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Russian foreign minister in Zimbabwe during Africa tour

Ineke Mules
March 7, 2018

The veteran Russian politician is in Africa at the same time as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes his maiden visit to the continent.

MSC 2018 Sergei Lawrow
Image: Reuters/R. Orlowski

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a stopover in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday during a week-long Africa tour which also includes visits to Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

It is the first time Lavrov has visited Harare since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power following long-time ruler Robert Mugabe's resignation in November.

Speaking to reporters in Angola's capital Luanda on Monday, Lavrov emphasized the role of international support on the continent, while also acknowledging the need for African solutions:

"We insist that African problems need African solutions, and the international community should respect the Africans' choice of resolving a conflict, and support them morally, politically and financially in training staff for peacekeeping operations, which Russia has been actively doing," he said.

Lavrov seated next to Namibian President Haqe Geingob
Lavrov (left) with Namibian President Hage Geingob (center) Image: imago/ITAR-TASS/A. Shcherbak

Africa's rising influence on the international stage

Yevgeniy Korendyasov from the Center for the Study of Russian-African Relations told DW that Africa's rapid development in recent years means it has an important future role to play in international relations — and Russia is very much aware of this.

"Modern-day Africa is a continent which is developing very fast," he said. "So its political and economic importance for international relations is increasing."

Korendyasov believes Russia's motives for maintaining good relations with African nations stem at least partly from a need for natural resources.

"Russia controls about 30 percent of natural resources. Africa also controls about 30 percent," he says. "Collaboration [between Africa and Russia] in this area is already significant. But Russia is struggling with a shortage of mineral resources, manganese, chrome and uranium."

A smiling Lavrov with the Angolan foreign minister
Lavrov also met with his Angolan counterpart Manuel AugustoImage: imago/ITAR-TASS/A. Shcherbak

Re-affirming Soviet African ties

Lavrov's tour also appears to have an interest in re-establishing former Soviet-era ties with African states — in particular with Ethiopia, with which Russia has long-standing diplomatic relations dating back to the 19th century.

Ethiopia's ambassador to Russia, Grum Abay, says more still needs to be done in order to maintain the relationship in decades to come, especially when it comes to trade.

"Our ideas of trade are not geared to having more products available in our country," he said. "Ethiopian companies have problems understanding the Russian market. So far, Russia does not show enough interest in the African and Ethiopian markets. So we need to work on that in the future."

Lavrov's visit to Africa coincides with the first visit to the continent by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Philipp Sander contributed to this article