The Rhodes Forum: Multilateral Cooperation at the Centre of Discussions

Rhodes, Special Correspondent Yasmina Lahlou

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The Rhodes Forum, conducted by the research institute “Dialogue of Civilizations”, took place on the Greek island on the 5th and 6th of October 2018. The main theme of the forum’s current 16th session turned out to be the strengthening of multilateral cooperation.

Over 300 people, including a number of ministers and former heads of state, took part in the Rhodes Forum. Among them, there are Prime Minister of Guinea Ibrahima Kassory Fofana, former President of Mali Dioncounda Traoré and Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first President following independence. Samia Nkrumah is a fervent Pan-African like her father. Attending the forum was also Special Representative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Middle East and Africa, Mikhail Bogdanov, and former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert.

The “Dialogue of Civilizations” institute (DOC), of which the president and one of the founders is Vladimir Yakunin, is an analytical centre located in Berlin with representative offices in Moscow, Vienna and, in the future, New Delhi. “Dialogue of Civilizations” sees itself as “a bridge between western and developing countries, which it endeavours to unite in a constructive manner to lay the foundations for a new world, to diffuse tension and to secure the comprehensive development of the planet”. Every year since 2003, this analytical centre has organised the Rhodes Forum, where leaders, experts and business representatives from 70 nations come together to discuss those issues facing the world.

Prime minister of Guinea Ibrahima Kassory Fofana declared: “Despite significant progress, Africa still finds itself at the start of its journey to put in place the conditions for harmonious development. For the continent, there is still the prospect of tackling numerous problems: economic, political, social and also administrative.”

Africa needs the world, and the world needs Africa in order to create inclusive and productive multilateral cooperation, which would herald the beginning of a genuine dialogue of civilisations.

This year, as part of the Forum, a special summit was arranged on issues facing the African region: agreements on cooperation, developing diplomatic relations, solving problems with debt etc. Widely discussed was Russia’s return to Africa. “Moscow definitely intends to strengthen its presence on the continent on all fronts,” Deputy Minister Mikhail Bogdanov made a clarification on the subject. There is even talk of a possible large-scale international Russia–Africa summit next year…

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Three questions to Mikhail Bogdanov (Deputy Minister and Special Representative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Middle East and Africa)

What is it that connects Russia and Africa?

We had close relations until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many Africans still remember their links with Russia and the support we provided in their struggle for independence.

We built up a solid network of professionals: engineers, teachers, politicians, the police and the military. They received training in the USSR, and now we are able to rely on this network. Today, Russia’s presence in Africa meets the hopes and expectations of our partners; and this presence will become yet more meaningful. We are also increasing the scale of the humanitarian aid we provide and are drawing up various agreements regarding future cooperation.

What lies behind Russia’s current interest in Africa?

Russia wants to strengthen its ties with Africa; however, compared with the Europeans, Americans and Asians, we are somewhat behind. Next to China, which has displaced the US as the continent’s primary commercial partner, Russia looks fairly modest as a partner.

Having said that, if you take the arms market, then the Russian industry is quite competitive. We want to assist our partners in developing their military capabilities by servicing the equipment obtained in Soviet times or by supplying them with more up-to-date equipment and technology.

My country has already signed military contracts with the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. We are also interested in signing contracts for industrial cooperation.

What is the aim of the large-scale Africa–Russia summit that you are planning for 2019?

We intend to organise several forums to bring together NGOs, civil society, enterprises etc. These could lead to a summit between Vladimir Putin and African heads of state, as has already happened between Africa and Europe or Africa and China. And again, we are some way behind the West and Asia in this respect.