By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russian and African parliamentarians, academic researchers and experts, during their in-depth conference discussions, have called for an increase in the number of government scholarships and grants for the training of specialists for Africa as a significant part of developing and building trust as well as mutual understanding in the current Russian-African relations.
During the conference on Russia-Africa, organized within the framework of International Development on Parliamentarism forum, the Chairman of the State Duma, Viacheslav Volodin, was convinced that cultural, educational and humanitarian cooperation could be equally important areas needed to be developed and intensified in the current Russian-African relations.
Volodin further suggested to continue discussing the issues of harmonizing legislation in the scientific and educational spheres, and reminded that hundreds of thousands of African students studied in the Soviet Union and Russia, and now 17 thousand African students, majority of them on private contracts, were studying in the Russian Federation.
“Taken into account that the Pan-African University, which brings together leading universities in Africa, has been created, new opportunities are opening up for cooperation with large Russian universities. Educational exchange can become multilateral,” the Chairman of the State Duma said. “It is necessary to provide legislative support for Russian language learning programs, including the training of Russian teachers from African countries.”
Volodin reiterated that “strengthening all aspects of relations with African countries, including humanitarian and trade and economic cooperation, was now the priority for Russia. The development of inter-parliamentary relations should intensify cooperation between Russia and African countries.”
In addition, Deputy Chairwoman of the State Duma, Olga Timofeeva, told the audience that the African representation is, perhaps, an unprecedented large scale. It proves that ties between Russia and Africa are entering a new phase and there will be frequent interaction in the field of education, health care, demography and culture as integral part of future bilateral cooperation.
According to Timofeeva, Russian parliamentarians have noted that delegations of African countries often include people speaking Russian, who studied in Russia. In Soviet times, a large number of African students received education and took with them some aspects of Russian culture to the continent. Even now, parliamentarians from different countries have been grateful for the Soviet education, a large number of highly qualified specialists, including doctors and teachers.
“Today, about 20,000 African students are studying here but there can and should be much more. These ties need to be renewed. Both Africa and Russia are interested in this aspect of cooperation,” she said.
In Africa, there are currently seven Russian Centers of Science and Culture: in Egypt, Zambia, Morocco, Congo, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Ethiopia. Russia is ready to expand the network of its centers and humanitarian ties in general, she further informed.
Olga Timofeeva added “that interaction in the field of medicine is promising. Due to the lack of medical infrastructure and specialists, the African continent has become a major source of outbound medical tourism. Africans are interested in developing their own health care system.”
There are still many questions such as: what are the development reserves, what should be paid special attention to? What are the obstacles, and how to overcome them? Possibilities of parliamentary diplomacy could help as a mechanism to build such humanitarian ties. All these issues need some pragmatic or practical answers by parliamentarians.
Director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Irina Abramova, spoke about the role of science in the development of cooperation between Russia and Africa. She noted that “without a technological breakthrough in ecology, health and education, we are not able to break our relations free from the deadlock and solve the problems that both the Russian people and the people of Africa are facing.”
She also emphasized the role of education and academic science and training specialists for Africa. Undoubtedly, Abramova believes that by training specialists, Russia contributes to future of Russian citizens and the people of Africa.
Some, however, observes that Russia triumphantly returns to Africa. “After several years of decreasing intensity (of connections), Russia is triumphantly returning to the African continent. And let its return be active because our Russian friends have a whole series of proposals within the framework of economic cooperation,” said President of the National Assembly of Djibouti Mohamed Ali Houmed.
There are also proposals in the field of education, infrastructure development, tourism, and many other areas. He believes that Russia should continue to promote its initiatives in the field of education with African countries.
The Speaker of the Senate from the Republic of Kenya, Kenneth Lusaka, stressed: “Our interaction and cooperation in the area of culture, science and art is necessary to guarantee future generations life in peace; that makes the role of parliamentarians extremely important here.”
Kenneth Lusaka thanked Russia for strong support in the educational sphere and for scholarships for students who have the opportunity to study in Russia. “We still need Russia’s support in the development of new technologies and education sphere,” he concluded.
Zambia hopes that the conference on Russia – Africa will help Russia to develop multifaceted relations with the entire African continent. The Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zambia, Patrick Matibini, praised efforts in developing inter-parliamentary relations, and noted that relations are still “very influential and really promising.” Matibini discussed, at length, the intensification of bilateral cooperation in areas of education, medicine, technology and agriculture.
On her part, Chairwoman of the National Council of Namibia, Margaret Mensah-Williams, highlighted the previous educational assistance from Russia, stressed the impact of the huge number of doctors and other specialists in their country who studied during the Soviet time and now in the Russian Federation.
These worthy efforts have always translated further into greater development, she said, and appealed to Russian authorities to maintain that appreciable level of socio-cultural and humanitarian assistance to African countries.
The President of the National Assembly of Mali, Issaka Sidibé, emphasized that Africa should address challenges related to migration, education and the environment. “We, the parliamentarians, should work for the benefit of the nationals. Cooperation should be enhanced to eliminate inequality,” he said.
He added that the conference decisions “are very progressive steps forward but what’s remains to be done is Russia needs roll out concrete proposals and these have to be pursued in a systematic manner and with seriousness, and demonstrate consistency and commitment.”
“It’s important to frequently interact and exchange ideas and get to know of other people’s different experiences,” according to Issaka Sidibé. “This helps to broaden knowledge, offers the chance to learn about necessary first hand practical lessons for accelerating positive changes. We look forward with hope for a brighter relationship, and most importantly refined approach to relations that will bring, through education, a closer friendship with Africans.”
Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Jacob Mudenda, said: “participation in the conference is another opportunity to discuss many issues, compare positions, develop solutions and give impetus to further cooperation, but it is important to turn words into concrete actions.”
He argued that it was distinctively evident from the large number of African delegations that had been invited, so far, to Moscow over the past few years, marked a new chapter to re-activate relations with Africa. But, Russia’s influence might not take roots anytime soon if the conference declarations are not vigorously and promptly implemented.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has praised the legislators’ role in promoting the entire complex of Russian-African cooperation and welcomed steps towards intensifying contacts between the Russian Federal Assembly and African parliaments.
There were 38 African delegations, 25 at the level of speakers and 10 at the level of deputy speakers, about 300 parliamentarians in total, and another 50 experts attended the parliamentary conference. The Russia-Africa parliamentary conference took place as landmark event in Russian-African relations. On October 24 this year, the Russia-Africa summit, first announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 10th BRICS summit, will take place in Sochi.