Russia looks to leading business presence in Africa, including in IT sector

TASS Russian News Agency | Oct 16, 2019 at 7:04 PM

KRASNODAR, October 16. /TASS/. Russia is set to regain leadership in its business presence across Africa after a slight downturn following the perestroika times, Alexei Osharin, a deputy chair of the Moscow Commerce Chamber's committee for cooperation with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa, has said.

Experts believe that Russian inventions in the IT sector will be in demand in the African market.

Russian-African trade began growing in 2016. According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, in 2018 it increased by 17.2 % to amount to $20.4 billion. Along with this, exports soared by 18.2% up to amount to $17.5 billion, while imports went up by 11.5% to total $2.9 billion. Russia's trade surplus stood at $14.6 billion.

"In the 15 years of perestroika, Russia did lose Africa. However, we have a chance to go back there, and they do wait for us. The attitude towards Russians is even a bit specific. As for cybersecurity, the issue is a novelty for them, since in spite of operation of the banking system, in the presence of practically all international banks, personal databases have in fact no protection at all," Osharin said at the international conference on cybersecurity held in Krasnodar prior to the Russia-Africa Summit.

The expert pointed out that Russia has every chance to regain leadership in Africa due to several factors. Firstly, many African leaders speak Russian as earlier they received education in Russia and continue their studies there. Secondly, local mentality favors business relations based on ordinary human, friendly relations. Thirdly, according to Osharin, major European corporations operating in Africa have frequently refused in recent years to employ the local population, giving preferences to specialists from their countries instead. It has a significant impact on unemployment rates and create social tensions in African countries.

"Ties with Russia are prioritized there. They are fed up with expansion and are starting to repulse relations. There is a very interesting factor: most Africans are patriots and one of the fundamental moments is that they always say we are independent people, we have been fighting for independence, we do not want to get dependent on other countries. That is why the companies where the local population work are of higher priority," Osharin explained.

He added that according to experts' estimates, Africa is a rapidly developing target market, as the GDP has grown by about 4-5% across Africa.

Forging ties

"Should we have a look at South Africa, we realize that it is a nation within BRICS. Those companies that operate in Russia and are beginning to enter the African market should view South Africa as an entry point, with all the ensuing consequences, namely preferential funding by the BRICS bank, governmental support and very many other preferences. If we speak about the BRICS project, South Africa established the South African Development Community (SADC, which comprises nine countries - TASS). It is a large market for us, which allows us to immediately reach nine countries," he said.

Tatyana Levitskaya, executive secretary of the commission for Africa and official representative of Mozambique's Commerce Chamber in Russia, has explained that African nations experience a sharp shortage of information technology.

"If we mention agriculture, they do not have fenced areas, but lots of cultivated land to grow something," she said. "They have nothing in order to install video surveillance. Therefore, our systems will fit well there. Our IT companies, including banking security, will come in handy."

Ruslan Safiullin, the owner of a Russian company dealing with payment terminals (POS) and payment services, who has been cooperating with Africa over recent years agreed with Levitskaya.

"In Africa, 90% of the population have cash in their pockets, and they are unaware about plastic cards. They do not understand information technology, it is 100%. They do not have any researchers, and they lack physical and technical capacities to develop that. As for information technology, there is none in Africa, the market is empty," he explained.

Nevertheless, he pointed out that many European IT products are viewed as too expensive in Africa, and so those countries eye Russian ones.

The international conference on cybersecurity was held in the Russian southern city of Krasnodar on October 14-15. Among the participants were representatives of the International Telecommunication Union, the German and Indonesian police forces. The conference was organized by an analytical agency for cybersecurity in cooperation with Krasnodar's city legislature.

About the summit

The Russia-Africa Summit will be held in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi on October 23-24. It is expected to be chaired by the Russian and Egyptian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. All 54 African leaders have been invited to attend the summit. About 40 of them have already confirmed their participation. Simultaneously with the summit, an economic forum will take place, which will be attended by heads of state alongside representatives of governments, business and African integration associations.