By Kester Kenn Klomegah, Moscow
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, collaborating with its Ministry of Communications, Diplomatic Academy and the Institute for African Studies, plans to launch a short orientation and training programme for senior editors working in state media organisations in African countries.
The media initiative came up as a follow up to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s discussions during his African tour early March about rolling out a comprehensive strategic roadmap for a more integrated cooperation and find effective ways of improving public diplomacy in Africa.
On May 16, Sergey Lavrov chaired the Foreign Ministry Collegium meeting on the subject “Cooperation with Sub-Saharan African countries as part of implementing important tasks of Russian foreign policy.”
The meeting noted that the consolidation of versatile ties with the Sub-Saharan African countries remains a major part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy, which is acquiring special significance in the context of deep changes in the global arena.
The MFA has released an official document, available to its website, titled “Concept of the Russian Federation on Cooperation with African Media” stresses the need to cooperate with African media as Russia looks forward to strengthening relations and share strategic interests with Africa on international arena.
According to the MFA, “the Russian Federation is implementing programmes of cooperation with various African countries which include education, culture, art, the media and sport.”
The Russian Government supports the pilot programme and will be organised for African media groups in two phases: in October and in May, and planned for a two-year period from 2018 to 2020.
The participants from this pilot programme will be at the forefront to highlight or propagate post-Soviet economic and cultural reality, shape the African perception about Russia and raise Russia’s image and reputation among the political and business community and the general population in Africa.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is the first significant step on media cooperation by the official authorities to address the information gap between the two regions. The initiative particularly seeks to bridge the widening business information gap that has existed and might help strengthen bilateral relations between Africa and Russia.
Experts have acknowledged that, for Russia, there are important geopolitical implications working with Africa and unreservedly praised Russia’s initiative for creating this mechanism for media cooperation and for more diversified aspects of its policy with Africa.
Canadian-Nigerian Professor O. Igho Natufe, Head of Ukraine-African Study Center in Kiev, says looking into the future it is important to continue approaching the relationship beyond natural resources and the economy, and to include soft power, so the move will boost the overall relationship in the long-term since the media has a huge role to play.
Undoubtedly, Natufe further explains that frequent exchange of visits by Russian and African journalists as well as regular publications of economic and business reports could help create public business awareness and raise, to an appreciable level, the understanding of the relationship between Russia and Africa.
Earlier, Dr Olga Kulkova, a Research Fellow at the Moscow based Center for the Study of Russian-African Relations, Institute for African Studies, also pointed out that “more quality information about modern Russia should be reported in Africa. Indisputably, it might take a lot of money and efforts, but the result will pay off. It is excellent to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. Russia ought to take this into account, if it wants to improve the chances for success in Africa.”
Professor Gerrit Olivier from the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria in South Africa, noted that “Russian influence in Africa, despite efforts towards resuscitation, remains marginal. The cultural gap (language in particular) is a great handicap. The official visits are mainly opening moves and symbolic and have little long-term concrete results.”
While prioritising Africa now, Russia has to do more, particularly, in the cultural-intellectual field (like China, EU and US) with a view to the longer term and work on its image problem in Africa, Professor Olivier, who previously served as South African Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1996, wrote in an email comment from Pretoria, South Africa.
For decades, a number of foreign countries are cooperating with African media to push their strategic policy interests. For example, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation has fixed China-Africa Press Exchange Center in Shanghai to encourage and promote exchange and visits between Chinese and African media.
In June 2018, China held the Fourth Forum on China-Africa Media Cooperation. A Joint Statement on Further Deepening Exchanges and Cooperation was adopted. During the Johannesburg summit held in 2015, President Xi Jinping said China would implement access to satellite TV for 10,000 African villages and provide training for 1,000 media professionals from Africa.