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RAFSCED: Facilitating Russia-Uganda cooperation

Nyange Resort in partnership with the Russian African Foundation [RAFSCED] recently hosted a discussion on Lake Victoria’s conservation and utilization. The meeting was chaired by the Nyange directors; Dr Karen Meliksimonyan and Mr Stansilav Mezentsev who in their opening remarks observed the need to get in touch with fishing communities and boat operators along Lake Victoria in an effort to create a relationship and formulate a data base in conjunction with the lake’s conservation and utilization.
One of the many activities RAFSCED is involved in. Nyange Resort in partnership with the Russian African Foundation (RAFSCED) recently hosted a discussion on Lake Victoria’s conservation and utilization. The meeting was chaired by the Nyange directors Dr Karen Melik Simonyan and Mr Stansilav Mezentsev who in their opening remarks observed the need to get in touch with fishing communities and boat operators along Lake Victoria in an effort to create a relationship and formulate a data base in conjunction with the lake’s conservation and utilization.
Karen Melik Simonyan is the President of Russian African Foundation for Science, Culture and Economic Development (RAFSCED), an initiative aimed at furnishing both the African and Russian Business communities about the business opportunities that do exist in both countries, as well as other African countries.  He spoke to Nicole Namubiru about the importance of the recent visit of a Russian delegation to Uganda for purposes of strengthening business ties between the two counties.

What does the Russian African Foundation actually do?

RAFSCED is a private organisation created by Russian and Ugandan individuals to promote scientific, cultural and business relations between the two countries. In brief, we help Russians to realise that Uganda is a beautiful and stable country and has a lot of investment opportunities. On the other hand, we help Ugandans to discover the vast potential of Russia and assist them if they need to try to explore it. We also promote music concerts and art exhibitions, as well as student exchange programmes, to create positive vibes and a better understanding between people of different cultures.

When someone is asked to mention Uganda’s biggest allies, rarely do they mention Russia. Why isn’t Russia one of Uganda’s strong allies?

And who said it isn’t?  What does “ally” means anyway? Have a look at Libya. Muammar Gaddafi thought that Libya’s best allies were: Italy of Berlusconi, with whom he has signed a Strategic Benghazi Agreement, France of Sarkozy, whom he allegedly helped to get re-elected, Britain of Tony Blair, and USA, whose then newly-elected President Barack Obama the Libyan president loved so much, calling him with affection “African son, Barack Obama,” “My son”, and “My friend,” and urging everyone to support Obama’s policies. Soon after these emotional statements, Gaddafi was betrayed and brutally murdered with the help of exactly the people who he truly believed were his genuine ‘friends’ and ‘allies.’ As the Bible says; “By their deeds we shall know them.” The former Soviet Union was a strong ally of the African people, consistently supporting their struggle for Independence financially and militarily. In the post-independence era, the Soviet Union helped African countries to develop their industries. Does anyone remember that Lira’s huge spinning mill, which unfortunately never took off because of the war, and Busitema Agricultural College, were built, equipped and donated to Uganda by the Soviet Union? After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has experienced years of political and economic turmoil and was forced to leave Africa. But now it is back.  What makes Russia and Uganda allies, if you ask me, is a philosophy that they share: an urge to wage independent domestic and international policies and a refusal to succumb to foreign dictates. But of course, more can be done to strengthen political and economic ties between the countries.

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Karen Melik Simonyan

Was the recent visit of a Russian Delegation of Russian-Ugandan Intergovernmental Commission for Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation an attempt to strengthen these ties? Why did it happen now, not before – in 2010, for example, or earlier?

As far as I know, the idea of setting up a joint Intergovernmental Commission was on the table for long. It took both governments several years to negotiate, to reconcile all organisational and legal issues and to create a working body headed by two co-chairman, Alexei Volin, deputy minister of Telekom and mass communications of Russia and Oriem, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Uganda. We hope that with Intergovernmental Commission in place, Uganda – Russian cooperation will receive a considerable boost.

What is the purpose of Ugandan Russian Business Council (URBC), which Volin officially endorsed recently?

The Ugandan Russian Business Council (URBC) is a private entity initiated by the Ugandan and Russian business community, which is supposed to bring together Ugandan and Russian entrepreneurs to identify projects for joint business ventures. It will work in close cooperation with Ugandan and Russian Chambers of Commerce. Under the URCB umbrella, an information and facilitation center for Russians who want to do business in Uganda will be launched.

During the launch of URBC you, stated that you want to invite Russian small-medium enterprises (SMEs) to Uganda. Why SMEs in particular?

Because they represent the most dynamic and easy-to-find-partners of the business community. Look at the giants like Gazprom, Rostec and the likes; they are too big, too clumsy and too picky – they could be looking only for multi-million or rather multi-billion dollar projects. SMEs are down to earth, cost effective and more dynamic in finding new niches for business. In March 2017, the Uganda Russian Business Council will organise a business forum in Uganda, which will be attended by more than 30 Russian SMEs, representing such sectors as agriculture, food processing, geological prospecting and mining, construction, green energy among others.

The Russian economy has suffered because of sanctions and some say that it was the reason that forced Rostec and its subsidiary RT Global Resources to pull out of building the oil refinery here. Was that the case?

Some analysts think that the sanctions were rather a blessing than a curse, because they helped to kick-start the process of reforms in the Russian economy that were long overdue. In order to function, the refinery should be getting a constant supply of fixed amounts of crude oil daily. Thus the refinery must get a confirmation letter either from the Production Company or the government to guarantee that amount. Or it should be given an oil block so it can produce its own. As far as I know, none of these crucial conditions were met. I would also like to note that the giant oil companies were always against the refinery project.  The input of the refinery to the growth of the national economy would have been enormous, that’s why the project is being championed by President Yoweri Museveni. As for multinationals, they are just interested in building a pipeline to pump crude oil out [for export]. So, their stand so far has prevailed. But it is not the end of the story. Let us see what happens tomorrow.

If Russia wants to do serious business in the region, it should not be ignoring the regional security issues. Why doesn’t Russia play any prominent role in providing security to the region?

Russia, contrary to one superpower, refuses to play a role of the ‘world’s policeman.’ Russia could get involved only if requested by the UN Security Council or a legitimate government. If Uganda – God forbid – would be attacked by an outward aggressor and formally appeals to Russia for help, Russia could consider the request. But protecting business is a real every day issue. The threats are multiple, starting from robbers and conmen and ending up with sophisticated schemes, involving banks and the Internet.  One of the companies that were part of the Russian delegation to the Intergovernmental Commission meeting was a security company dealing exactly with these kinds of threats. Its name is ‘Peacemaker’ and it offers a wide range of high-tech solutions that can insure that businessmen have sound sleep, knowing that their money is secure.

When did you first come to Uganda, and as the President of the Foundation; what exactly have you been doing here?

My first deployment in Uganda was in 1984. I was a deputy director of the Soviet Cultural Center, which used to be on Buganda Road. In 1986 when NRA entered Kampala I was here and later met President Museveni for the first time. I later left but came back to Uganda in the 1990s and I’ve stayed in this beautiful country until now. As a President of RASFSCED, I am doing my best to see that Russians and Ugandans get to know more about each other and enjoy successful and mutually-beneficial business ventures. We are involved in geological prospecting and mining. Our latest project is the multifunctional Nyange Resort & Marina at Bwerenge-Entebbe, which will be the home of Uganda Russian Business Council and information and facilitation center.

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