Kenya is seeking to boost its trade ties with Russia following a surprise visit by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, to the East African nation.
During his visit, President William Ruto met with Lavrov and committed to signing a trade pact with Moscow in order to increase commercial links between the two nations. Ruto said Kenya and Russia share “huge potential” when it comes to trade and investment, and that despite current low levels of trade there is tremendous promise for increased business opportunities.
In terms of exports, Kenya sent $55 million worth of goods to Russia in 2022, while imports from Russia totalled $266 million. The trade pact between the two countries aims to harness this potential to spur economic growth for both Russia and Kenya.
In addition to encouraging greater trade ties, Ruto also raised the issue of African representation at the United Nations Security Council. As one of the five permanent nations of the council, Russia holds significant influence in the international body and can back up Kenya’s call for African representation at the council.
Ruto also reaffirmed Kenya’s “steadfast position on respect for territorial integrity of member states as outlined in the UN Charter” in light of the on-going conflict between Russia and Ukraine. He emphasised that Kenya calls for a resolution to the conflict that is sensitive to the needs of both sides.
– Tussle for influence –
The race to influence Africa is on, and it is fueled by visits to the continent by influential international figures. In the past year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has visited Africa several times in an effort to strengthen the nation’s relations with African nations. Lavrov’s competitive spirit has sparked a tussle for influence between Russia and its international rivals as each power vies for a valuable foothold in a region boasting a population of 1.3 billion people.
Lavrov’s visits came after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on African nations to end their neutral stances towards the ongoing war in Ukraine during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Kuleba also stated that Ukraine hoped to open new embassies in Africa and host a summit with the continent’s leaders.
The UN General Assembly responded to Kuleba’s statement with a resolution mandating Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, a motion which passed with 22 of the African Union’s 54 members participating. Two of these nations, Eritrea and Mali, voted against the resolution. It is of note that Lavrov had visited Eritrea and Mali in the earlier months of the year.
Russia’s presence in Africa dates back to the Cold War, when the Soviet Union first sought to gain a foothold in the continent by leveraging their anti-colonialist stance. Later this month, the second Russia-Africa summit will be hosted in Saint Petersburg, further cementing Russia’s ties to the region.
However, Russia is not the only power vying for influence on the continent. The United States, China, India, and the European Union have all increased their presence in Africa through military, technological and financial aid in recent years. Global powers will continue to compete for influence in Africa over the coming years.