By Paul Ndiho

The first Russia-Africa Summit at the Black Sea resort of Sochi opened a new chapter in relations between Moscow and the African continent. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted African leaders for a summit aimed at boosting economic ties with Africa.

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Speaking at an extraordinary first-ever Russia-Africa summit, in the southern Russian resort of Sochi Russian President Vladimir Putin said he wanted to trade with the continent to double over the next four to five years.  He announced that Moscow had written off over $20 billion of African debts.

    “Our country is taking part in an initiative to ease the debt burden on African countries. The total sum of debt written off currently amounts to 20 billion dollars.

Trade between Russia and Africa has more than doubled in the past five years to more than $20 billion. Putin said Russia would be looking to “double this trade, at least” within the next four to five years.

Moscow was a crucial player in Africa in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders.

The first Russia-Africa summit is part of a Kremlin drive to win business and restore influence that faded after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, the Kremlin-backed leftist governments and movements across the continent throughout the Cold War.

Ladies and gentlemen, Africa is stepping into a new phase of its economic development, linked to a unique opportunity of the markets. Industrial potential and digitalization of Africa are on the increase, which is a result of the creative efforts of our nations and the policy of the states that encourage the aspiration of the people.”

Putin congratulated Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on winning the Nobel Peace Prize this month, hailing his efforts to make peace with long-time rival Eritrea and discussed cooperation in defense, education, and increased trade relations.

“I would like to thank the government of Russia for always standing alongside Ethiopia when it was forced to defend its independence and sovereignty. We acknowledge Russia as a key partner in our development, and Ethiopia wants to strengthen this cooperation further.”

President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, said his country is keen to strengthen the relations between the two countries.

“It’s the reason that we are here in Russia because we want to strengthen the relations between our two countries. You spoke about an investment that still needs to increase, and we are takers; we are here to drive Russia’s interest in our country.”

Analysts say Russia is Africa’s largest arms supplier. Currently Russia has military cooperation agreements with more than 30 African nations and says it wants to help in combating extremism, including exchanging information between their security agencies. .

Critics say the summit is, in many ways borrowing from China’s playbook. Even though Russia cannot match China’s economic might, it is prepared to support African leaders with controversial rights records in exchange for access to the continent’s riches.

In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama hosted dozens of African leaders in Washington DC to discuss trade, business opportunities, and security issues. A $33 billion trade and investment pact was announced to spur African development and support tens of thousands of American jobs. There were also significant new commitments to fund the Power Africa initiative.

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