13.01.2024 Author: Yuliya Novitskaya

Zenebe Kinfu: “African issues are prioritised in the Russian media”

Zenebe Kinfu

In his exclusive interview with the New Eastern Outlook, Mr Zenebe Kinfu Tafesse, President of the Union of African Diasporas, described how he sees Russian-African relations, explained why the Second Russia-Africa Summit turned out to be more economic and shared his thoughts on neocolonialism in Africa.

– Mr Zenebe, Russian President Vladimir Putin called African countries “important and reliable partners”. This was followed by the Russia-Africa Forum. How do you assess the results of this forum and the work that has taken place since its conclusion?

– Russian-African relations have been actively developing since the days of the Soviet Union, which supported us not only ideologically and informationally, but also materially and helped in personnel training. Much assistance was also provided in military and technical terms. The USSR, which was the origin of the UN and is one of the few countries that have a huge influence on world security, supported our countries in the fight against colonisers.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these relations slowly began to decline, some Russian embassies and consulates were closed, and the number of Aeroflot flights was reduced. The number of African students studying in Russia also declined.

The year 2019, when the first Russia-Africa Summit took place, can be considered a turning point. It was attended by 46 African leaders. All of them gathered in Sochi to discuss further relations between Russia and Africa.

Initially, it was decided to hold such meetings every three years. However, the pandemic made adjustments, so the next summit was held in the summer of 2023.

While the first summit can be called an organisational, introductory summit that outlined plans for the future, the second summit, in my opinion, was more economic. Fewer African leaders flew to the St Petersburg summit than to the Sochi summit. But there were many more economists and experts, i.e. the very people who give advice when writing laws, developing strategies and creating economic platforms. In my opinion, the criticism of the second summit came from people who are not really familiar with the issue. For specialists, of which I am one, it is quite obvious that this forum took place as an economic forum. Many important agreements were signed there, which will largely determine our immediate and long-term prospects for cooperation. This was the reason for the composition of the delegations.

– Can it be stated that immediately after the conclusion of the St. Petersburg summit, active work began in all areas?

– Definitely. I am originally from Ethiopia and head of the Ethiopian diaspora in Russia. I can say that Ethiopian Airlines, which is one of the leading airlines on our continent, regularly flies at maximum capacity. Every week, dozens of delegations fly from Africa to Russia and from Russia to Africa. This applies not only to the economic sphere, but also to educational, cultural and other areas.

As a specialist who has been working in the media sphere for many years, I can state with confidence that African topics take priority in the Russian media. Not Europe, as it used to be, and not even the CIS countries, but Africa. And this applies not only to the central media, but also to regional media. This fact fully confirms the words of our President Vladimir Putin that Africa is becoming a priority. Undoubtedly, there is a lot of work to be done here, words alone are not enough, they need to be backed up by deeds.

On the margins of the second summit, a large number of documents and agreements were signed between state structures (various ministries, departments and agencies). Big business and private individuals were not left out. As for the participation of international NPOs, it was minimal. This is due to restrictions in the current Russian legislation.

At the St Petersburg summit, I took part in six sections on energy, education and international relations. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs pays great attention to Russian-African relations. Oleg Borisovich Ozerov, who has been Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum for several years now, has been working in this area every day.

If we are talking about military-technical cooperation… Let us look at the statistics. We see that sales of Russian equipment have increased by more than 30 percent. On the margins of the St. Petersburg summit, agreements on military-technical cooperation were signed between Russia and more than forty African countries. This is an indication of the extent to which countries on the African continent, concerned about their security, are showing confidence in Russia. They choose Russian military equipment, the reliability of which is recognised around the world. For example, Mozambique’s coat of arms features a Kalashnikov assault rifle, which is a symbol of liberation.

Returning to your question, I would like to summarise that I fully agree with President Vladimir Putin and hope that the active work that has begun will not only continue but will gain momentum until the third summit in 2026.

– In your opinion, how can Russia and Africa cooperate in strengthening the sovereignty of members of international cooperation and countering the dictates of powers claiming global hegemony?

– A lot of hard work is needed here. If we look at the big picture, we see that Africa is still very much influenced by the metropolises. Of course, they gave their colonies a certain political independence, allowing them to create their own states. But economic and financial independence – no. Here all management is carried out by the London, New York and Singapore stock exchanges.

To fight this, it is necessary to change the national consciousness, among other things. We see that many African leaders are concerned about the current situation. Coups are taking place in some countries. In many countries, laws are being passed to protect their national interests and to create a non-resource-based economic model so that they can set their own prices for minerals and products.

As for relations between Russia and Africa… Of course, they should trade freely with each other. Russia has a huge potential for technology that can be integrated into the economy of the African continent. Not for free, as it was during the Soviet Union. Only based on mutual support and understanding.

Let me give you one small example. Germany (of course, I have no claims against it) is by far the largest seller of coffee, although it does not grow it on its territory. It buys beans, processes them and distributes them.

If Russia wants to allow Africa into its market, it needs to solve the existing logistical and financial settlement problems. Then it will be possible to jointly oppose third parties who, if I may put it mildly, complicate our friendly relations.

– The other day, the UN General Assembly adopted by a majority vote a resolution introduced by Russia on combating the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism…

– It seems to me that the phrase “on the fight against fascism” should have been added to this document. Russia today publishes a lot of scientific and statistical data concerning neocolonialism. Look what you get. Africans mostly study at universities and postgraduate programmes in the West, defend themselves there and publish scientific papers. If we look at history, we see that when slavery flourished, more than 55 million Africans were forcibly removed, and many were simply murdered. Today, however, African youth are fleeing on their own. And that is sad.

Of course, it will not be possible to change the picture overnight. It will take time. It is necessary to open young people’s eyes to the situation, to change culture and mentality.

– I would like to hear your opinion on what place the West gives to Africa in its models of world order in words and deeds? And why do the words of Western politicians often diverge from deeds in Africa?

– The mentality of Europeans has not changed over time, it is the same as that of their colonising grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They also go on safari to Kenya. Not so long ago, French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of giving too much freedom to Africans, which is why there have been revolutions in some French-speaking countries. Thus, we see that the Western political elite is declaring the ideas of neocolonialism in direct text. And here the policy of double standards is clearly manifested. For example, any humanitarian aid provided to such countries is clearly planned. Those who provide it receive a hundred times more in return. America, which did not seem to be a coloniser of Africa, acted in the same way at one time. Remember the election of Barack Obama for his first term.

– Neo-colonisers always act solely in their own interests, using either direct control or a policy of double standards.

– It is for this reason that you will not see a single strong state in Africa today, making public, political and economic decisions on its own. They all have a “master” on whom they look back and, with whose permission and blessing, they act.

Ethiopia is not a colony. But now that I see that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former French presidential candidate, is the advisor to the Prime Minister on the financial and banking sector, I have some questions.

You know, Africa today is primarily interested in technology, not commodities. We have natural resources and we are interested in processing them locally. We are in favour of equal and mutually beneficial co-operation. And we are on our way with those who think the same way.

– Mr Zenebe, thank you for your honest and interesting conversation. I am sure we will meet again on the pages of our publication.


Yulia NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist-interviewer, and correspondent of “New Eastern Outlook

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