By His Excellency Konstantin Kozhanov -
Russian Ambassador to Zambia
This year sees at least two mutually corresponding milestone events in terms of historical value and significance both to Zambia and Russia, two different countries, distinguished by unique timelines and agendas, having different approaches and ways of living, separated by thousands of miles of lands and oceans, but, nonetheless, learnt to co-exist in harmony, always as good friends and neighbours.
For every Zambian, October 24, is a paramount highlight of the year that marks the 50th Anniversary of the country’s independence and the rebirth of the country as the new free spirited democratic nation on Southern African soils, the event highly regarded by the former Soviet Union as the “wind of change” and as a token of much anticipated fair
and better future for the entire region.
To this point Zambia, like Russia or any other country, has travelled a long and twisted path through many highs and lows, but made it to sustain all major endurance tests, keeping afloat across several generations, retaining political stability and making a great stride in development. Eventually Zambia emerged as one of the increasingly vibrant economies on the continent, demonstrating in the new millennium impressive economic growth and high potential.
Yet today the country is widely recognised as a highly respectable, politically predictable, democratic and peace-loving nation, a serious player on the international scene undertaking enormous endeavours through endless diplomatic initiatives, world community efforts andnumerous peace-keeping missions striving to restore and promote peace in the war-torn and conflict-ridden African regions that, unlike Zambia, can hardly boast several decades in a row of sustainable national development beneath the clear blue skies.
And perhaps exactly this remarkably positive international image of Zambia heavily attributes to the importance attached by the Russian Federation to another glorious day in both countries’ histories that falls only a week after the Zambia’s Gold Jubilee.
The time-proven Diplomatic relations between Russia and Zambia were established through note exchange of October 30, 1964, shortly in the aftermath of Zambia’s Independence Day, whereas the Soviet Union was amongst the first nations to recognise the young republic and to commence on a half-century-old history of beneficial ties based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
As early as March the following year, Mr Sergey Slipchenko assumed office of the first Soviet Ambassador in Lusaka, whilst his peer, a very young and promising diplomat and future renowned veteran politician Dr Vernon Mwaanga was sworn in as the Zambian Ambassador to produce his credentials at the Grand Kremlin Palace in September.
The establishment of diplomatic relations has given rise to intensive official contacts through high-ranking missions, for example, a working visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics(USSR) of Mr Arthur Wina, the first Zambian Minister of Finance, in December 1965; or the Goodwill Mission to Moscow helmed by (late) Mr Reuben Chitandika Kamanga, the first Vice President of Zambia in August 1966, when, inter alia, a bilateral agreement on cultural cooperation was signed.
The intergovernmental Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation signed in May 1967 gave considerable boost to the development of bilateral activities in trade and economic sector. Particularly, yet in early 1968 our governments embarked (through respective agreement) on implementation of a number of power construction projects in the North-Western Province.
The Trade Agreement signed in Lusaka in December 1971 set forth the mutual provision of the most favoured nation treatment in bilateral trade and facilitated gradual build-up of shipments.
First Zambian President Dr Kenneth Kaunda has travelled to Moscow twice, first time with the official visit in November 1974 followed by a friendly working visit in November 1987.
In turn, Mr Nikolai Podgorny, USSR Chairperson of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet undertook a trip to Lusaka in March 1977 responding to the formal invitation conveyed by Dr Kaunda.
In their joint communiqué on the outcome of the Soviet leader’s visit, the two sides acknowledged the development of mutual relationships and beneficial cooperation in the air of friendship and based on the principles of equality, mutual respect of sovereign rights, territorial integrity and non-involvement in internal affairs.
It’s no longer a secret that during the late 70’s – early 80’s the significant amounts of bilateral economic cooperation have been mostly attributed to the Soviet massive technical and military aid, aircraft, arms and heavy equipment supplies totaling hundreds of millions dollars.
But what is the most essential in that regard is the vast contribution of the Soviet Union to shaping, development and strengthening of Zambian Defence Forces through the meticulous professional training of the cpountry’s military personnel.
In December 31, 1991, following the dissolution of Soviet Union, the Zambian Government led by the next (late) President Dr Frederick Chiluba officially recognised sovereignty of the Russian Federation as its legal successor. Afterwards, the subsequent official contacts went on through the exchange of parliamentary delegations, on ministerial and senior officials’ levels.
Notably, the delegates from both houses of the Russian Federal Assembly (i.e. State Duma and Federation Council) have paid a number of visits to Zambia between 2007 and 2008, in anticipation of the October 2008 meeting in Moscow of Mrs Mutale Nalumango (during her tenure as the Deputy Speaker) with Mr Alexander Saltanov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, where the parties praised coordination of efforts on the international scene and acknowledged the importance of Russian involvement in ongoing international activities aimed at settlement of social and economic issues and resolution of conflicts in the sub-Saharan region.
Later, in December 2010 the delegates of the Zambian Parliament attended the Moscow International Public Forum headlined as “the Role of People’s Diplomacy in Development of Humanitarian Cooperation” held a meeting with their colleagues from the Federation Council.
Following the September 2011 Zambian parliamentary and presidential elections Mr Dmitry Medvedev in his capacity as the Russian President, sent a cable of greetings to the Patriotic Front leader Mr Michael Chilufya Sata on the occasion of his election as the new Head of State. In his address, Mr Medvedev indicated impetuous development of friendly Russian-Zambian relations seen as a strong foundation for further promotion of multifaceted cooperation, comprising political dialog, reciprocity in trade and economic as well as cultural and humanitarian areas for the benefit of strengthening stability and security on the African continent.
In this regard, it is worthwhile to admit that the volumes of economical and technical cooperation that grew rapidly in the heydays of the late 60’s through the early to mid 80’s, later, due to known social-economic and political turmoil at different times and with different intensity experienced by both Zambia and USSR (which ultimately led to the latter’s dismissal), began to fade and gradually reduced to irregular, random and poorly diversified shipments, the situation, which doesn’t do justice to the abundant resources and rich economic potentials of both countries, obviously cannot serve to the their respective interests and definitely awaits close scrutiny.
Yet in August of 2001 the Russian Federation undertook (through the respective G2G agreement) to write off as much as 80 per cent of the Zambian debt obligations under the credits earlier granted by the former USSR consolidated as of March 31, 1999 in the amount of some US$700million. The outstanding balance in the excess of $138million, was supposed to be reimbursed in deferred installments within the further 33 years. However five years later, in 2006 Russia indicated intentions to entirely cancel the debt of Zambia (among other 15 countries eligible for the debt relief programme under the HIPC Initiative).
To these ends, under the respective G2G agreement (on utilisation of debt obligations towards the Russian Federation for funding of development projects in Zambia) signed in February 2011, all further payments effected in reimbursement of the outstanding balance to the amount of $99.2million (with the interest no longer accrued to the principal debt) consolidated as of late 2006, arrive to a special account exclusively used to finance a variety of development projects in Zambia aimed at curbing poverty, development of energy, healthcare and social security, increasing accessibility and quality of education and so on. The specific projects coordinated between the Russian and Zambian relevant authorities correspond to the projections of the Zambia’s Sixth National Development Plan (2011-2015).
The implementation of this agreement opens up new opportunities for the expansion of trade, economic and investment cooperation between the two countries.
Considering obvious mutual interest more and more often expressed by the local and Russian entrepreneurs in identification and development of both countries potentials for bilateral economic cooperation, in the next several years we expect a progressive Russian “come back” to the Zambian market, starting from small niches that may be immediately laying on the surface, and stepping up further to more serious undertakings.
Today a number of Russian investors that identify the African region as one of the most prioritised markets have been paving their way to different sectors of Zambian economy, just to name a few:
•AGRIBIOTECH, a Russian-Zambian JV developing a cutting edge manufacturing facility to produce microbiological fertilisers in Kapiri Mposhi District (Central Province);
• CDP Investments, an investment arm of the Russian development firm ‘Renaissance Properties’ involved in the construction of high profile real estate project (Roma Park Business Park in Lusaka);
• PROGNOZ, a Russian software company that established its presence in Zambia since the year of 2012 through a representative office in Lusaka and engaged in development of a network of governmental web-portals;
• ROSAGROBIOPROM, a Russian biotechnological company, developing under the ongoing arrangements with the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock a project in the field of veterinary medicine and biological security;
•TOUCH4PAY, a subsidiary of Russian processing services provider promoting micropayment kiosks system in Lusaka. But the longest lasting and perhaps the most significant and socially important area, a “center stage” of the Russian-Zambian cooperation, cementing the bonds of friendship for all these years, is undeniably the sector of education, where Russia is unrivalled to any other Zambian overseas partners.
Yet back in 1973 our governments signed the Protocol on Recognition of Qualifications and Academic Degrees that opened opportunities for Zambian students to be enrolled on the Russian educational system.
Each year several hundreds of Zambian students attend undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in different Russian Universities and colleges.
Russia is immensely proud of the fact that among the alumni of Soviet and Russian educational institutions are many renowned figures of Zambian political elite, top officials, senior executives and highly skilled specialists providing their talents and endeavours for the benefit of the country.
Zambia is the largest recipient of Russian government-sponsored scholarships among the countries of Sub-Saharan region. The quota awarded by the Russian government to the eligible Zambian high-school graduates has been growing over the years and it has eventually increased to 127 full scholarships in the current 2014/2015 academic year (from 90 in 2003).
Incepted in 1989 in Lusaka, Russian Centre of Science and Culture, a part of numerous cultural, social and political activities has carried out in conjunction with the Russian Embassy, on a regular basis, Russian language training courses, which may be extremely helpful to the Zambian nationals to acquire better knowledge of our country, especially to those willing to study in Russia.
Obviously, Russia and Zambia speak different official languages, but this minor inconvenience doesn’t prevent our peoples from finding a common language and freely communicating on many important issues of international life.
In August 2012 the incumbent presidents Mr Vladimir Putin and Mr Michael Sata exchanged messages in recognition of mutual willingness to intensify cooperation, in the first place in the economic sectors.
The exchange was initiated by President Putin’s personal message delivered by Mr Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs during his visit to Lusaka that month.
Later, in September that year, the Russian and Zambian Foreign Ministers Mr Sergey Lavrov and Mr Given Lubinda met at the sidelines of the UNGA 67th regular session in New York to canvass further development of bilateral relations and different aspects of regional and international agenda, indicating the need to consolidate efforts in order to surmount the impact of the global economic recession.
Through Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Zambian Foreign Minister Given Lubinda’ meeting in New York, September 28, 2012, Russia and Zambia have so far developed an effective mechanism of regular consultations held between senior officials from the respective Ministries of Foreign Affairs that proved much conducive to attaining understanding on mutual positions with regards to the most pressing international issues. The last such inter-ministerial consultations co-chaired by Mr Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian Deputy Minister and Mrs Margaret Miyoba, Permanent Secretary of the Zambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were held in Moscow in July 2013.
The parties lauded the status of traditionally friendly Russian-Zambian relationships expressing the desire to sufficiently expand the economic cooperation and to deepen political dialogue.
In the long run, irrespective of whatever volatile economic or political situation, Russia has always been viewing Zambia as a reliable and reputable political partner.
Based on recognition of often similar or close approaches to addressing different global political challenges in the wake of terrorism threats, endless armed conflicts, ethnic violence, arms race as well as settlement to plethora of economic and ecological issues like looming energy crisis or negative impacts of climate change, Russia is well aware that Zambia is a good ally it may count on when it comes to many aspects of political activities and diplomatic efforts.