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11 June 2019, Gateway House

Russia returns to Africa

The inaugural Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in October is President Putin’s way of proclaiming a new phase in Russia’s relationship with the continent while increasing its relevance among countries with an established presence. The aim is to strengthen cooperation in the nuclear power, mining and security sectors

Senior Researcher, Geoeconomic Studies Programme

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In October 2019, the first Russia-Africa Summit will take place in Sochi. Leaders from all 54 African countries have been invited to the summit, which, in scale and significance, is like the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation and the India-Africa Forum Summit. The summit has been in the planning for several months under the personal supervision of President Putin, and is a clear announcement from him: Russia is back in the African continent after a long absence – since the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991.

Russia has stiff competition for Africa’s attention. In addition to the long-standing investments of the United States and Europe, China and India have been expanding their economic and military footprint since 2000. The Russian engagement is not so different – a focus on mineral resources, nuclear-led energy cooperation and a provider of both arms and strategic advice. But Russia is clearly reviving the old role the Soviet Union played as a dominant security provider in several African countries.[1] This time, in addition to arms sales and military cooperation, Russia has included a strong component of economic cooperation, with investments in nuclear power, mining and metallurgy, oil and gas.

By far, nuclear power comprises Russia’s biggest outlay in Africa. The largest project is state-owned Rosatom’s 4.8 GW El Dabba nuclear power plant in Egypt, which began in 2015 with an investment of $30 billion.[2] Once completed in 2025, Rosatom will run the project with its Egyptian partner, Nuclear Power Plants Authority, for 10 years, after which it will transfer to Egypt. A similar model is being replicated in other countries as well. In 2016, Nigeria signed an agreement for installing 4.8 GW of nuclear power over the next two years, which will help fill Nigeria’s 7 GW power shortfall.[3]

This is part of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ aggressive promotion of nuclear technology and infrastructure, an area in which Russia has surplus industrial capacity, technical knowhow and uranium supply. In fact, approximately 37% of Rosatom’s revenue comes from exports of nuclear infrastructure and technology, which it plans to increase to 60% by 2030. Africa is essential for the realisation of this objective.[4] Rosatom’s investments run deep; they include research and development partnerships in nuclear power with Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania.

In just four years, Rosatom has replaced former French conglomerate Areva as the leading provider of civil nuclear energy in Africa, signing at least 22 MoUs and inter-government agreements with 13 African countries.[5] One good reason for this: Rosatom reactor designs cost less than half that of similar products from Areva and U.S. majors, GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse.[6]

This is a valuable niche for Russia as there is currently limited competition for nuclear power in Africa. The continent is growing at 3% annually and is looking to develop its power industry. Despite being oil-rich, it lacks technology and funds for developing its power sector, which makes Russia a welcome partner.

Russian firms have also made forays in mining and metallurgy, investing in the extraction and processing of manganese, gold, nickel, platinum, diamond and aluminium. In 2015, a Russian consortium, consisting of Viholdings, Rostec and Vnesheconombank, invested $3 billion in Zimbabwe’s Darwendale platinum mines.[7] And since 2007, petro majors, Lukoil, Gazprom and Rosneft, have entered exploration and extraction of oil and natural gas fields in Algeria, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria.[8]

Strategically aligned with commerce is defence. Russia has been intensifying its military cooperation in Africa since 2015, and since 2010, is the leading supplier of military goods and technologies to Africa. Russia exports more than 37% in armaments to the continent, followed by the U.S., France, China and Ukraine. China has increased its own share of arms supplies to Africa, and is the second largest supplier after Russia in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Table 1: Top Five Arms Suppliers to Africa

Supplier Share in Arms exports
Russia 37.6%
United States 16.3%
France 14.6%
China 9.2%
Ukraine 4.1%

Source: SIPRI

Table 2: Top Five Recipients of Russian Arms Exports in Africa

Recipient Share in Imports
Algeria 58.64%
Egypt 25.96%
Uganda 5.17%
Sudan 2.63%
Angola 2.11%

Source: SIPRI

At one level, Russia’s commercial expansion in Africa is not very different from China’s state-led approach in the continent – large capital expenditures by government corporations with ministerial direction and sponsored credit. Investments predominantly take place through mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures with African public enterprises. However, Russia also jointly invests with African public enterprises – and with international companies already operating in Africa.

In return, as with China, Africa supplies Russia with 87% of its manganese and 16% of its chromium, vital for Russia’s domestic industrial value chains in nuclear power, aeronautics and petrochemicals. Propelled by surges in Russia’s mineral and agricultural imports and exports of wheat, refined petroleum products and steel, bilateral trade has almost tripled from $7 billion in 2010 to $20.4 billion in 2018.

Russia has entered into several counter terrorism agreements with African countries, where Islamist terror groups such as Al Shahab and Boko Haram have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Russia has its own concerns about ISIS as recruits from its Islamic majority regions, Chechnya and Dagestan, have fought alongside the group.

In addition, the U.S.-military scale-back and the increasing presence of ISIS fighters in Central and West Africa – more than 6,000, according to the Combating Terrorism Centre – have pushed African countries towards Russia,[9] which is providing counter-terrorism training, arms and advice. Around May 2018, the Central African Republic appointed a Russian national, Valery Zakherov, as its National Security Advisor, and this year, the Republic of Congo signed a bilateral agreement, facilitating the deputation of Russian military advisors to its forces.

This has translated into a stronger military partnership, with Russia signing military cooperation agreements with 21 African countries since 2015, and the possibility of establishing military bases in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Eritrea, Madagascar, Mozambique and Sudan.[10]

Like the U.S., the presence of Russian private military companies run parallel with its armed forces. Companies like Wagner Group and Patriot Group facilitate military operations and protect private investments which Africa’s capacity-constrained official security forces cannot.[11]

African security institutions welcome the comprehensive re-engagement of Russia. In October 2017, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, highlighted Russia’s role in assisting law enforcement agencies and building military capacities of the Regional Counter-Terrorism Alliance, G-5 Sahel, comprising the West African nations of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Ironically, the G5 Sahel was established by France in 2014 and supported by the U.S. Naturally, these countries have criticised Russia’s security presence.

However, they have not criticised its commerce and industry. U.S. and EU sanctions since 2014 have targeted Russian business networks globally, but in Africa, they collaborate. Russia’s international business partners in Africa include companies from Brazil, Italy, Norway, South Africa, UK and the U.S. This has ensured the steady growth of its business on the continent.

India’s familiarity with, and experience in, working with Russian firms, especially in nuclear power and defence, is an opportunity for Africa. Indian engineering firms can win maintenance contracts for Rosatom’s nuclear power plants. Many African countries use older Russian military equipment, which India has the expertise to service and upgrade. India can also partner Russia and Africa in the research and development of niche sectors like nuclear power and space.

Table 3: Russian investments in mining and metallurgy in Africa

Company Host Country Industry Type of Investment Share (%)
Nornickel South Africa Nickel, copper, cobalt, chromium, Platinum Group Metals JV with African Rainbow Minerals 50%
Renova South Africa Manganese Mining (4th largest in the world) United Manganese of Kalahari – JV with Majestic Silver Trading 49%
Rusal Nigeria Aluminium mining and processing Alscon – JV with Government of Nigeria 80%
Guinea Aluminium mining and processing Friguia production complex 100%
Alrosa Angola Diamond Mining Catoca Ltd. Mining Co. – JV bw Alrosa, Endiema, Odebrecht and Diamond Finance CY BV Group 32.8% – operator
Angola Diamond Mining Luemba Mining Company – operated by Catoca Ltd. Mining Co. 32.8 %
Botswana Diamond exploration Sunland Minerals – JV bw Alrosa and Botswana Diamonds PLC 50%
Zimbabwe Diamond exploration Technical Cooperation with DTZ–OZGEO (Zimbabwe) – Could be upgraded to JV for production stage
Norgold Guinea Gold Mining and Processing Lefa Mine 100%
Burkina Faso Bissa and Bouly Mine – with Government of Burkina Faso 90%
Burkina Faso Taparko Mine – with govt. of Burkina Faso 90%
Rostec Zimbabwe Platinum Group Metals Darwendale Mine – JV bw Zimbabwe Mining Development Cooperation and Russian consortium OJSC Afromet (Vi Holdings, Rostec, Vnesheconombank) 50%
Rosatom Tanzania Uranium Mkuju River Project – Ownership of Uranium 1 (Canada)
Vi Holdings Sierra Leone Aluminium mining Sierra Mineral Holdings Limited – JV with Vimetco, Alro SA (Romania)

Source(s): Company Websites

Table 4: Russian Investments in Oil and Natural Gas

Company Host Country Activity Block Russia Share (%) Partners
Lukoil Nigeria Oil exploration OML-140 Nsiko Oil Field 18% NNPC (Nigeria) – 30%
Star Ultra Deep Petroleum (Chevron USA) – 27 %
ONG – 25 %
Ghana Oil exploration Deepwater Tano/Cape Three Points Project 38% Aker Energy (Norway) – 50 %
Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (Ghana) – 10 %
Fuel Trade (Ghana) – 2 %
Egypt Oil exploration WEEM Extension 50% Tharwa Petroleum (Egypt) – 50 %
Oil production Meleiha 24% ENI (Italy) – 76 %
Oil Production West Esh El Mallaha 100% JV with Esh El Petco
Gazprom Algeria Oil exploration and production El Assel Onshore 49% Sonatrach(algeria) – 51 %
Nigeria Geological Surveying Geodata Technical Services Limited 51% Gepkinetik (Nigeria) – 49 %
Rosneft Egypt Natural Gas Production Zohr Gas Field 30% Eni (Italy) – 60 %
BP (UK) – 10 %
Mozambique Natural Gas Exploration A5-B Angoche Basin
Z5-C Zambezi Delta
Z5-D Zambezi Delta
Exxonmobil Exploration (USA)
Production Mozambique Offshore Limited

Source(s): Company Websites

Table 5: Overview of Rosatom’s agreements with African countries

Country Year Agreement Details
Egypt 2008 IGA on the peaceful use of nuclear energy
2015 IGA on the key commercial terms of a project to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant
2017 Preliminary contracts for construction of El Dabaa Nuclear Power Project project – 4.8 GW
Nigeria 2009 Cooperation agreement with Nigeria, including provision for uranium exploration and mining in the country.
2012 IGA on cooperation for ‘the design, construction and decommissioning of nuclear power plants
2017 Agreement on construction of Research Reactor
Agreement on construction of nuclear powerplant
South Africa 2014 IGA on strategic partnership and cooperation in the sphere of nuclear energy and industry
2015 Memorandum on cooperation in training personnel for the South African nuclear power industry
Memorandum on cooperation in Enhancement of Public Awareness of Nuclear Energy in South Africa
Ethiopia 2017 MOU on the peaceful use of nuclear energy
2019 Roadmap for establishing cooperation on the construction of a nuclear power plant (NPP) and a Center for nuclear science and technology (CNST)
Ghana 2012 MOU on the peaceful use of nuclear energy
Kenya 2016 Memorandum of mutual understanding and cooperation in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy
Sudan 2017 Agreement on the development of NPP construction project in Sudan
2018 MoU on cooperation on the personnel training in the field of nuclear energy of the Republic of the Sudan
MoU on the formation of positive public opinion on nuclear energy in the Republic of Sudan
Zambia 2016 IGA on cooperation in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. and cooperation in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy
Tanzania 2016 MOU for the peaceful use of nuclear energy
Uganda 2017 MOU on the peaceful use of nuclear energy
Namibia 2017 IGA on the peaceful use of nuclear energy
Rwanda 2019 Roadmap for establishing Russian-Rwanda cooperation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy was signed
Republic of Congo 2019 IGA concerning the cooperation in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy

Source: Rosatom

Shaantanu Shankar is Senior Researcher, Geoeconomic Studies Programme, Gateway House.

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[1] Giles, K 2013, ‘Russian Interests in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Letort Papers, US Army War College Press, pp. 3-5, <>

[2] Schepers, N 2019, ‘Russia’s Nuclear Energy Exports: Status, Prospects and Implications’, EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Papers, SIPRI, no. 61, < ttps://>

[3] Nigeria Power Baseline Report 2018, Office of the Vice President of Nigeria, <>

[4] Annual Report 2017, Rosatom, <>

[5] See tables below for overview of Rosatom’s engagement in Africa’s nuclear industry

[6] Bhandari, Amit 2015, ‘Quiet burial for the nuclear deal,’ Gateway House, 5 November, <>

[7] Darwendale Project, <>

[8] See tables below for overview of Russian investments in mining and metallurgy, and oil and gas

[9] Warner, J & Hulme, C 2018, ‘The Islamic State in Africa: Estimating fighter numbers in cells across Africa’, CTC Sentinel, vol. 11, no. 7, pp. 21-28, <>

[10] Hedenskog, J 2018, ‘Russia is stepping up its military cooperation in Africa’, Swedish Defence Research Agency Memo, <>

[11] Kwesi, A, Thomas, J & Samuel, A (2008), ‘The Role of Private Military Companies in US-Africa Policy’, Review of African Political Economy, vol. 35., no. 118, pp. 613-628, <>