By Kester Kenn Klomegah
As the epidemiological situation begins to stabilize through mass vaccination and building herd immunity, the 24th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is finally set to take place on 2–5 June 2021.
This unique Russian forum is expected to bring together politicians, corporate business directors and investors from different parts of the world.
The organizing committee will do everything in its power to ensure that the event is held with all the necessary measures in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
In this interview, taken by Kester Kenn Klomegah especially for potential African participants, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Roscongress Foundation and Head of the Coordinating Council under the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum (RAPF) Alexander Stuglev describes it as a unique platform for networking and getting acquainted with top Russian executives of leading companies and business associations. It thus helps in laying a firm foundation for further economic cooperation. Here are the interview excerpts:
Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov noted that African issues are supposed to be included in the programme of the upcoming St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Can you kindly give us a roadmap of specific programmes and their significance for African participants coming to St. Petersburg this June?
First of all, I would like to note that the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, in its time, has become a sort of a gauge of the mounting interest in the development of Russian-African business cooperation: in the period of time from 2015 to 2019 the number of Forum participants from African countries grew five times.
Every year since 2016, as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum’s business programme, we host a Russia-Africa roundtable, which has become a traditional meeting place for Russian and African business and government and in whose discussions the heads of African states, among others, took part many times.
This year, the African agenda will also play an important part in the Forum business programme. In the course of the scheduled Russia–Africa business dialogue, we plan to discuss a wide range of our cooperation: food security; the Russian approach to solving healthcare problems in African countries, taking into account the economic aftermath of the pandemic; Russian investment and participation of our business in key infrastructure projects on the African continent. I invite our African colleagues to take the most active part in the upcoming Forum discussions.
On the other hand, the African landscape is changing with more foreign players. In assessing the reality of developments and competition for geopolitical influence, what are your views? With this focus on Africa at the St. Petersburg Forum, do you consider it as a gateway to reach the market of the African region?
You are right, many countries are expressing interest in Africa today, but this is no surprise when you take into account the huge potential and opportunities of the African continent. I believe that major players will keep growing more active on the African scene and we should be ready for it.
All in all, I have a positive attitude toward competition. I believe that in any line of business it helps growth and stimulates progress, the important thing is that it should be fair competition.
As for your question regarding the gateway to the African market, I believe that the key point here is regularity and a systematic approach. St. Petersburg International Economic Forum is, undoubtedly, one of the most important stages in the development chain of the entire range of mutually beneficial Russia-Africa cooperation. Yet, it is important to realise that you cannot land in a foreign market immediately. There is a lot of work to be done beforehand in order to set mutually respectful and trustful relations, to learn the culture and so on.
The Forum in St. Petersburg is just the venue where people from all over the world traditionally have an opportunity to exchange opinions on the most burning issues, present their initiatives, and establish contacts, thus laying a firm foundation for further cooperation.
Do you also think there is lots of potential in terms of raising trade and economic cooperation between the region and Russia? What will be Roscongress’ key focus, products and services for potential African participants?
Undoubtedly, there is a potential for trade and economic cooperation; both the Russian and African representatives always talk about it. It is important, however, not just to talk about it but to carry it through as well. In recent years, we have seen increased Russian activity where Africa is concerned and we will do everything we can to keep that tendency going.
I believe that constant dialogue is the basis for any successful interaction and the key objective of the Roscongress Foundation is to make that dialogue as intensive and productive as possible. We are ready to share our skills and experience with our African friends by organizing and holding Russian-African events together.
To unlock the economic and trade potential, it is important to involve small and medium-sized businesses in cooperation; that is why we are ready to consider the options for organizing small topic-specific events both in African countries and in Russian regions. Our key objective is to create opportunities and conditions, to be the link between the Russian and African businesses.
As Chief Executive Officer of the Roscongress Foundation, Head of the Coordination Council for Russia–Africa Partnership Forum, what are some of the preparations for the next Russia–Africa Economic Forum at the 2022 Summit to be held inside Africa?
We are already working hard on it. The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum in 2019 demonstrated the mutual interest of Russia and African countries in working together; a roadmap for further cooperation has been set; participants have had an opportunity to talk and learn more about each other. Despite the adjustments made to our plans by the pandemic, the work did not stop; we continue to work on ideas and initiatives that can be carried out as early as the next Summit and Economic Forum in 2022.
As I have already mentioned, you cannot organize just one large forum and expect radical changes in trade and economic cooperation. You need to put in comprehensive efforts not only at the economic but also at diplomatic and humanitarian levels; you need to involve the regions, as well as small and medium-sized businesses in cooperation. This comprehensive interaction is actually underway and the Secretariat of the Russia–Africa Partnership Forum plays a central part in it.
The Roscongress Foundation is a socially oriented non-financial development institution and a major organizer of international conventions and exhibitions; and business, public, sporting, and cultural events. It was established in pursuance of a decision by the President of the Russian Federation.