Relations between Russia and African States and the Situation around Ukraine

Oleg Pavlov
AFR934522Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine which began on February 24, 2022, has dramatically changed the global political map like no other military conflict in the 21st century has. It made all of the world powers re-define their attitude to Moscow as one of the major military, political and power poles of today’s world.

The western nations which have quite openly placed their focus on destroying Russia, not just on weakening it as Russian leaders quite politely worded until recently, took advantage of this situation and used their global superiority in the media domain to demonize Moscow and its leadership. They hoped that unprecedented information pressure will allow the United States and their satellites to quickly isolate Russia in the international arena, and the rest will supposedly be finished by the imposed sanctions which are truly unprecedented in the history of mankind.

However, as soon became clear, not all countries believed the hysterical outcry about the “Russian aggressors” who “violated all imaginable norms of international law.” African states were among those who did not believe the western nations, as they accounted for almost 50% of those who refused to blame everything on Russia and its leadership.

In order, to understand the disposition, let us just look at the results of voting during the 11th emergency special session of the UN General Assembly (GA) devoted to the adoption of three anti-Russian resolutions (March 3, 2022 – “Aggression against Ukraine,” March 24 – “Humanitarian consequences of aggression against Ukraine,” April 7 – “Suspension of the rights of the Russian Federation associated with its membership in the UN Human Rights Council”).

As far as the first resolution is concerned, out of 55 countries that did not vote positively, 26 were African countries. Only one country voted against – Eritrea, 17 African states abstained from voting and 8 states simply did not participate in the vote.  However, there were also countries who supported the condemnation of Russia. The West succeeded in garnering the support of 28 such countries, of which only Egypt, Nigeria and Kenya can be considered influential. Only Ghana, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria condemned Russia’s actions in their official statements that followed either during or after the vote. The demand for an early cease-fire was included in a joint statement issued by Macky Sall, Senegal’s President, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).

At the same time, it was easy to notice that many prominent leaders publicly expressed either support for Russia’s actions or their understanding of the reasoning for such actions. As noted above, the Russian operation in Ukraine was openly supported by Isaias Afwerki, the president of Eritrea, while the Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa stressed the need for Russia “to protect its national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”  Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed condemned the steps taken by the collective West against Russia, while Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem emphasized that Kampala “is not going to become a hostage of the US confrontational line against Russia.” The governments of Cape Verde, Mozambique, Namibia, and Tanzania called for finding ways to resolve the conflict through “responsible dialogue” and assured that they would not surrender to pressure from the United States and Europe. The authorities of Mali and the Central African Republic confirmed their understanding of Moscow’s actions against the Kiev regime.

Voting on the second anti-Russian resolution did not bring any significant changes to the balance of power. Again, out of 53 states that did not support the West’s draft document, 27 were African countries. Russia was supported by Botswana, the Union of the Comoros and Somalia, who had previously voted for the condemnation of Moscow. 27 countries voted for the adoption of the anti-Russian resolution, for which purpose the West used a number of tricks to win Senegal, the current chairman of the African Union, over to its side. This was the last “success” of Russia’s western opponents. They failed to solicit support of such a major player as South Africa, which not only did not join the anti-Russian draft, but also gathered an impressive coalition of countries in favor of its own, quite acceptable version of the resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Although this draft resolution was declined as uncoordinated with the Ukrainian party, the very fact of its existence showed that large African states are ready to demonstrate their own initiative, and not simply follow in the wake of the West’s policy.

Following the results of the vote on April 7, in the UN General Assembly devoted to the suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the situation for the collective West became even worse. The Western resolution was supported by only 10 states, all of which were minor players. Nine countries voted against, 24 states abstained from voting, including the largest states in the African continent – Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania), and 11 countries did not vote at all. At the same time, some countries made statements about the use of double standards by the United States and Europe, and about the need to resolve the situation in Ukraine by diplomatic means, rather than by cancelling Russia’s membership in international institutions.

Moreover, opinion polls show that pro-Russian sentiment is widespread, if not predominant. Pro-Russian rallies are taking place on the continent, and public opinion leaders, major youth associations in Africa, and African oppositionists representing their expatriate communities abroad openly express their solidarity with Russia.

Naturally, the question arises: why do most African countries avoid expressing condemnation of Russia’s actions? The answer is not as simple as would seem. The fact that Russia had never been a colonial power and did not plunder the African continent plays a significant role. Moreover, it was the Soviet Union that provided large-scale assistance to the people of Africa in their liberation from colonialism and building the foundations of statehood. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that hundreds of thousands of Africans have been educated in Russia and appreciate this. Besides, the USSR did a great job in these countries: hundreds of enterprises were built, and the foundations of the economies of many African countries were laid. Today, even after 30 years of Russia’s lack of attention to Africa, the Dark Continent still is grateful to Moscow.

Of course, there are also other, more pragmatic reasons for such a restrained attitude to the West’s attack on Russia. First, African states can clearly see that the system of unipolar world order with its institutions of plundering developing countries is no longer working. The United States (and the entire Western world) have entered another inflationary cycle and cannot stop moving this way, taking into account their incredibly high national debts. New centers of power have emerged, such as Russia, India, and China, which are already able to defend their interests quite successfully. In this context, Russia’s African friends and partners see the Russian special operation not just as Moscow’s defense of its security interests, but as the beginning of demolition of the predatory system based on the dominance of the US dollar and the Bretton Woods institutions.

Granted, there are some other reasons, such as high dependence of many African countries on Russian, and even Ukrainian, grain, fertilizers and a number of other goods. But this is not the main thing. The main thing is the growing trend for radical changes in the system of international relations in favor of creating a more fair world order on the planet.