Not only tractors. Overview of Belarus prospects in Africa in wake of Lukashenko’s visit to Zimbabwe
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Zimbabwe in early 2023. The first visit of the Belarusian leader to the country of “stone houses” was a state one. It is the highest protocol status of a visit in diplomatic terms. In this episode of BelTA’s YouTube project After the Fact: Lukashenko’s Decisions we will find out why Belarus continues fighting for African markets, what flagship projects have already been launched in southern countries and why Aleksandr Lukashenko encouraged world leaders to invest not in weapons but in the development of the African continent.
How did Belarus help Africa in the anti-colonial fight?
Belarus has been cooperating with countries of the African continent since the Soviet times. When the countries started becoming independent in the 1960s, Belarusian diplomats participated in a discussion of Congolese events within the framework of the UN General Assembly.
The declaration of independence by Belgian Congo caused a most acute international crisis.
The Belarusian delegation described the situation in this African country as “aggression of Western powers”, “an act designed to restore the colonial regime”. The diplomats pointed out economic reasons behind the West’s interest in Congo: the USA accounted for 60% of Congo’s export of cobalt, 64% of manganese export, 87% of diamond export, and nearly 100% of the export of uranium ore and lithium. Industrialists from Belgium, Western Germany, and other countries also participated in the exploitation of natural riches of “the heart of Africa”.
Moreover, the American mission prepared a report for the U.S. Senate in 1956. The document read that access to raw materials for the sake of satisfying strategic needs is the goal of the United States of America in Africa. Contrariwise, the Belarusian SSR just like the entire Soviet Union spoke in favor of independence and territorial integrity of African states. Nothing has changed in Belarus’ approaches decades later.
“We are also trying to advance in the African direction very carefully, accurately. We don’t need much. We need only so much as to allow our nation to live a normal life. We are going to draft our foreign policy with this in mind. Belarus’ calm foreign policy, which is aimed at equal cooperation and mutual benefits, guarantees that the circle of our partners will continue expanding and the Belarusian nation will get ever more tangible benefits from it,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed in his address to the nation and the parliament back in 2014.
In a recent statement during the visit to Zimbabwe Aleksandr Lukashenko said: “We deeply respect and are grateful to the people of Zimbabwe. I’d like to emphasize that we go to Africa not for the sake of bringing some illusive democratic values. We go in order to work together with your leaders for the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe.”
What do Belarus and Africa trade in?
Belarus has been persistently stepping up its presence on the African continent since the country became independent. The Republic of Belarus has established diplomatic relations with 51 out of 54 countries of Africa. The first Belarusian diplomatic missions were opened in Egypt and the Republic of South Africa. At present Belarus has five diplomatic missions on this continent: Nigeria, Kenya, and Zimbabwe have been added to Egypt and South Africa. They became a backbone network for continued work in this region.
Persistent efforts to penetrate the African market have produced results. In 2021 Belarus’ trade with African countries amounted to $500 million. Belarus’ export was close to $480 million. Belarus exports agricultural machines, trucks, mining vehicles, and metallurgical products to Africa.
Head of the Africa and Middle East Office of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuri Nikolaichik said: “The expansion of the network of diplomatic missions matches guidelines of the head of state, who believes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should primarily focus on economic diplomacy, on promoting the trade and economic component of our cooperation. And respectively, since we expand presence, we see prospects for stepping up bilateral interaction in concrete countries of this continent. Not only in terms of net export but also with regard to manufacturing cooperation.”
An assembly enterprise of the Minsk-based tractor factory MTZ was opened in Alexandria, Egypt in January 2017. MTZ is now exploring the market of the Republic of South Africa. It is quite possible that the assembly of Belarusian tractors under a local brand may begin there soon. Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ trademark) is also working on its own projects in Egypt.
Cooperation with remote countries, which include countries of Asia and Latin America in addition to African countries, has become a priority of Belarus’ foreign policy for a reason. Belarus inherited a powerful and science-intensive economy from the Soviet Union and had to reach out to various parts of the planet in order to sell all the goods it produced.
“It is not our ‘fault and disaster’ that due to internal reasons we have to be present in the great South, in Europe, in Russia, and other large countries, even in Africa and Latin America. It is a gift we’ve inherited from the Soviet Union. Although this great economy, the science-intensive, wise, smart economy that Belarus had is a heavy gift. It is huge. I could even say it is excessive for our population, for our state. But since we decided that we are not going to step it down, that, on the contrary, we are going to develop it, we are forced to operate in various parts of our planet. We don’t go there as tourists. We go there to accomplish specific goals. And we are invited to go there. It means we are needed,” the head of state noted at a government conference with heads of Belarus’ diplomatic missions in 2004.
There is another reason for Belarus to cooperate with Africa as well as with other traditional partners in current conditions. Belarus’ lost exports to Western countries and Ukraine have to be compensated for by stepping up presence on the markets of Russia, China, countries of the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Belarusian authorities intend to increase shipments to African countries by 10% in 2023. The important African partners that buy Belarusian goods include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Algeria, Egypt, and Kenya.
What did Lukashenko encourage the West to do?
Aleksandr Lukashenko went on visits to Egypt and Sudan several years ago. Belarus’ relations with Libya also developed actively in the past, however, the process was hindered by a civil war and political instability in that country partially due to the West’s interference in Libya’s domestic affairs. Belarus shares mutual interests with other African countries, too. Taking into account the steadily high growth of the developing economies the significance of Belarus’ presence on the African market only grows higher.
“Only lazy people don’t go to Africa today. There are opportunities for every business person over there. I am convinced the development of our planet is impossible without the involvement of the African continent in it. The main resources and reserves of the Earth are there. It is very unfair that Africa is at this level of development today. It is below Europe’s and this injustice is starting to be fixed now,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted nearly ten years ago as he accepted credentials from ambassadors of foreign nations.
All the world leaders starting with the United States of America, China, and Russia are now literally fighting for presence in the South African region. This attention to African countries is self-explanatory. Which means it is necessary to settle down on these markets seriously and for good. It is what Belarus intends to accomplish by advancing relations with Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe adopted a policy in favor of modernizing its agriculture several years ago. Belarus’ experience came in handy. In 2018-2022 the Belarusian tractor factory MTZ shipped over 1,800 vehicles to Zimbabwe. Belarus did not simply sell tractors and parts for tractors to Zimbabwe. Belarusians also trained local farmers how to operate and maintain these vehicles. During the business forum held in Harare in the run-up to Aleksandr Lukashenko’s visit to Zimbabwe the Belarusian tractor factory MTZ made a deal to ship over 3,500 tractors to Zimbabwe in 2023-2024.
Belarus is now in negotiations with Zimbabwe on setting up kind of a hub in Africa for selling Belarusian products. Local producers cannot satisfy the population’s demand. Food, machines, vehicles, equipment, clothes, and fertilizers are in short supply. And Belarus can offer all these goods.
Zimbabwe First Vice President Constantino Chiwenga attended the business forum’s opening ceremony. He and the industry and commerce minister sampled Belarusian ice cream there. By the way, orange juice squeezed from Zimbabwean fruits was added to the ice cream. The resulting treat already represents a fruit of cooperation of the two countries. As they say, things took off from there.
“There are plenty of opportunities in Zimbabwe to invest in a wide variety of industries. These are agriculture, mining, tourism, energy, transport, education and many others. I ask our partners from Belarus to consider opportunities to invest in our enterprises, because in this country our priority is to facilitate the conditions for doing business. Today I was glad to learn that our Belarusian partners are ready to invest in the development of industrial cooperation with Zimbabwe,” Constantino Chiwenga said.
African countries could use such an attitude on the part of Western states. This is why Aleksandr Lukashenko encouraged the latter not to invest in new weapons but support the African continent. He said: “They have scalped and brought entire Africa to its knees. Those people are slaves of transnational Western companies. They work for them for a song. Inequality is the main reason. This is why Europeans, Americans, Chinese, and Russians should open their wallets and invest in these countries instead of weapons. They should create a normal situation over there. Everything can grow in Africa.”
Why are Belarus and Zimbabwe interesting for each other?
Although Zimbabwe is not a rich country in economic terms, it is home to people, who are very glad and ready to cooperate with the Belarusian private sector. This is why the Belarusian president was welcomed there in a particularly warm and picturesque manner – with dances, drums, and a crocodile. People had a toy crocodile in their hands for a reason. Zimbabwe’s leader is sometimes referred to as the Crocodile: he got the nickname back in the days of the anti-colonial war for his propensity for decisive action, toughness and political acumen.
Belarus has something to offer to Zimbabwean partners in addition to the projects that are already in progress. Such as trucks, passenger vehicles, road construction and maintenance machines, consumer goods, food, pharmaceutical products, and many other things. President of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Mike Kamungeremu stated that his country had benefitted hugely from bilateral relations with Belarus in various industries. Those are agriculture, mining, power engineering, infrastructure development, science, technologies, and innovations. It is no surprise that Minsk and Harare have been twinned after that.
Belarus is also interested in the products Zimbabwe makes. Moreover, as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union Belarus is ready to act as a bridge between Eurasia and Africa’s south.
The African market has a great potential for Belarusian goods and services. It is primarily true for agricultural technologies. From 60% to 80% of the population in African countries are employed in agribusiness. This is why modernization and mechanization of agribusiness, efforts to ensure food security play an important role there. Particularly in today’s crisis conditions.
Head of the Africa and Middle East Office of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuri Nikolaichik said: “Apart from that, they are interested in technologies, our advances in this sphere, including IT related ones, control over crops, control over herds, other technologies that we have. There is no doubt that the mining industry is promising for us. Belarusian mining vehicles are known over there. People over there drive the vehicles. Apart from that, there is a demand for education services. About 1,600 people from African countries are students in Belarus at present. The Education Ministry together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies puts persistent efforts into increasing the number of African students, who study medical professions, technical professions, and agricultural professions here.”
What did the presidents of Belarus and Zimbabwe agree on?
As a result of negotiations Aleksandr Lukashenko and Emmerson Mnangagwa agreed that investment projects and manufacturing cooperation projects would become the foundation for continuing the cooperation.
The Belarusian head of state said: “In the area of the production sector, trade, agriculture, power engineering, transport, and mining of mineral resources. We have also agreed that these contracts and our arrangements that we have secured today will become the foundation for our continued cooperation.”
The next morning printed mass media actively quoted Aleksandr Lukashenko’s words, who had spoken up about actions of the West in no uncertain terms. The president remarked that Zimbabwe has rich mineral resources, this is why no one will allow this country to live a calm life. It is one of the reasons behind the sanctions. “Americans introduced sanctions against you not because you are not democratic. But because you’ve decided to take your country and mineral resources under control. You do not let various vagabonds and frauds use your mineral resources. It is the reason behind the sanctions. Like in the past centuries they are once again trying to bring you to your knees. But the president and the government of Zimbabwe do not want that. Hence the sanctions,” he said.
“You will be subjected to stronger efforts to sow discord in your society, to bring you to your knees. But you have to endure. And you will endure if you are united, if you do not allow clashes between your own people inside the country due to some geopolitical ambitions or illusory promises of the West and America,” the Belarusian leader stressed. “We have to get past this complicated period in the life of our planet no matter what. Preserve peace! If you cannot do it, you will be subjected to colonial oppression once again.”
A tidbit of interesting information at the end. Zimbabwe is geographically located between the Zambezi River and the Limpopo River. Yes, the very Limpopo River that Doctor Aibolit from the well-known fairytale by Kornei Chukovsky wanted to go to in order to help his patients. If you remember the fact, Zimbabwe may not seem like such a distant country anymore. On the contrary, it may seem a close one and even a native one because the fairytale comes from your childhood.