Many African delegations have arrived to participate in the Parliamentary Conference planned from July 1 to 3 which aimed at developing inter-parliamentary cooperation between foreign countries and Russia.
Chairman of the State Duma, Viacheslav Volodin, will open the conference together with Chairperson of the Federation Council (Senate), Valentina Matvyenko, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov.
According to the organizing committee, about 800 foreign representatives from 131 countries, including more than 30 African countries, are expected to attend the conference.
The third day will be devoted exclusively for discussing effective ways of strengthening Russia-African relations with a focus on new mechanisms for exploring business opportunities in Africa.
The agenda of the event includes discussion of legislative support for trade, economic and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and the African countries, and the exchange of legislative experience.
According to Leonid Slutskiy, Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs, explained that it was very important that the third day would be entirely devoted to cooperation with African countries. This third day, July 3, will be, for sure, a kind of forerunner of the big Russia-Africa summit, which will be held in Sochi on October 24–26.
Among the African delegations included Speaker Aaron Mike Oquaye who leads Ghana's delegation, Lesotho Mamonaheng Mokitimi from the Kingdom of Lesotho, Zimbabwean Jimbabwe Jacob Mudenda, Zambia and Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Jacob Mudenda.
Speaker Oquaye was welcomed on arrival by Deputy Chairman of the State Duma, Irina Yarovaya. "It's very important for us to do everything possible to strengthen the already existing political links," Oquaye said. "That's why we are here today. In the first place, the exchange of the inter-parliamentary delegations vividly reflects the role both parliaments can play in raising the level of cooperation between Ghana and Russia."
The idea to (re)enforce political links and work vigorously towards long-term bilateral relationships stems from the fact that both countries stand the chance to mutually benefit from each other, he stressed.
"It is important that the event will focus on Russia and Africa in order to develop interaction between parliaments," said the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Jacob Mudenda.
Patrick Matibini, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Zambia, expressed the hope that "this conference will indeed be a continuation of our relationship."
"All our colleagues from parliaments of different countries come to Moscow to once again make sure that we all are on the same page, discuss joint legislative initiatives, and talk about the problems that are common to today's parliamentary activity. We invite everyone because we are open to all our colleagues who are interested in the topics proposed for discussion at the conference," said Petr Tolstoy.
Ahead of the conference, Volodin, explained that "strengthening relations with African countries, including humanitarian and trade and economic cooperation, is one of the priorities. The development of inter-parliamentary relations should intensify cooperation between our countries."
"We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps, and our peoples will better understand each other through parliamentary relations. It is necessary to take certain steps together to work on the African continent," Volodin added.
Sanusha Naidu, a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue based in Pretoria, South Africa, explained that, from all perspectives the key issue in this kind of interaction is for African legislators to play an asserting role for a pragmatic engagement with their Russian counterparts.
"The critical juncture is for parliamentary diplomacy to be more than just a talk-shop. There needs to be ownership in the way African legislators apply their role of oversight as a critical function and not as a rubber stamp. The engagement needs to be transparent with the Russian counterparts and about holding the executive accountable on both sides," she wrote in an emailed comment.
"This is what African legislators can ask their colleagues to do terms of respecting the sovereignty and independence of Africa's engagement with external partners. It is about recognizing that parliamentary diplomacy and an inter-parliamentary engagement must be about partnership of mutual interests, benefits and respect," Naidu added.
Developing such partnerships, shaped by the way the architecture of the global system is evolving. What is important is for the partnership to be defined by terms of reference not based only on one set of interests. It must be mutual-partnership and engagement, and necessarily defines how to advance the interests of Africa's people, according to the researcher.
Russia held its first Russia-Africa interparliamentary conference, under the theme "Russia-Africa: Horizons of Cooperation" in Moscow in June 2010. It was initiated by the State Duma with the support of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
*Kester Kenn Klomegah writes frequently about Russia, Africa and the BRICS.