On 28 February 2020, AfREC Postgraduate Fellow and PhD candidate in the School of Social Sciences, Tinashe Jakwa, participated in a conference at the People’s Friendship University of Russia (RUDN), Moscow, on Africa and the Formation of the New System of International Relations.
The conference saw attendance from renowned scholars in African Studies, including Professors Molefi K. Asante (Temple University), Ian Taylor (University of St Andrews), Padraig Carmody (Trinity College Dublin), Patrick Bond (University of the Western Cape), Timothy Shaw (University of Massachusetts), and Kasaija Apuuli (Makerere University). Also in attendance were the Director of the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), Dr Irina Abramova, Deputy Director of the RAS, Dr Leonid Futuni, and the Honorary President of the RAS, Dr Alexey Vasiliev, amongst others.
The opening addresses were delivered by Professor Nur Kirabaev, the Vice-Rector of RUDN University and Professor Steve Davies Ugbah, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Russia. While acknowledging the various challenges confronting the African continent, the latter spoke against the tendency to characterise Africa as a “failed” continent or “basket case” given the ways in which these categorisations bedevil the continent. His Excellency also emphasised the need, on the part of the continent’s leadership, to stop attributing the continent’s challenges to its colonial legacy, a point which Prof. Ian Taylor responded to in the first session by emphasising that decolonisation on the continent has been “stalled” and remains an ongoing project.
Ms Jakwa presented her paper ‘Rethinking state theory through an African lens’, which articulates a new approach to the study of statism and understandings of the causes of socio-political crises on the African continent. The paper was presented as part of the first session which focused on examining the continent’s experiences with/of decolonisation in terms of the past, present, and future. During the same session, Dr Konstantin Pantserev’s highlighted the ways in which information dependence is the new form of neo-colonialism in the 21st century, while emphasising the need for a New International Informational Order (NIIO) that can enable the African continent to address many of the challenges it confronts. Dr Pantserev emphasised that the NIIO would represent “a global solution for a global problem” rather than an African solution to an African problem.
The second session, chaired by Prof. Patrick Bond and Dr Alexey Vasiliev, saw a discussion of the ways in which different emerging powers engage with the African continent, namely Russia, China, India, and Brazil. Moreover, it placed the strategies of these powers with those of the United States and the European Union. As part of the discussion, Dr Tatyana Deych emphasised the need to use the term “southern powers” in lieu of “emerging powers” given the major ways in which non-Western powers are shaping and transforming the global system and international relations. Her call was echoed by Dr Evgeniy Grachikov who cautioned that we should not use the term “neo-colonialist” with reference to “southern powers” and, namely, China, given the country’s own history with colonisation as well as not having previously been a colonial power on the African continent. This highlighted a significant difference in how scholars located in different parts of the world perceive the nature of China-Africa relations.
One of the final sessions of the conference which was chaired by Prof. Kasaija Apuuli, focused on conflicts and peacekeeping in Africa. Speakers examined the ways in which the African Union (AU) is implementing its norm of non-indifference, cooperation and coordination of efforts between the AU and UN, the causes of conflicts on the African continent, as well as Russia’s conflict mediation efforts on the continent. The latter, presented by Dr Sergey Kostelyanets highlighted de-isolation (political, economic, diplomatic), geopolitical competition, the need to gain influence through new partnerships, and counter-terrorism as motivating Russia’s “peace diplomacy” on the continent.
Overall, Ms Jakwa found the conference to have been very insightful and important for strengthening engagement with Russia-based scholars. The conference was well-organised and RUDN University’s generous support enabled Ms Jakwa’s attendance who is grateful for the warm reception she received from the organisers and volunteers and, in particular, Mr Nikita Kuklin and Ms Olinda Kembel.