As Russia aims to build closer ties with Africa, Rwanda signs off on a deal to advance the use of nuclear energy with the help of Russian expertise.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes comments on the country's bilateral relations with Georgia as he attends the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) in Yekaterinburg, Russia July 9, 2019.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes comments on the country's bilateral relations with Georgia as he attends the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) in Yekaterinburg, Russia July 9, 2019. (Reuters)

On the eve of the Russia-Africa summit in Sochi this week, Rwandan officials approved a deal with Russia to advance the use of nuclear energy. 

The deal was first signed last December in Moscow, which was the roadmap for the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the use of nuclear energy.

Finally, the Russian state-owned Rosatom Global nuclear company reached an agreement in May to set up the nuclear plant by 2024. 

Nuclear Power Plant (AA)
Nuclear Power Plant (AA) (AA)

Based on the agreement, a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology and a nuclear power plant in Rwanda will be built in Kigali by Russian scientists. This will facilitate experiments and scientific research. 

The agreement underpins the legal cornerstone for extensive collaboration between Rwanda and Russia in terms of the construction projects. 

It outlines a legal basis for interaction between Rwanda and Russia in a number of fields including the regulation of nuclear safety, the development of nuclear infrastructure in line with international requirements, training and development of specialists for the nuclear industry, supervision of the accounting and control of nuclear and radiation materials and radioactive waste.

Russia's footprint on the continent of Africa goes back to the Soviet era when it held an outsize influence before its power faded economically and politically during the Cold War.

Russia is back in Africa (AA)
Russia is back in Africa (AA) (AA)

Currently, Russia conducts more trade with Asia and Europe than Africa. During this same period India, China and the US have been the big players in Sub-Saharan Africa and even the EU, Japan and the US have invested more when compared with Russia.

Russian renews its interest

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it’s Russia’s priority to strengthen relations with African countries. 

During an interview with TASS Russian State News Agency he said: “This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of opportunities. It possesses vast resources and potential economic attractiveness.”

Russia has strong reasons to get involved in Africa as the continent holds a huge amount of natural minerals such as iron ore, phosphate, manganese and chromium, which are crucial for the nuclear industry.  Russia has tremendous experience in the energy sector and its expertise will pay off in African countries. 

(Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

“It can’t offer consumer goods like China but what it can offer is arms and occasional debt relief either in exchange for an arms deal or the rights to explore and drill for hydrocarbons or other extractables,” says Paul Stronski, Senior Fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.

Rwanda’s imports from Russia increased from $20 million to $31 million between 2017-2018, and Rwanda’s exports to Russia have increased from just $2.4 million to $3.6 million in the same period according to the Russian Export Centre

The CEO of Rosatom, a Russian state corporation founded by Putin, says it is necessary to earn revenue through commercial projects abroad.  

Jonathan Cobb, Senior Communication Manager of the World Nuclear Association, supports this claim saying: “Russia is one of the countries taking the lead in forming these partnerships exploring nuclear energy with African countries because it is one of the main exporters of nuclear energy.”

Political dimension

Geopolitics may also be driving Moscow to look for new markets for nuclear technology. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands before their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and US President Donald Trump shake hands before their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki. (AFP)

The Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi takes place this week. It is expected that nuclear technology and know-how will be the core of the agenda at the Summit where a whole panel discussion on how it could contribute to development in Africa takes place.  

For some experts, Russia’s attempt to increase its influence in Africa by selling nuclear technology, gaining billions of dollars and benefitting from the continent’s poorest people is tactless.   

However, during his interview with TASS Russian State News Agency   President Putin argues, “Our country has played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, supporting the struggle of its peoples against colonialism, racism and apartheid. Later on, we helped the Africans to protect their independence and sovereignty, gain statehood, form the basis for national economies, and create capable armed forces. Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else; and we strongly oppose any geopolitical ”games“ involving Africa.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies