Africa in the Context of the Ukraine Crisis

Guadi Calvo
Although it has much to say, Africa is never heard, much less in the context of major international crises, as in the case of Ukraine, which has absorbed everyone’s attention and pushed the 1.22 billion Africans to the bottom of the world’s interests.

As is now a daily tradition in the different scenarios of the wars that the West has projected onto the continent, the deaths produced by these confrontations or their “collateral” damage continue unabated, such as the massive displacements that have led millions of people to seek refuge in other geographical locations as well as within their own country, in neighboring countries or trying to reach the ports in the north of the continent to jump to Europe.

With no one to bother or organize marches in protest, no contingency plans, no free flights, no hot or cold food, no five-star hotels or camps, no consulates and embassies with open doors for those trying to flee the fire and famine that the old colonial powers established so well, thousands of displaced Africans along with helpless people from the Middle East and Asia are gathering, in many cases for long months, at ports in the southern Mediterranean to attempt a final crossing in the hope of reversing their fate.

Of all these thousands of people, numbering in the millions, 19 of them have found the place that the West had assigned them: in the depths of the sea. On Saturday the 12th, at least 19 of the 23 refugees, mostly Egyptian and Syrian, who had left the Libyan port of Tobruk, near the border with Egypt, drowned in the Mediterranean, adding to the more than 200 so far this year and the 30 or 40,000, perhaps, since the migration crisis began in 2014.

While “accidents” like this continue to occur with prodigious timeliness, the United States, after its defeat in Afghanistan, is seeking to return to Africa to somehow deter the growing presence of Russia and China.

It is known that the U.S. military has asked President Joe Biden to order the deployment of special forces to control the operations of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabbab group, which has increased its actions since Donald Trump removed, at the end of 2020, seven hundred military “advisors” from Somali army bases who were in charge of training these elite units.

One excuse to justify the U.S. re-entry into the Horn of Africa and from there to continue expanding its presence is to follow in the footsteps of Russian mercenaries – particularly the powerful Wagner Group – who, called in by different governments on the continent, are trying to contain civil wars, as in the case of the Central African Republic, or incursions by groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh. This is why the U.S. urgently needs to engage clearly and vigorously in Africa beyond Somalia, such as Kenya and Sahel nations like Chad and Niger, before its armies, inspired by the revolutionary juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso, try to throw off the colonial garrison and turn to the increasingly active Wagner Group to fight the organizations that have been ravaging their countries for years and which Western armies, in these cases led by France, have not only failed to contain but have allowed to expand exponentially.

Russian influence in Africa, which has been reactivated since 2018, was well demarcated at the United Nations (UN), when in late February, after the last vote, the United States intended with a “resolution” to deepen Moscow’s isolation after its counter-offensive in Ukraine. The final count showed the African continent divided into two almost equal blocs, from the 55 nations that comprise the continent – all represented in the UN except the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is blocked by the United States and Morocco – a total of 25 countries did not vote against Moscow, 16 abstained, nine did not participate, and Eritrea voted against the resolution.

Perhaps this is due to the revival of Russia’s relations with Africa since 2018, although trade with Africa can be considered modest at around $20 billion per year, one-tenth that of China. Moscow has managed to cement its increasingly influential presence in Libya, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

This was achieved after the summit organized by Vladimir Putin’s government in Sochi (Russia) in October 2019, at which Putin hosted 43 African heads of state and at which the Russian president canceled debts and promised to double trade with Africa over the next five years.

Russia also signed some 25 cooperation agreements in the area of security and education, while reaffirming the military education program for African officers, some 500 per year. In addition to offering university training to some 15,000 African students, especially from Nigeria, Angola, Morocco, Namibia, and Tunisia. These scholarships have generated important ties with students who, given the quality of Russian education, return to their countries to occupy high positions in their governments. In addition, Moscow has committed to invest heavily in the construction of a dozen nuclear power plants.

Putin’s policy of rapprochement with Africa is simply following the same path as the former Soviet Union, which swept through many countries on the continent during its wars of national liberation that received political and material support from Moscow.

Despite all this, a good number of African nations voted in the UN at Washington’s behest, and pan-African organizations such as the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) joined the anti-Russian motion.

Russia and Ukraine are two of the world’s largest exporters of raw materials, together accounting for a quarter of the world’s wheat production. African countries imported about $4 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia in 2020, of which about 90% was wheat and 6% sunflower oil, while Ukraine exported about $2.9 billion to the continent in 2020. 48% wheat, 31% corn and the rest sunflower oil, barley and soybeans.

As a result, the Russian counter-offensive in Ukraine will have serious consequences for global food stability, in addition to the financial consequences of sanctions against Moscow, specifically on food. The expected price increases will be a devastating blow to the African economy, further exacerbating the risks of famine, as is happening in Somalia for other reasons.

Bread for the desperate

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky’s call for mercenaries and fighters of all kinds from around the world to come to his country was inspired by the difficult economic conditions of thousands of young people, particularly from the third world and especially Africa, who have never thought of taking up arms before, let alone for Ukraine.

At the same time, Zelenski has decided to repatriate Ukrainian troops participating in various UN peacekeeping missions around the world, so that the 250 troops deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 16 in South Sudan, 12 in Mali, five in Cyprus, four in Abyei, a disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan, and three in Kosovo, will return to fight in his country.

Zelensky’s request has undoubtedly aroused the will of thousands of potential future combatants, who despite knowing that they are traveling to an almost certain death, could substantially benefit their families, as a single month on the front lines can represent between $1,200 and $1,500, which is far more than an entire family-perhaps even a dozen people-could earn in perhaps a year of hard and uncertain work. Despite this, many African countries, such as Nigeria and Senegal, where some 250 volunteers have already signed up to travel to Ukraine, have refused to answer Zelenski’s call to be part of the international legion led by elements of avowed Nazi creed that would undoubtedly give blacks, Asians and Latinos the most sacrificial fate. If nothing else, just look at the thousands of African citizens that the Russian counter-offensive surprised in Ukraine and today are suffering the cruelest policies of discrimination, denying them any kind of assistance and leaving them to their fate not only in the middle of the conflict, but in a climate as hostile as the war itself, in which bad weather and lack of food can kill as fast as a bullet.

The decisive Russian presence on the African continent adds another light to the events in Ukraine, for NATO cannot tolerate Putin gaining a foothold on the continent by opening up the possibility now, or later, of a new front south of the European Community that its citizens will not be willing to finance.

Guadi Calvo is an Argentine writer and journalist. International analyst specializing in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia

Translation by Internationalist 360°