By Kester Kenn Klomegah
As Brigadier General Nicholas Sango prepares to leave his post in August, media officer Kestér Kenn Klomegâh conducted this exclusive interview with him to assess relations between Russia and Zimbabwe, in particular, and Africa in general.
Here are excerpts (abstract text) from the lengthy interview.
Q: As you are about to leave, what would you say in general and concise terms about Russia’s policy towards Africa?
Amb. Sango: Russia’s policy towards Africa has evolved in recent years in a positive way. The 2019 Russia-Africa summit reset Soviet-era relations with Africa. Africa fully understands that the transition from the Soviet Union to the current Russian Federation was a process and today Russia is now in a position to influence events on a global scale. Even so, its institutions and bodies, whether political or economic, are also in transitional mode as they adapt to the federal political posture and the emerging realities of the current geopolitical environment. In return, Africa responded massively to the call by its presence in its fullness at the Sochi Summit in 2019.
Q: Do you think there are still a number of important tasks that you haven’t fulfilled or fulfilled as Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation?
Amb. Sango: The Government of Zimbabwe’s engagement with the Russian Federation is historically rooted in the new state’s contribution to securing Zimbabwe’s freedom and citizenship in 1980. This is the foundation of the relationship between the two countries and affects the interactions and cooperation between the two countries. Relations between the two countries have remained solid with political and economic collaborations marked by the involvement of Russia from 2014 in the commissioning of the Darwendale Platinum Project and then of ALROSA, the diamond giant which is making its mark on the territory. from Zimbabwe.
The President of the Republic of Zimbabwe visited Moscow in 2019. Since then, there have been reciprocal visits by ministers and parliamentarians. In early June 2022, the Chairman of the Federation Council visited Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Army has participated in the Army Games over the years and will do so in 2022 ARMY GAMES. In addition to those mentioned above, Russia has continued to support human resource development through its government scholarship programs as well as training for other branches of government. Zimbabwe recently hosted the Russia-Zimbabwe Intergovernmental Commission where new steps of cooperation were signed.
Zimbabwe’s foreign policy is rooted in engagement and re-engagement. As Ambassador to the Russian Federation, my goal, as directed by the Zimbabwean President, was to promote business-to-business engagement and attract Russian investment to Zimbabwe. While the Darwendale Platinum project and ALROSA’s entry into the Zimbabwe market, we have not seen other major companies follow the two.
The volume of trade between Zimbabwe and Russia could be better. Perhaps, as an embassy, we have not advocated for importers to look in the direction of Zimbabwe. Or, our own trade and investment institutions have not fully appreciated the potential of the Russian market. The concern of Russian importers regarding the logistical cost of bringing goods from landlocked countries in the southern hemisphere is appreciated. However, this would not prevent the importation of non-perishable products.
As mentioned earlier, businesses are still in transitional mode and we hope that the emerging global order will eventually persuade businesses to look at Africa through the lenses to see the vast opportunities and benefits that lie before us. On the other hand, after establishing the Russian-Zimbabwean Business Council, it was hoped that the companies of the two countries could talk to each other, appreciate the strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities that would open up. Although the benefits are yet to be seen, it is still a work in progress.
Q: Did the experience, including all of your interactions, change your initial thoughts when you first came to this Ambassador position in 2015?
Amb. Sango: Interestingly, my opinions and perceptions about Russia before and during my stay in this beautiful country have always been rooted in our nation’s history and journey towards nationhood, independence and sovereignty. As a product of revolutionary struggle and the leadership and policies of my government, Russia has been and always will be an ally, regardless of changing temperatures and the geopolitical environment.
Q: What would you frankly say about the pitfalls of Russian policy in Africa? And what would you suggest in particular on steps to be taken to regain some of the Soviet-era level of engagement (this time without ideological considerations) with Africa?
Amb. Sango: There are several issues that could strengthen the relationship. An important direction is economic cooperation. African diplomats have consistently persuaded Russian companies to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) as an opportunity for Russian companies to establish themselves on the continent. This point of view has not found favor with them, and it is hoped that it will in time.
Russia’s policy towards Africa has been clearly stated and is in line with Africa’s position. Challenges arise from the implementation of this forward-looking policy, summarized below:
– The government has not pronounced any incentives for businesses to start and venture into Africa. Russian companies, in general, see Africa as too risky for their investments. They need an incentive from the government.
– The African heritage of the Soviet Union helped colonized countries achieve independence. Russia, as a country, must gain a foothold in the continent by exporting its competitive advantages in engineering and technological advancement to bridge the gap that is holding back Africa’s industrialization and development.
– There are too many initiatives by too many quasi-state institutions promoting economic cooperation with Africa that say the same things in different ways but do nothing concrete. “Too many cooks ruin the stand.”
– When discussing cooperation mechanisms, it is important to understand what Africa’s needs are and its desired destination. In fact, Africa’s Agenda 2063 is Africa’s roadmap. As such, the economic cooperation agenda and initiatives must necessarily speak and focus within the parameters of the AU Agenda 2063.
Q: And finally on the emerging new world order as propagated by China and Russia?
Amb. Sango: Africa in general refused to condemn Russia for its “special military operation” in Ukraine during the United Nations General Assembly and this shook the Western powers. The reason is very simple. Speaking as a Zimbabwean, our nation has been bullied, subjected to unilateral coercive measures inflicted on us and other poor countries, without recourse to international systems governing good order, human rights the man and due process. There is another historical fact – Africa is no longer a colony, of no nation and refuses to be considered secondary states. It is for the above reasons that Africa welcomes multilateralism and the end of the hegemonism perpetuated by the so-called “big brothers” – be it social, cultural, ideological or economic. Africa rejects this Western perception of Africa.