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African leaders condemn Russia invasion, but some remain silent


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – February 6, 20,22: Senegal’s President Macky Sall speaks at the 35th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on February 6th 2022.

Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

As Russia’s invasion of UkraineMoscow’s increasing influence in Africa is causing divergent reactions from the leaders of the continent.

Over the past week, heads of state around the globe, many including those from Africa, have criticized the Russian attack. The U.S. and EU have imposed. punitive economic sanctions.

CNBC was told by political analysts that while an African united voice against Russia would be powerful, many countries won’t be willing to publically distance themselves from Moscow due to their military strategic ties.

These past years have seen a significant increase in the number of people who use them. Russia has built a number of military alliancesWith governments in African nations facing political insurgencies and violence, including Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic, Mozambique.

These ties may play an important role in how these nations respond to Russia’s invasion.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (deputy leader of Sudan’s military junta) led a delegation from Sudan to Moscow on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Bangui, the statue of Russian paramilitary personnel has been installed. They are credited for ending an armed rebellion at the end of 2020.

The draft United Nations Resolution on Wednesday condemns Russian aggression in Ukraine.

It passed with overwhelming support from 141 nations. However, 34 countries abstained, including South Africa, Mali and Mozambique.

Along with Russia, Syria, North Korea, and Belarus, Eritrea was among the five countries that actively voted against the resolution.

‘Dangerous nostalgia’

However, some African officials quickly condemned Russia’s intrusion.

The UN Envoy for Kenya Martin Kimani made a harsh rebuttal to Moscow on Feb. 22. This was even before Russia attacked Ukraine.

“Kenya and most African countries were born after the end of empire. We did not draw our borders. Kimani explained to delegates that the borders were drawn in distant colonies like London, Paris and Lisbon without any regard for ancient nations they separated.”

He stated that African nations prefer to be forward-looking than looking backwards into the past with a dangery nostalgia.

Kimani said, “We decided to adhere to the OAU (Organization of African Unity), and the United Nations Charter, not because our boundaries satisfied us but because we desired something greater, forged in peace.”

NEW YORK, October 12, 2021: Uhuru Moigai Kenyatta (Permanent Representative of Kenya) and Martin Kimani (Permanent Representative of Kenya) walk down the corridor after SC meetings at United Nations Headquarters.

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Harold Agyeman from Ghana, the UN Security Council’s permanent representative, indicated that Ghana is standing with Ukraine after the “unprovoked attack”. Geoffrey Onyeama (Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister) stated that Nigeria is ready to impose sanction on Russia and that it will follow any UN resolution.

Macky Sall is the president of Senegal and the African Union Commission’s current chair. They urged Moscow to respect the international law and territorial integrity of Ukraine’s national sovereignty.

Military influence

Steven Gruzd from South African Institute of International Affairs said that it was normal for countries to not be as open with their criticisms.

Expect strident condemnations, particularly from PMCs, from countries that have a substantial Russian presence. [private military contractors] like the Wagner Group – CAR, Burkina Faso, Mali, Sudan, Libya,” Gruzd said. The EU sanctioned the Wagner Group – a paramilitary organization populated largely by ex-service personnel – in December after accusing it of committing human rights abuses in conflict zones and performing clandestine overseas operations on behalf of the Kremlin, a link the Russian government has denied.

Gruzd spoke before Wednesday’s UN vote and also mentioned that South Africa wasn’t allowed to speak on the invasion.

First, the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation issued a statement on February 23 asking for peace and dialog, while not acknowledging Russia’s aggressor. A second statement was released that day, explicitly stating that the Russian forces must withdraw.

But, this second statement indicated that Russia’s security worries should also be taken into consideration. On February 25, President Cyril Ramaphosa urged UN mediators to take a stronger stand.

Participants at the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum 2019, Sirius Park of Science and Art.

Anton Novoderezhkin

Mathu Joyini, the permanent representative of South Africa to the UN General Assembly, made a second call for diplomacy and dialogue Tuesday. He also stressed the need for the “peaceful settlement of conflicts” without naming Russia aggressor.

She added that she urged all the parties to come together in an effort to reach a compromise. All sides should uphold human rights and adhere by international laws as well as international humanitarian law.

Gruzd said that South Africa’s uncertain approach was indicative of the awkward situation in which the government finds itself, torn between Russia’s political affinity and the Kremlin’s “clear naked aggression on friendly states”.

Gruzd noted that the statements were muted and measured in comparison to South Africa’s regular vitriol against Israel.

CNBC reached South Africa by phone and email, but the Department of International Relations and South Africa’s Government have yet to respond.

Gruzd noted also that many African countries have focused their messages on the safety and evacuation of citizens living in Ukraine rather than condemning Russia.

According to him, it is a rule of thumb that the stronger the Russian military, economic, and political ties, the more likely African responses will be muted.”

Harry Broadman is the chair for emerging markets at Berkeley Research Group. He was also an ex-economic adviser to the Africa region of the World Bank. Broadman highlighted the fact that Russia’s relations in Africa are heavily tied to the ruling elites living in countries where there is a wide gap between the leaders and the people.

He said that although it is a small group of countries, they share one common characteristic: they are resource-oriented and very shaky.

Since Moscow’s strategy doesn’t span continents, the African Union might have trouble establishing itself in opposition to Russia.

“They’re picking off certain countries based upon the elites, based upon minerals, based upon military interests – it’s a very different strategy than what China has been doing,” he added. China has, however, established an African-wide economic presence via decades of infrastructure and loan funding.

The Anti-Colonial message

Kenya’s message at last week’s UN Security Council was widely praised for the parallels drawn between the anti-colonial struggles – and agreement that Africa’s borders be respected in the aftermath of decolonization – and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to roll back the years on Ukraine’s independence, prioritizing ethnic self-determination over territorial integrity.

With 25% of the seats, Africa’s voice is important in the UN General Assembly. This is important if there’s a united, strong push against Russia. “International norms of sovereignty, territorial integrity and other international norms are essential to Africa’s outlook,” Gruzd said Saturday to CNBC.

The continent can stand up for the values it holds dear if they choose to. Russia is the only country that the AU opposes. More of this is needed.