Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: We are needed in Africa, and we need Africa

Literally a week before Africa Day (May 25), NTV aired the premiere of the Tourist film, which caused enthusiastic responses from the viewers. The film was made very professionally, and the actors did their best. But, in my opinion, its value lies somewhere else.

This is almost a documentary film about a team of Russian military advisers who found themselves at the epicentre of an attempted coup in the Central African Republic. But the film is not an action thriller as such, although there are enough battle scenes in it. This is a story about how Russian soldiers oppose an attempt to destroy another country under the pretext of "democratization". It is the essence of the film for me. And the fact that the action takes place in Africa only adds to its relevance.
I noticed that some critics have already started to repeat the old mantra: “Well, why should we be there in the first place?” They have been trying to poison our society with similar questions for a long time. Yes, our country is always aiding states and peoples, protecting them from destruction by ill-wishers. But Africa is a special story.

As the head of FIDE, one of my top priorities was the revival of the popularity of chess. It was then that I drew attention to the African continent. I was puzzled that in such a huge continent inhabited by many people (almost one and a half billion), chess practically is not played. Why is that? After all, you do not need either expensive equipment or gear to play chess. A self-drawn piece of cardboard and a set of pieces, even if they are homemade, are enough.
To understand what was the matter, I decided to examine the situation on the spot and went to Africa. Looking ahead, I may say that everything turned out to be not so bad: after solving several organizational and technical problems African chess began to develop quite rapidly. In the end, it was from this experience that the FIDE programmes "Chess in the Villages" and "Chess in Families" were born, and that is where they were successfully tested. As a result, the Supreme Sports Council in Africa seems to have included chess in the list of sports in the continental Olympic Games for the first time in history. Then our favourite game appeared in the programmes of the Pan-Asian and Pan-American championships. But, most importantly, I just fell in love with this continent and the people living here.
Since the mid-nineties, to this day, I have not missed a single opportunity to visit Africa. Observing with my own eyes the development of the countries of this continent, I can say with confidence that during this time the Africans have made a convincing leap in socio-economic development. The general educational and professional level has grown noticeably, and I sometimes warn business acquaintances that many African entrepreneurs can give them a head start in business.
Therefore, I am somewhat surprised that some ethnographers and sociologists are still looking for the reasons for the "backwardness" of African peoples in some national, climatic, and geographical features. We must not forget that Africa was the cradle of humanity, and that, long before Rome, powerful empires flourished in Africa: not only Egypt, but also those now forgotten, the fragments of which we began to find relatively recently, and which have not yet been appreciated.
We must not forget the pressure that more aggressive and developed neighbours exerted on African peoples for centuries. European and later American colonialists who, since the middle of the 19th century, have been rapaciously raking up the resources of the continent and destroying its nature. For the sake of achieving their interests, the colonialists exploited African peoples for centuries, artificially supporting interethnic and interreligious strife, cultivating corruption, etc. Today, such activities are clothed in beautiful words about democracy, tolerance, and other things but they are still the same.
About two years ago, I was lucky to participate in the Russia-Africa summit, which caused a great stir all over the world. The forum then gathered over six thousand participants, and its central event was the speech of Russian President Vladimir Putin. For me, it was something like the fulfilment of an old dream, because for the first time in many years (if not in history at all), our relations with the countries of this continent reached such a high level.
I am deeply convinced that Africa, whose economy, according to experts, will grow by at least six percent annually, can become the same driving engine of development that China once became. Moreover, such development can be based not only on the banal mining of minerals, a great variety of which is found here in large volumes. There are good prospects here for the development of agriculture, industry (including high technologies), and tourism.
Therefore, I see my personal strategic task in promoting these opportunities and attracting business here. Moreover, not only Russian. At one time, I brought the managers of Royal Group to Zimbabwe, who became interested in local lithium deposits and are already successfully developing cooperation with this country. I introduced Nathan Rothschild to the economy of Libya and other countries. And I have brought Russian entrepreneurs interested in Africa dozens of times here.
After the Sochi summit, our relations received a powerful impetus for sustainable development. As a result, the International Sovereign Development Agency (IASD) and the Association for Economic Cooperation with African Countries (AECA) were created. If the first is focused on helping developing countries (primarily African) in economy’s recovery by introducing transparent and understandable rules of conducting business, the second is entirely focused on promoting the interests of Russian business in this region.
If we intend to stay at the forefront of economic development, we cannot do without cooperation with African states. According to many experts, the current century may well become the "African century". However, this cooperation should not be based on the same principles that are used by Western countries.
Yes, Africa needs loans, food, weapons, but something else is much more needed here: knowledge, technology, preservation, and development of a distinctive culture with organic integration into world culture. This approach that will create a solid foundation for long-term mutually beneficial cooperation. The next century may be "African", but the countries of the continent need not self-interested but friendly help.
Now the Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing for the second Russia-Africa summit. The participants agreed that the first meeting will be held in Sochi, the second should take place in one of the African countries.
As far as I know, one of the most likely candidates for hosting the summit was Addis Ababa. And suddenly the United States, out of the blue is imposing sanctions against Ethiopia allegedly for fighting the separatists in Tigray province. Meanwhile, State Department officials at local embassies are urging African governments to refuse to attend the summit altogether.
Well, no one promised that it would be easy to return to Africa after a thirty-year absence. Nevertheless, I am confident that our mutual interest in cooperation will be able to overcome all obstacles.