Yaounde (National Times) – Russia’s Ambassador to Cameroon has handed to President Biya and official invitation letter from Russia’s President Vladmir Putin for the upcoming Russia-Africa forum according to Cameroon Tribune.
Russia’s Ambassador to Cameroon, Anatoly Bashkine present the invation to President Biya, as Biya’s government are becoming increasingly isolated from the international community over his handling of the conflict in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of Cameroon, and imprisonment of opposition leaders, Maurice Kamto and other members of the Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) party.
The Russia – Africa Trade & Investment Forum (RAFTIF) is a high-level two day international business investment and finance forum bringing together thought leaders, policy makers and investors from Russia and Africa, including international organisations on one platform to discuss opportunities for mutual trade and investment between the two regions. This year’s meeting is schedule for May.
“Forum participants will be senior executives and decision makers of government and private sector organisations and respective ministries from Russia, Africa and international firms representing key sectors: infrastructure, energy & power, mining, health, agriculture, transportation & logistics among others”, according to Organizers.
The forum which aims to replicate China’s successful Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, comes as Russia double down on its effort to gain a foothold in Africa, especially in Central Africa. Russia is currently one of the key backers of the Central African government, providing its with weapons, capital and military training.
For President Paul Biya, this is an opportunity to boost his popularity as his regime becomes increasingly ostracized by western governments.
But it is unclear how much legitimacy an invitation from Russia can bestow on the current government, given Russia’s history of supporting authoritarian regimes, and Putin’s lack of soft power in most western and African societies.
President Biya may not only see this as an opportunity to boost the legitimacy of his regime, but also a channel to appeal to investors as the Anglophone civil war and conflict in the Northern region starts to bite into the economy. Russia has shown in Central African Republic, in Zambia, and Democratic Republic of Congo that it is getting ready to join the new competition for Africa.
However, it is this view that Russia is stepping into the “backside” of France and US, that may complicate how Biya interacts with Russia. The French may interpret any embrace of Russia as betrayal of French-Cameroonian comprehensive ties. They may also see Biya as flowing with other regional governments like Chad, Central Africa Republic that are increasingly diversifying their security away from France.
Putin’s invitation to Biya although celebrated in Cameroon, comes at a time when the domestic political and economic conditions in Cameroon, will propel Biya to fall into Putin’s arms, but President Biya will be careful not to show too much bromance with Putin, annoying his French allies.