Trade Wars

Ukraine War: Why Some African Countries Think Twice Before Calling Putin

This position largely characterized the response of some African countries to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Many across the continent seem reluctant to risk their own security, foreign investment and trade by supporting any side in this conflict.

While there has been widespread condemnation of the attacks on Ukrainian civilians and their own citizens fleeing the war zone – from countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya – there has been a much more muted response from of some key African countries.

Countries across the continent are in a tricky position and won’t want to be drawn into proxy battles, says Remi Adekoya, associate lecturer at England’s University of York.

“There is a strong current of thought in African diplomacy that says African states should uphold the principle of non-interference and therefore should not be caught up in proxy wars between East and West. Like some states got caught up in proxy wars during the Cold War, for example,” Adekoya told CNN.

One influential voice who has made it clear that he will not make an enemy of Russian leader Vladimir Putin is South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Addressing his country’s parliament on Thursday, he said: “Our position is very clear…there are those who insist that we take a very contradictory stance and stance against, say, Russia. And the approach that we have chosen to adopt… is that we insist on a dialogue.”

After initially issuing a statement calling on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine, South Africa has since blamed the war directly on NATO’s doorstep for considering Ukraine’s membership in the military alliance, against which Russia is opposed.

“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings of its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater instability in the region.” Ramaphosa told parliament on Thursday.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma also earlier issued a statement saying Russia “felt provoked”.

“Putin has been very patient with Western forces. He has been very clear about his opposition to the eastern expansion of…NATO in Ukraine…and publicly stated the military threat posed to Russia by the presence of the forces … it seems justifiable that Russia felt provoked,” Zuma said. said in a statement released by its foundation on March 6.

South Africa has close ties with Russia and Ramaphosa wrote that he was approached to be a mediator in the dispute given his membership in the BRICS – a group of emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, the United States. India, China and South Africa.

The ties between the two countries also date back to the apartheid era, when the former Soviet Union supported South Africa and the African National Congress party in their liberation struggles. “These favors have not been forgotten,” Adekoya said.

South Africa was one of 17 African countries to abstain on the UN resolution demanding that Russia immediately withdraw from Ukraine on March 2. He took a similar stance during Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Nigeria and Egypt were among 28 African nations that voted to condemn Russia, while eight others did not submit a vote. Eritrea is the only African country to vote categorically against the resolution.

from Zimbabwe the Foreign Office said in a statement he was not convinced that the UN resolution was pushed towards dialogue, rather “it threw more oil on the fire, thus complicating the situation”.

“The Leadership of a Strong Man”

Many of the countries that abstained in the vote at the UN are authoritarian regimes. They see Putin’s unilateral decision to invade Ukraine as a show of power and ego that they can appreciate and align themselves with, Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede, a political analyst and professor at Farmingdale State College, told CNN. New York.

One of those who have pronounced prominently in favor of Russia the leader is Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the influential son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

His father ruled Uganda with an iron fist for 36 years and there has been speculation that Kainerugaba will be a potential successor when the 78-year-old Museveni finally steps down.

Kainerugaba tweeted: “The majority of humanity (which is not white) supports Russia’s position in Ukraine. Putin is absolutely right!”

Some African countries have also been hesitant to speak out against Russia because they want to “keep their options open if they face existential threats or some kind of revolution in their own country in the future”, he said. Adekoya.

“They saw Putin keeping Assad in power in Syria because without Russia’s intervention, Assad’s regime would have fallen long ago,” he added.

Adekoya also pointed out that part of the muted response stems from what is seen as Western hypocrisy.

Kenya’s representative to the UN Security Council, Martin Kimani, delivered a powerful speech on the brink of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kimani drew parallels between Ukraine’s emergence as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the experience of postcolonial states in Africa, criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s buildup of forces and his support for the redrawing of Ukraine’s borders by recognizing the small breakaway states of Donetsk. and Lugansk.

“Kenya rejects such a desire to be prosecuted by force,” he said, referring to Russia’s recognition of the two territories as independent states. “We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”

During his speech, he also mentioned other nations in the Security Council that had violated international law and had not been subject to any sanctions. “He didn’t name them, but he was talking about the US and the UK that invaded Iraq in 2003…and were never held accountable,” Adekoya said.

“There are many people in many parts of the world who would like to see other regions gain strength and would like to see an end to Western dominance over the world order, to put it simply…of course, no one well-meaning woman in Africa or anywhere in the world looks at what is happening in Ukraine now and thinks it’s a good thing…but a lot of people see the hypocrisy,” he added. .

Build stronger bonds

In recent years, Russia has established itself as one of Africa’s most valuable trading partners, becoming a major supplier of military hardware with key alliances in Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia and Mali.

Africa accounted for 18% of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think tank.

Some analysts say Russia’s support or non-censorship speaks to a broader sense in parts of Africa that Western policy positions don’t always work in their favour.

“The message Moscow is sending is that if you are tired of the paternalistic way the West is approaching you, we are going to be your security partners. It will be a relationship of equals,” said analyst Aanu Adeoye. Russia-Africa at Chatham. House, told CNN.

Unlike many of its European counterparts, Russia is not a former colonial power in Africa and therefore has a wider scope of opportunity to make soft power moves that aim to challenge Western dominance on the continent.

The Soviet Union also had client relationships with many African states during the Cold War, and Moscow sought to rekindle some of those ties.

Prior to the invasion, Russian state media RT announced plans to set up a new hub in Kenya with a job posting that said it wanted to “cover stories that have been ignored by other organizations” and who “defy conventional wisdom about Africa”.

Yet Africa has often been at the heart of the struggle for influence in great power contests between key geopolitical players such as the United States, China and Russia.

Some countries try to take advantage of this position in various ways.

Odugbesan-Omede explained that Tanzania, for example, has identified the current situation as an opportunity for its energy industry to profit. “Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan sees this as an opportunity to look for markets to export gas,” she said. “Tanzania has the sixth largest gas reserve in Africa. While some African countries will take an economic shock from the Russian-Ukrainian struggle, others are trying to weather the storm by seeking new avenues of profitability,” added Odugbesan-Omede.