rushed to fill this security vacuum. In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted the first Russian-African summit at the Sochi resort on the Black Sea to strengthen Russia's position as a reliable strategic partner on the continent and secure military contracts with different countries. In July 2023, despite the war, sanctions and Western pressures, 17 African heads of state attended the second Russian-African summit and signed several agreements with Russia, including cooperation in the field of information security and counterterrorism on the continent. Moscow also promised a new debt cancellation process for some African countries.

While the Kremlin remains a minor player in Africa when measured by its economic and trade relations, it maintains strong defense and security ties with the continent, including arms sales, joint military training programs and activities of Russian private military companies.

Russia is the main source of arms to Africa, accounting for 40% of African imports of major weapons systems between 2018 and 2022. This was higher than the total arms imports from the United States (16%), China (9.8%) and France (7.6%) during those years, according to a report by the Rand Corporation.

There are a number of reasons why African countries rely on Russian weapons: they are cheaper than their Western counterparts, compatible with Soviet-era stockpiles that many Africans kept and, unlike the United States, the Kremlin does not make its arms shipments conditional on adherence to democratic principles.

It is true that Russian-African relations are still complex and multifaceted, with opportunities and challenges facing African countries in their dealings with Moscow. However, Russia’s return to Africa raises concerns in Western countries about its increasing influence and influence on the continent.

It remains to say that when Russia seeks lucrative business opportunities in Africa, it highlights cooperation and thus emphasizes partnerships between equals. This message is seductive in the eyes of some leaders who view the West's outreach as condescending.

First published on Daily Sabah
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