Russia–Africa: Prospects For Cooperation In Energy – Interview

The Russian Energy Week International Forum is a key global platform for discussing current trends in the development of modern energy sector. This event is traditionally held at the highest level, featuring the participation of leaders from the largest companies in the energy industry. In 2023, the forum attracted over 3,000 participants from more than 80 foreign countries. 

On the sidelines of the forum, NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the South Africa based African Energy Chamber, acknowledged in an exclusive interview that Africa is developing as the fastest growing energy market in the world. That however, substantial investment and infrastructure development are required to realize this market potential. In the interview, NJ Ayuk further explained necessary steps African countries are adopting to ensure sustainable energy development, how the activities of Russian companies fit into this context, as well as existing challenges and financial support measures for projects in the energy sector across Africa. Here are the excerpts of the discussion:

After participating in the Russian Energy Week in mid-October, what are your objective views (especially during the special Russia-Africa energy sessions) about exploring business and investment in the energy sector with Russia?  

There lies significant opportunities for both bi- and multilateral cooperation between Russia and African countries. Russia represents the third largest oil producer worldwide and has effectively utilized its substantial gas reserves for the development of its economy. At the same time, the country is exploring renewable energy solutions and is looking at expanding its footprint in other markets worldwide. 

With substantial expertise and resources in various energy domains, lessons learnt by Russia will be highly strategic for emerging oil and gas producers in Africa. And already, there is strong interest by both sides to foster strong ties and partnerships, evident during the Russian Energy Week this October. Russian companies such as Gazprom – which organized an event with the African Energy Chamber this year in South Africa – represent ‘global energy companies’, and as such are eager to play a greater role in investing and developing international markets. Gazprom has vast expertise is all segments of the value chain. The same can be said for Russia’s state-owned Rosatom. Africa represents both a strategic and highly attractive market in this regard. With over 125 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, 620 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and unparalleled solar, wind and hydro potential, the continent has all the ingredients to become a major global players. 

What Africa needs to unlock the full potential of its energy resources is investment and technological expertise. Russia offers both. Now, what is left is for Africa to improve its business environment and prioritize engagement with its East European partner.   

By the way, how do you estimate Russia’s engagement in the energy sector across Africa? What has been achieved over the past few years in Africa?  

Russia’s engagement with Africa has been gradually growing over the years and we see this predominantly in the energy sector. For years, there have been strong trade and cooperative ties with countries such as South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria and many more, primarily in the food, machinery and chemical product industries. However, cooperation in energy has presented newfound opportunities for both Russia and the African continent. Changes in global supply-demand dynamics, coupled with energy transition impacts, have led to new focus placed on the strategic Russia-Africa partnership. 

In recent years, Russian companies have advanced their engagement with Africa, with several agreements signed across various segments of the value chain. While historical ties have been largely trade-based, these agreements showcase a commitment by the country to expand its technological expertise worldwide. In the nuclear industry, for example, Russia’s Rosatom has signed a wave of agreements with burgeoning nuclear power producers in Africa. These include memoranda of understanding signed with South Africa in 2014 and 2023; Rwanda in 2019; Burkina Faso in October 2023; Burundi in July 2023; and Mali in October 2023. Additional agreements were signed with Zimbabwe and Uganda. And while oil and gas engagement has been minimal to date, going forward, a shift in priorities is expected to see Russia-African cooperation rapidly expand.   

Do you think Russia lacks behind in supporting Africa with energy compared to other external players such as China? Can ‘energy mix’ help to drive Africa’s industrialization and economic growth?  

It is not about comparing support but rather about exploring future engagement and partnerships. Russia has been a strong partner for Africa for many years and will be an important part of Africa’s energy future. Russia is looking at playing a much larger role in Africa, going further than operating as a project developer. The country’s efforts to share insights, expertise and technology will represent a key driver of Africa’s future energy mix, which in itself is an important feature for alleviating energy poverty and industrializing the continent. Africa is promoting a diverse, inclusive energy mix, one in which oil, gas and renewable energy play a central role. Russia has been highly successful in this area, with natural gas and nuclear making up a significant portion of its energy matrix. In the same sense, African countries have all the resources needed to implement a diverse energy mix, and Russian support will be strategic in achieving this objective.   

Is Russia participating in the formation of the proposed African Energy Bank? And finally what potentials are there to develop this sphere of energy business especially with heightening dynamics of the global situation?  

The African Energy Bank is an initiative spearheaded by the African Petroleum Producers Organization and the African Export-Import Bank that aims to significantly improve access to financing for African oil and gas projects. The bank is an Africa-led energy transition strategy that takes into account Africa’s need for oil and gas. Support from major players such as Russia will be critical, strengthening the bank’s capacity to finance a new future of hydrocarbon development in Africa. The changing global energy situation calls for the establishment of an institution of this nature. Africa has long-relied on foreign finance to develop large-scale energy projects. From oil to natural gas to power and infrastructure, the continent is faced with navigating the complexities of global market trends. The establishment of the bank aims to counter this reliance, offering an alternative for project developers, countries and companies seeking finance.