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Russia-Africa Summit: Sergey Lavrov Embarks on Courtship and Assessment Tour

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By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Behind lofty summit declarations, several bilateral agreements and thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges, Russia has been at the crossroad due to the  ‘special military operations’ it began late February in Ukraine. It has achieved little these few years after the symbolic summit held in 2019. With preparations for the next African leaders summit, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov plans to undertake two African tours during the first quarter 2023.

At the heat of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and within the context of the current geopolitical and economic changes, Lavrov made a snapshot trip to four African countries July 24-28 this year. The four African countries on that travel agenda: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of Congo.

In January-February 2023, Lavrov will first focus on North Africa. Why the Maghreb is a strategic region for Russia? It is true that despite the appearance of competition between Europe and the United States, between Russia and China as well as the Gulf States, Russia has intensified its relations aims at raising its influence in the Maghreb.

Worth noting that Egypt already has significant strategic and economic ties with Russia. With the geographical location of Egypt, Lavrov’s frequent visits there has some tacit implications. Last July trip, for instance, concretely aimed at explaining the perspectives for Russia’s actions in neighbouring Ukraine, to frame-shape its geo-strategic posture in the region and solicit support from the entire Arab world. It followed U.S. President Joe Biden  official visit to the Middle East. Biden visited Israel, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.

Reports from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that Lavrov plans to undertake two “coordinated working visits” and first trip will focus on Arab-speaking North African region popularly referred to as Maghreb. For several decades, the Maghreb region has been a multifaceted conflict region, in fact one of the most volatile geopolitical frontiers, and which includes Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This vast area inhabited by some 120 million people – 80 per cent of them in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco – is landlocked between the huge Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert.

Historically, Russia has had long-standing good political relations not only the North but also with sub-Saharan Africa down to Southern Africa since Soviet times, provided tremendous support for liberation movements that culminated in decolonization and ultimately the rise of the economies in Africa. The continent is rife with rivalry  and competition, attracting foreign players especially this time of emerging new global order.

According to official reports, Russia is interested in expanding multifaceted cooperation, and making feverish attempts for a collaborative mechanism to upgrade its relations. It seeks to work closely in developing a new architecture necessary for participating in development projects, promote infrastructure, trade and other viable economic ties. It held the first Russia-Africa summit three years ago, signed many bilateral agreements and issued an impressive joint declaration as a roadmap for the future directions.

On the agenda for the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, there are matters relating to building a new global architecture in the context of strengthening multi-polarity and the international security, food and energy security, healthcare and humanitarian cooperation, education, science and culture.

With rafts of sanctions imposed on Russia, it becomes expedient for both Russia and Africa to find alternative ways of collaboration (between Russia and Africa) that do not rely on Western currencies or sanctions policy. Of course, illegal sanctions imposed on Russia continue to have a negative impact on foreign economic relations, necessitating an urgent reconfiguration of strategies for pushing further cooperation.

The reports always note that Africa is one of the most important and fastest growing region for Russian producers. Moscow understands the significance of engaging and achieving sustainable development there. For example, Russia faces the challenge to promote the creation of a reliable infrastructure for the production and transportation of African energy products and the development of domestic markets. It faces the challenge of setting admirably its economic influence in the continent.

That however in November 2021, a policy document titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ presented at the premises of TASS News Agency was very critical about Russia’s current policy towards Africa. While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings, according to that authoritative report researched and put together by 25 Russian policy experts headed by Professor Sergey Karaganov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

The report pointed to the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. For the past three decades, Russia plays very little role in Africa’s infrastructure, agriculture and industry. Many bilateral agreements, at the top and high political levels, have still not been implemented. A lot more important issues have received little attention since the first African leaders summit held in Sochi.

Our monitoring shows that the Russian business community hardly pays attention to the significance to, and makes little efforts in leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which provides a unique and valuable platform for businesses to access an integrated African market of over 1.3 billion people.

In an interview with Steven Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), explained that Africa is a busy geopolitical arena, with many players, both old and new, operating. Apart from EU countries, China and the US. There are players such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, the UAE, Japan and others. Russia has to compete against them, and distinctively remain focused its efforts with strategies.

On the other side, Russia uses the rhetoric of anti-colonialism in its engagement with Africa, and that it is fighting neo-colonialism from the West, especially in relations with their former colonies. It sees France as a threat to its interests in Francophone West Africa, the Maghreb and the Sahel.

Russia brings little to the continent especially in the economic sectors which badly need investment especially building infrastructure. Undeniable fact is that many external players have also had long-term relations and continue bolstering political, economic and social ties in the continent.

“I would largely agree that there is a divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. There is more talk than action, and mere intentions and ideas have been officially presented as initiatives already in progress. There needs to be a lot of tangible progress on the ground for the second summit to show impact. It will be interesting to see what has been concretely achieved in reports at the second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for this 2023,” he assertively argued.

Of course, Russia aims at restoring and regaining part of its Soviet-era influence, but has problems with planning and tackling its set tasks, lack of confidence in fulfilling its policy targets. The most important aspect is how to make strategic efforts more practical, more consistent and more effective with African countries. Without these fundamental factors, it would therefore be an illusionary dream considering multifaceted partnership with Africa.

As a direct result of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ aims at ‘demilitarization and denazification’ in the neighbouring post-Soviet republic of Ukraine since late February, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

Courtesy: Modern Diplomacy


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EVENTS & ANNOUNCEMENTS

What To Expect From the Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum 2024?

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The Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum (KLIFF) 2024 is poised to be a pivotal event in the Islamic finance industry, building on the momentum of its previous editions. The forum has consistently served as a crucial platform for discussions on the latest trends, challenges, and opportunities in Islamic finance, drawing attention to the innovative strides and potential growth areas within the sector.

Key Expectations from KLIFF 2024

  • Industry Leadership and Expert Insights: The forum is expected to host a distinguished lineup of speakers from various sectors of Islamic finance, including banking, fintech, asset management, and more. Previous editions have seen influential figures such as Dima Djani, CEO of Hijra Group, and Jamaludin Bujang, Managing Partner (Malaysia) at Gobi Partners, sharing their insights, which indicates the caliber of thought leadership that attendees can anticipate in 2024​.
  • Sustainable and Ethical Finance Focus: A significant emphasis on sustainable and ethical finance principles is likely, reflecting a global trend towards more responsible investment practices. This aligns with the broader objectives of Islamic finance to contribute positively to society and the environment. Discussions may revolve around leveraging Islamic finance and social finance for sustainable future, as seen in previous forums​
  • Global Islamic Fintech Outlook: The rapid growth and innovation in Islamic fintech will likely be a central theme, given its increasing prominence in offering Shariah-compliant financial solutions worldwide. The previous edition highlighted the sector’s expansion, including the adoption of blockchain and cryptocurrency, emphasizing the role of digital banking in enhancing financial inclusion and the importance of regulatory frameworks to support industry growth​
  • Networking and Collaboration Opportunities: KLIFF 2024 will provide invaluable networking opportunities, facilitating connections between industry stakeholders, including investors, policymakers, and professionals. This collaboration is essential for fostering innovation and exploring new ventures in the Islamic finance landscape.
  • Support from Industry Leaders: The forum’s impact is underscored by the support it receives from leading entities in the Islamic finance sector. For instance, Principal Asset Management’s partnership for the IFN Investor Asia Forum 2024, scheduled in Kuala Lumpur, indicates the level of industry backing and commitment to advancing Islamic finance​
  • Innovative Solutions and Best Practices: Attendees can expect to learn about the latest innovative solutions and best practices within Islamic finance, including advancements in Sukuk, Islamic banking, asset management, and more. The event will likely showcase cutting-edge research, case studies, and success stories from around the globe.

The Kuala Lumpur Islamic Finance Forum (KLIFF) 2024 is set to be a landmark event, highlighting the growing importance and dynamism of the Islamic finance industry. With a focus on sustainability, technological innovation, and global collaboration, KLIFF 2024 will offer attendees a comprehensive view of the sector’s current state and future directions. By gathering experts, thought leaders, and practitioners from around the world, the forum will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the Islamic finance landscape, promoting development, and addressing the evolving needs of the global economy.


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OIC Secretary-General Calls on OIC Member States to Invest More in Critical Sectors of the Economy

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On the 4th of December 2023, the President of the Republic of Türkiye, His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inaugurated the 39th Session of the OIC Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC), in Istanbul. The ceremony was attended by the OIC Secretary-General and Member States’ concerned ministers.

In his Statement, President Erdogan highlighted the grave situation in Gaza and the rising trend of Islamophobia and emphasized the need for all OIC Member States to have a unified position to address current challenges facing the Muslim Ummah.

He also underscored the importance of implementing the Trade Preferential System among OIC Member States as well as supporting the OIC Arbitration Centre, developing small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and halal industries towards promoting sustainable socio-economic growth in OIC Member States.

Speaking at the Opening Ceremony of the 39th Session of COMCEC, H.E Mr. Hissein Brahim Taha, the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), acknowledged the continued support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Chairman of COMCEC, towards the realization of various economic programs and projects of the OIC.

Referring to the tragic massacres taking in Gaza and Palestine generally, the Secretary-General called upon the international community to intervene urgently to put an end to Israel’s criminal aggression and murder of Palestinians. While highlighting the activities of OIC and its institutions in the economic domain during the last one year, the Secretary-General emphasized the need to further enhance intra-OIC cooperation in the vital sectors of the economy.

Especially in the food and agriculture sector, to build more resilient food systems, share knowledge and best practices in order to help develop domestic production capacities in OIC Member States. Accordingly, he called for greater cooperation, harmonization, and synergizing of efforts toward addressing the developmental challenges of OIC Member States.

The Opening Ceremony was also addressed by Ministers in charge of trade from Qatar, Senegal, and Kazakstan in their capacities as representatives of Arab, African, and Asian groups

The 39th Session of COMCEC is being attended by Ministers in charge of trade and economy of the OIC Member States as well as OIC institutions and international organizations. The Session will review the status of implementation of various projects under the COMCEC in the areas of trade and investment, agriculture, tourism and financial development, Private Sector, and poverty alleviation among others. The theme of the 39th COMCEC Sessions is “Improving E-Commerce Capacities of the OIC Member Countries”.

COMCEC is an OIC Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation, which meets annually to review OIC activities in the economic and trade development domains.


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14th World Islamic Economic Forum Discusses Key Global Economic Growth Themes

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The 14th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF), scheduled for 6-8 February 2024 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), promises to be a pivotal event in shaping the global economic landscape. Under the theme ‘Global Economic Agenda: Shaping a Sustainable Future,’ this forum will delve into a wide array of pressing economic issues, especially focusing on the integration of technology in shaping future economic trends.

A key highlight of the 14th WIEF is the exploration of East Asia’s burgeoning economic clout. As this region becomes increasingly influential in the global market, the forum will examine its impact on global economic dynamics. This is particularly relevant considering reports from institutions like the Asian Development Bank, which forecast East Asia’s continuous growth trajectory in the coming years.

The convergence of technology and sustainability will also be a central theme. With the world rapidly evolving, the forum aims to chart new paths for economic development, emphasizing sustainable practices. This aligns with global trends highlighted in reports by the United Nations and World Economic Forum, which stress the critical role of sustainable development in future economic growth.

The increasing economic prominence of the Middle East, especially in the context of global markets, is another focal point. Reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other economic research institutions underline the Middle East’s expanding role in shaping global economic policies and trends.

Tan Sri Dr. Syed Hamid Albar, Chairman of the WIEF Foundation, emphasizes the forum’s importance as a pivotal platform for global economic dialogue. The event will feature a plethora of plenary sessions, in-depth panel discussions, and networking opportunities, addressing topics like youth integration in the AI-driven labor market, the empowerment of women in technology, the synergy between Islamic finance and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investing, and innovative strategies for food security.

MOCAfest, an integral part of the Forum, will celebrate the vital role of creative industries in economic and social development. This festival will be a melting pot for artists from diverse cultures, showcasing their talents and fostering a vibrant cultural exchange.

About the World Islamic Economic Forum Foundation (WIEF): Established in 2006, the WIEF Foundation has been at the forefront of enhancing global economic cooperation. It focuses on trade opportunities, business networking, and capacity building programs, primarily through its annual forum. WIEF brings together influential figures from government, industry, academia, and other sectors to discuss contemporary issues and trends in the global economy. The 14th WIEF, with its emphasis on sustainable future shaping, reaffirms this commitment.


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