Russia’s Resurgent Interest in Africa: The Cases of Zambia and Tanzania

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Zambia's President Edgar Lungu on the sidelines of the 10th
BRICS summit on July 26, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Image: Getty, Vladimir Astapkovich/AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Zambia's President Edgar Lungu on the sidelines of the 10th BRICS summit on July 26, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Image: Getty, Vladimir Astapkovich/AFP

The Russia–Africa Summit heralded Russia’s new strategy for the continent. Despite the pandemic, Russia has established a number of institutions that should take the implementation of its strategy forward.

Summary:

  • This special report looks at Russia’s political, military and economic cooperation with Zambia and Tanzania. It also analyses the Soviet Union’s legacy, from which the Russian government and businesses can benefit in current relationships with African countries.
  • It describes the new approach that Russia launched after the Russia–Africa Summit 2019, the major Russian institutions responsible for the implementation of this approach, and their relative levels of success in Zambia and Tanzania.
  • Russia’s engagement with Tanzania and Zambia goes back to the Cold War. This engagement resulted in academic connections and expertise, Soviet military support and social capital (students who studied in Russia). This potential capital could be translated into economic collaboration or access to natural resources in African countries. However, an analysis of the current situation in Zambia and Tanzania shows that it is easier to translate that capital into political statements than economic benefits.
  • Some of the key fields in which Russia is currently cooperating with Zambia and Tanzania are nuclear energy provision, military equipment and training.
  • COVID-19 mitigation techniques have provided new opportunities for geopolitical manipulation through the use of vaccines and opening or closing borders to specific countries. The spike in tourism a few months before elections in Zanzibar was an interesting example of how the pandemic might be used to benefit or disadvantage other countries.
  • As the stated aim of the 2019 Russia–Africa Summit was doubling trade with African countries, the report also tracks the key challenges encountered and progress made in Zambia and Tanzania in this regard.
  • The case studies of Tanzania and Zambia are used to provide greater insight into how political declarations translate into practical engagements with African countries.
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