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Opinions of Friday, 18 August 2017

Columnist: Kester Kenn Klomegah in Moscow

Higher Truths: Africans eye Russia’s technology

For many official delegates, industrial directors and business people were attracted primarily due to the huge untapped potentials in Russia’s industrial technology and emerging economic opportunities showcased during the International Industrial Trade Fair dubbed “INNOPROM – 2017” held mid-July in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Urals region. INNOPROM – 2017 has been described as a unique communication platform showcasing latest developments of industrial technologies and facilitating discussions of relevant issues on development of the sector in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the official opening ceremony of the industrial fair which indicated explicitly that Russia is open to long-term, mutually beneficial industrial and technology partnership. "It is very important to see the actual efficiency of these technologies and their practical results, such as better labor conditions, increased productivity, reduced costs, contemporary levels of management, and, finally, increased competitiveness of Russian products, goods, and services," Putin said.

For the past few years, Russia has created comfortable possible conditions for investing in the Russian economy and industry – first and foremost, in infrastructure projects and high value-added manufacturing. The industrial exhibition is an annual gathering of key Russian and international manufacturers, government officials, businessmen, representatives of academic and diplomatic community. BRICS member states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) were prominently represented.

According media reports, this year’s industrial event brought together over 640 industrial companies from 20 countries. The main theme was “Smart Manufacturing: Global Approach” within which many topical issues were discussed and special regional forum such as s session on Russia-Africa, were held.

An increase in the number of African participants underscored a new level of interest in the industrial sector. The Russia Africa session attracted delegates from Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The South African Embassy in the Russian Federation together with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) mounted a stand, and SA Ambassador Simbada Thusi lead a delegation to the fair. A small delegation from Ghana including Chris Kisiedu (Director) and Bernard Blewu (Chief Operating Officer) from Centroid Supplies and Logistics Limited, and Evans Kojo Danyo (Chief Executive Officer) of EVANMIKE Multi purpose company Ltd were at the INNOPROM.

For most Africans, who were at Yekaterinburg in July, visited to experience for themselves the beautiful, fascinating and well-touching city, the venue for show-casing Russia’s science and technology. Some of them, however, told me in remarks that Africans seeking business partnership and other businesses have to travel and participate often in these first class international exhibitions and conferences hosted in Russia.

Ethiopian delegation led by His Excellency Dr. Alemu Sime, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia participated in the exhibition. The delegation has actively participated in the forum and has informed participants on the progress achieved so far in the structural transformation of Ethiopia.

Currently, Ethiopia is in structural transformation by focusing on industrialization and developing basic infrastructures – power, road, railways and water facilities. As a result, the economy has become sustainable and one of the fastest growing in the world for the last 15 years by registering a double-digit growth. Ethiopia is looking for enhanced partnership with Russian Federation private and public organizations in the field of energy, metallurgy, mineral exploration and mining, transfer of technology in which Russia excels. Ethiopia is also highly interested to accommodate Russian investors and technology to its export oriented manufacturing industry.

To enhance investments in this sub sector the Ethiopian Government has been developing industrial parks with proper locations, infrastructure, services as well as various incentives. Today many international known companies are directly investing in these parks and some countries are also establishing their own national parks. By informing this, the Ethiopian delegation has expressed its wishes to see Russian companies, participants of Innoprom-2017 in these parks or elsewhere in Ethiopia and all necessary supports will be given to them.

Optimism among Africans has been rising. “We highly value this as it offers us an insight into the scientific and landmarked achievements, and it is necessary to study emerging business opportunities. It’s very promising and if only African countries intensify the economic cooperation, more could be achieved with Russia,” James Thedelmiye, an African participant said.

In the opinion of Zimbabwean Ambassador Mike Sango, who also visited the fair, “INNOPROM has of recent included the Russia-Africa Forum on its sidelines. This Forum provides an opportunity for interaction between African and Russian business where they can establish contacts with a view to creating partnerships and investment in Africa. Apart from this interactive objective, INNOPROM exposes Africa to latest innovations in production technologies on display from global innovators. This helps them keep pace with these developments which if adopted can make their own products competitive on the global markets.”

As a further indication of optimism, Ambassador Sango explains that African ambassadors in the Russian Federation have been and continue to educate and inform their businesses that the west no longer holds monopoly over technological innovation and development as has been the perception in years past. For this reason, each year, the number of African governments and businesses attending the exhibition from Africa has been growing.

Zimbabwe has been to INNOPROM for the second year running. In 2016, the Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, Chiratidzo Iris Mabuwa, was at INNOPROM. This year the Minister, Mike Bimha, himself came leading a delegation from the energy sector, the mining sector, trade promotion and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe hopes to bring more business people at the next episode.

It was a wonderful experience for Rex Essenowo, Chairman of NIDO Russia, who explained in an interview that INNOPROM - 2017 proved that modernization is setting pace in Russia. Most of the technologies displayed are innovation and very suitable for Africa. As a global non-profit association, NIDO is the Nigerians in the Diaspora Organization.

“There are a lot more new Russian technologies with more emphasis on cost effectiveness, energy and ecological friendly which can also enable African countries develop her resources more effectively. It's always good to reach out and Russia remains a powerful link to providing soft landing solutions in heavy industries and other important economic development areas,” he said.

Essenowo suggested further that “We need to create new opportunities for African government and businesses to access and explore the Russian and the CIS markets. To this regard, we have to raise the level of awareness and expand our reach, so that African people can reap the dividend of international cooperation with creation of new jobs and solving technological problems, while developing our economies.”

For most African participants, the exhibition proves very useful for networking and discussing business and further serves as an important study platform useful for deepening knowledge about the modern industrial production and achievements already recorded in the economy and to seek possible ways of transacting business in Russia.

The B2B Export Group of Companies, the organizer of the African session that noted on its website that the VII Russian-African session held within the fair is “in the spirit of global integration the forum engages political, business, academy and other important thought leaders in collaborative efforts to shape trade and industry development between Russia and the African continent.” It pledges further to work together to define challenges, solutions and actions, always keeping in mind the best interests of our people and their needs for safety and prosperity. *Kelvin Dewey Stubborn contributed to this report.