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From Russia with love

The Russia-Africa Summit which took place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi recently has come and gone. And from all I gather, it was a successful event, aided no doubt by the sumptuous signature caviar, washed down with the best of vintage from the Crimea.

But to be transparently honest, I had my doubts. Not about Russia itself, but about the method. I am not comfortable with the idea of our African Union Heads of State and Government being, as it were, ritually “summoned” by world leaders to their capital for the sole purpose of being wooed as suitable brides. It leaves a sour taste.

At the same time, I have never for once been taken in by the Anti-Russia propaganda of the EU, NATO and the West. Perhaps I have read too much Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. Or it may be the fault of the religious thinkers Vladimir Soloviev and Vladimir Nikolayevich Lossky whose works I devoured as a teenager in the library of the missionary and theologian Rev. Dr. Johann Boer in Jos. Or perhaps it’s because of my patron Saint Seraphim of Sarov. And my love for the poets Pasternak, Gumilev, Akhmatova and the immortal Mandelstam.

Russia is not only a nation; it is a civilisation. It is the largest country on earth, with a sprawling landmass of 17 million sq. km. It has a population of 146 million and a GDP of $1.283 trillion and a per capita income of $12,000. It is a middle-ranking economic power; but she is also a nuclear power with a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. It has the world’s largest gas reserves, in addition to humongous deposits of petroleum. Russia indeed possesses 20 percent of the world’s total natural resources, including iron, copper, aluminium, gold, chromium and silver, phosphates, diamonds, coal, and amber. Despite Chernobyl, the country is a world leader in nuclear science. Russian scientists and mathematicians are among the greatest in the world.

Russia and Africa go back a long way. Few among us know, for example, that the country’s national poet-laureate is of African origin. Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was the great grandson of an Eritrean former slave who served in the royal courts of Emperor Peter the Great. Pushkin was a genius – the Shakespeare and Baudelaire of the Russian language.

Russia was never a part of the infamous nineteenth century European Scramble for Africa. Philosophers of history will continue to debate the spiritual meaning and legacy of Soviet communism from 1917 to 1989. One thing history testifies is that without the support of the defunct Soviet Union and their Cuban allies, the liberation of Southern Africa would have been so much more difficult. The Soviets also trained thousands of African doctors, engineers and scientists. They also stood by us during our tragic civil war. Despite opposition from Western powers and their development finance institutions, the Soviets took up the gauntlet with regards to development of Ajaokuta Steel.

I have always been a strong advocate of nuclear energy for our country. The nuclear option seems to me the most viable for ensuring Electricity for All in our country, especially as our population is forecast to reach 410 million by 2050

Russia is not exactly a democracy as understood in the classic liberal tradition. From Catherine the Great to Tsar Nicholas II, Stalin and Andropov, there has never been such a thing as a liberal-minded Russian democratic leader. One of the few who reinvented himself as a liberal reformer – Mikhail Gorbachev – was brought down speedily. The country is much too vast and its social structure much too complex to allow for liberal traditions of governance and leadership. Indeed, providing security and defence against covetous neighbours in an open-plan, almost landlocked country with vast natural resources, has always been a nightmare for generations of Russia’s leaders. This explains their instinctive paranoia. It also partly explains why Russian citizens seem to have a collective preference for Alpha Men as leaders. Any display of weakness and you are out!

To all intents and purposes, Vladimir Putin fits the bill. A former KGB operative, he is a man of action rather than words. The few he spits out are terse and guarded. A deep thinker, who understands the world and Russia’s place in it. He has dealt brutally with the Islamists. He does not take prisoners and certainly does not negotiate with terrorists.

A recent convert to the Orthodox faith, his reign has been marked by a renaissance of spirituality throughout the villages and towns of this incredible country. A few years ago, he made the pilgrimage to Mount Athos in Greece, indisputably the holiest sanctuary of Christianity in the world. Vladimir Putin has taken a firm moral stand against same-sex marriage. A classical scholar recently remarked that even among the Greeks and Romans where homosexuality was widely practised, they were wise enough not to legitimize same-sex marriage. Putin would insist that allowing people of the same-sex to marry and extending that privilege to the right to marry one’s dog and cat is to spell doom for civilization as we have always known it.

But there are several daunting challenges. Africans and Russians virtually parted ways since the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1989. We would have to relearn each other’s ways all over again. It is in the nature of human friendships that they atrophy and die if not watered continually by gestures of love and affection. Some of the most virulent forms of anti-black racism are, sadly, prevalent in the New Russia. It is an irony of history that millions of Russians died defending their country from Adolf Hitler and the Nazi fascists, only to find themselves today surrounded by home-grown neo-Nazi skinheads.

Russia is also sitting on a demographic time-bomb. The family institution is in crisis while the population is aging and rapidly shrinking. Millions of blue-eyed Siberian blondes are living lives of quiet desperation because there are no men to marry them. The population is forecast to decline from 146 million to 111 million by 2050. Perhaps it was for this reason that the government recently granted asylum to 15,000 South African Boer farmers that are being resettled in the agricultural farmlands of the South. Over-dependence on fossil fuels has weakened Russia’s economic position to a status that is only marginally better than a third world country. The biggest challenge by far is translating human capital and innovation into diversified products and services for world markets.

We warmly welcome Russia’s efforts to reintegrate herself into the ranks of civilised nations, even if this means courting Africa as the most suitable bride. Having suitors ranging from the EU to China and Japan strengthens our collective diplomatic bargaining position. We understand that the Nigerian delegation, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, has struck some important business deals from road construction to technical cooperation in agriculture and education; resuscitation of our defunct aluminium plant; investments in the oil and gas sector; rebuilding of Ajaokuta Steel; and, most importantly, development of nuclear energy for electricity.

I have always been a strong advocate of nuclear energy for our country. The nuclear option seems to me the most viable for ensuring Electricity for All in our country, especially as our population is forecast to reach 410 million by 2050. We have enough uranium in our country and in neighbouring Niger Republic to successfully accomplish this ambitious project. We could also make them an offer for subsidised uranium in exchange for free electricity. It will also require us setting up an elite National Institute of Technology to train at least 10,000 nuclear scientists and engineers. We should model it as the pre-eminent university of science and technology in our country at par with the Indian Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. If Muhammadu Buhari could solve this one challenge alone, Nigerians might forgive him the sheer agony of his disastrous misrule.


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