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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Academic Builds the Ties That Bind Africa and Russia

In 1992, Igor Borisov stood amid the ruins of a Russian academia starved of government stipends.

But unlike others in the intelligentsia, Borisov saw that survival would depend on harnessing the very free market forces that threatened to devour him. So he started a business.

Now the professor and deputy director at the Academy of Sciences is putting his knowledge of Africa to work by organizing seminars and offering consultation services aimed at bringing together Russian and African businesses.

His commercial venture, dubbed the Association for Business and Cultural Cooperation, focuses on sectors ranging from trade and transportation to industry, insurance and tourism, according to Borisov, who is also head of the academy's Institute for African Studies.

And with Africa accounting for a dismal 2.5 percent of Russia's foreign trade, Borisov said the need is self-evident.

"There has always been strong demand in Europe for unique African handcrafted merchandise," he said. "And we still believe that the region has more to offer, although the market is competitive."

Borisov says his operation has grown over the last five years. About 100 people attended his fifth annual international trade forum, held in Cairo, Egypt, in March 1996 -- a success rate Borisov hopes to equal this June when he hosts the forum for East African countries in Nairobi, Kenya.

The conferences are intended to promote contacts between African businesses and Russian investors, and to provide a platform for governments to outline their trade and investment policies.

Although Borisov blames the Western media for creating damaging misconceptions of Africa as a continent rife with war, famine and disease, he points to damage done by apathetic African trade representatives who have failed to become involved with his organization.

"Post-communist economic reforms have created the needed conditions to maneuver, and we expect embassy trade sections to complement our [association]," Borisov said."They should be a little more sensitive to our programs in order to have access to Russian society."