As African leaders trooped to Sochi for the first Russia-Africa summit last week, a local commentator in The Gambia claims Moscow’s redefined interest in Africa can only spark healthy competition with the traditional powers in the continent.
Hassoum Ceesay, who is also a renowned historian, tells the African Press Agency that with China’s presence striking a balance with US, French and British interests in Africa, the inclusion of Russia provides a window of opportunity for the continent to reassert itself in world geopolitics.
“Anti-Russian sentiments point to a new kind of imperialism coming from the east but this is merely crying wolf” Ceesay argued, pointing out that ties with Moscow will only benefit trade flows, security, tourism and international diplomacy.
In the dying days of former dictator Yahya Jammeh, Russia closed its embassy in Banjul and broke up diplomatic relations with Banjul.
It was little known at the time but relations between Banjul and Moscow had entered suddenly petered out but according to the renowned social commentator, Russia’s relations with Africa have witnessed a resurgence reminiscent of the early post-independence decade when Moscow ran embassies in more countries on the continent than any one traditional Western power.
“Moscow is redefining its relations with Africa and Africans and I think our countries can benefit from this new interest by Russia” Ceesay said.
They are catching up with the traditional powers whose relations with the continent are at best ambivalent, he points out.
According to him, Russia has reasserted its role in global affairs and it was only logical that Africa has become a natural part of this interest from a great power which had no colonial past to provoke suspicion about its real intentions.
“Russia has always had close relations to Africa but it is reclaiming these historic ties with the continent at a time when the United States, Britain and France are struggling to be the dominant players especially with the increasing role of China in Africa” he adds.
Ceesay says relations can be to the advantage of Africa, especially with the insecurity in the Sahel.
“Russia unlike those traditional powers will be more than willing to bring their military might to bear on the security situation in the region, something the big powers are reluctant to do” he observed.
Even as the small economy of The Gambia looks to benefit from this redefined relations with Moscow, Ceesay is optimistic that tourist arrival figures from Russia will improve in the next few years despite a last minute pullout by holidaymakers from that Asian country this tourism season.
Last year 350 Russians visited The Gambia as tourists, signifying some success for The Gambia Tourism Board.
However, Russia tourists are pulling out of this year’s tourism season for purely economic reasons given international sanctions which undermine the value of the Russian rubble.
A senior official of the GT Board said sanctions meant that the Russian currency was starved of support to pay for foreign services including the tourism sector.
In the build up to the summit, Russia announced it was writing off Africa’s debt to the tune of $20 billion.