Russia’s diplomacy of promises …the case of Ghana


Russia sets aside US$1bn to boost trade ties with Ghana” – simply ran the media headline, but had serious implications for Russia’s diplomacy. The published article described the bilateral relations as ‘sustainable partnership’ between Russia and Ghana. That was far back in January 2018, and given wide publicity to show Russia’s economic presence in Africa. Taking into cognisance the participating dignitaries including the Russian Ambassador, Dmitry Suslov, inside the Russian diplomatic premises, it most probably reflected in official documents of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

The Russian Federation set aside US$1billion to assist Russian companies wanting to invest in Ghana’s economy in a move aimed at reinvigorating the sixty-year old diplomatic relations that exist between the two countries, and which were strongest in the Nkrumah era, archive research shows.

In commemorating the 60 years of established diplomatic relations with Ghana, Chairman of the Ghana Russian Business Development Council, Dr. Lawrence Awuku-Boateng, explained at that reception that Ghanaian businesspeople wanting do business with Russia would be assisted. The money would be disbursed through the Russian Export Centre.

“I am glad to announce that the Russian government has decided to assist all Russian companies that would like to work in Ghana, and Ghanaian companies who would like to do business with the Russians should contact the Embassy or Council for assistance,” Awuku-Boateng told the gathering.

Ambassador Suslov took his turn and said his country was committed to building ‘sustainable partnerships’ with Ghana. “I can see Ghana now attracts more Russian businesses due to its stable democracy, sustainable macroeconomic performance and the advanced business infrastructure. The importance of Ghana to Russia as an anchor partner country within the West Africa region is in a way being recognised and affirmed by the continuous presence of Russian delegations in the country,” he said.

Similarly, different Russian companies have been rushing for investment. With its stated purpose to create a developing economic cooperation, Russian Railway Company, Geo Services, said it was ready to invest over US$12.5billion in the redevelopment of Ghana’s Railway Network – a project the President of the Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo’s government has shown keen interest in realising to boost the transport network (railway infrastructure) and ultimately the economy.

Geo Services CEO, Sergey Kamnev, headed a delegation to attend the market sounding event organised by the Ministries of Railways Development and Transport on the development of the Eastern Railway Line and the Boankra Inland Port projects. The government was seeking to enter into a Public-Private Partnership arrangement for the two specific projects for which an estimated US$2.4billion was required.

“With our own unofficial pre-feasibility conducted, we are assuring you that we will give Ghana the best. Considering our record, even in the area of fatalities within the industry, I can say that with over 100years experience in railway in the world, we have recorded, I am sure, the least of fatalities,” Sergey Kamnev said at the event in Accra, Ghana.

“Having said that, if we are given the right to build the rail lines in Ghana, we are going to use Ghanaians to manufacture everything in Ghana, from executive wagons to bolt and knots. This is going to help us open, at least, 20 factories in the country,” he added.

Eastern Railway Line was planned to complete by 2020. The Minister of Railway Development, Joe Ghartey, informed that the government set 2020 as the deadline for the completion of the Eastern Railway line project. The project would accommodate speed trains which have a speed of over 500 km per hour, making the journey faster and easier.

“The government is ready, and feasibility is almost complete; that is why we are having this market sounding event which is a meeting with investors to share ideas on how to build a better railway network in Ghana. I have directed that the project is completed by 2020, using speed trains. Ghana deserves the best and we, as a government, are willing to sign up for the best in this project for Ghana,” Minister Joe Ghartey stated.

The market sounding conference was attended by investors interested in partnering government in the rehabilitation and expansion of the country’s rail network from the south to Paga in the Upper East Region.

Ghana’s rail network that is currently operational, which is approximately 947 kilometres, is faced with an obsolete network and poor track infrastructure, resulting in the closure of greater part of the Western and Eastern lines and the entire Central line, leading to a high incidence of derailments that lead to loss of operational hours and damage to rolling stock.

The revamping of the railways sector was expected to happen hand-in-hand with the construction of the Boankra Inland Port, strategically located near Kumasi, to ease the movement of goods to the northern parts of the country and neighbouring landlocked countries.

Perhaps the most important way forward besides the official interaction, and in order to enhance further relations between the two countries, the Russian Federation has endorsed creating the Ghana-Russian Business Development Council to help in linking up business, education and culture.

Early October 2021, within the framework of the official visit to Ghana, the Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, Ambassador-at-Large Oleg Ozerov, participated in discussions between the Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) and the Ghana-Russia Business Development Council. According to reports, the ceremony was also attended by the current Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ghana, Sergei Berdnikov.

The two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding which stipulated developing and strengthening bilateral cooperation. The focus is to promote Russian companies’ products and services on the African market, to share expertise, and exchange information in order to create favourable conditions for the development of Russia-Ghana relations.

On the other hand, critics say Russian officials consider inexpedient dealing with well-established agencies and organisations such as the Ghana Export Promotion Council, Ghana Export Authority, Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry et cetera. These business entities make the entire process of trading quite easy and convenient for the business parties involved by liaising with other agencies to simplify documentation and import/export procedures, as well as customs and freight carriers in the country.

Another important issue critics singled out in their discussions was the importance of the Russia-Ghana Permanent Joint Commission for Cooperation (PJCC) created several years ago for ensuring and strengthening bilateral relations in the political, economic, trade, technical and cultural spheres between the two countries. At least, Russia and Ghana are looking forward to expanding trade and investment exchanges using the mechanism of the Intergovernmental Commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation.

During the session of the Russia-Ghana Permanent Joint Commission for Cooperation (PJCC) held in Saint Petersburg in May, Foreign Affairs Ministers of both Russia and Ghana agreed to speed up work on agreements and memoranda that will strengthen the legal framework of cooperation. They further agreed to encourage business circles, chambers of commerce and industry of the two countries to continue and intensify direct contacts and frequent interactions.

Our monitoring and interviews show that not everybody is highly-satisfied with the current approach toward Africa. In an interview conducted by this author, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, explains explicitly that “Russia and Ghana have excellent diplomatic relations which have been developed over the years, precisely more than 30 years. Russian Federation started in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet era. Although for a relationship lasting this long, one would have expected it to move past where it is now, in short, there is still room for improvement.”

Despite the policy challenges and shortcomings, Ghana is still open to all the support that it could get from its external friends and development partners in the nation-building drive, particularly in the nation-wide industrialisation programme of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration. Ghana could benefit a lot from the rich experiences of Russia, which has advanced knowledge in the area of industrialisation, she underscored in the interview discussion.

An undeniable and acknowledgeable fact is that Russia plans to boost multi-faceted relations with Africa. As pointed out in a policy report last November, Russia’s approach is practically marked by high degree of inconsistency and lacks effective systematic coordination on several important issues with Africa. The report points to shortsightedness and little desire to face the rapidly changing political and economic realities in Africa.

According to that report, high-level meetings has increased but the share of substantive issues remain extremely minimal; and worse so far, there were little definitive results from the unprecedented huge number of high-level official meetings. The report indicates clearly that Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. It further stresses the lack of ‘information hygiene’ at all levels of public speaking among the main flaws of Russia’s policy on Africa.

Nevertheless, according to the policy experts’ assessment of the situation, Russia needs to shift steadily toward new paradigms – first, to move away from the most often stereotypical narratives, frequent criticisms of other key external players. And second, to seriously begin implementing, especially this crucial time of global geopolitical changes and emerging new order, some of its own decade-old pledges and promises, and take concrete steps in fulfilling those several bilateral agreements signed with individual African countries.

The report provides useful recommendations aimed at closing the gap between mainstream policies, how to remove the policy pitfalls, and turn a new page by adopting a well-refined approach toward Africa. The authoritative 150-page report, researched and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Professor Sergei Karaganov, who is currently the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. The report, titled: Situation Analytical Report, was publicly presented at the premises of TASS Information News Agency in November 2021.

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