The Townhall

African Support for Russia in the Ukraine War

African Support for Russia in the Ukraine War

By Arnold Mutunga

Africa’s Geopolitical Shift

African countries’ position on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has been somewhat surprising to the Western world. For the African continent, throwing their support behind Russia speaks volumes about the changing times and their intention to build mutually beneficial ties, causing speculation that we are on the precipice of a geopolitical shift.

From the inside looking out, it is easy to understand the African countries’ decision to side with Russia in the ongoing conflict. However, for outsiders, it seems illogical and defies conventional wisdom, especially concerning human rights, something that Africa continues to grapple with today. For Africans, this is a multifaceted phenomenon deeply rooted in historical, economic, and political contexts.

Historically, the continent had solid ties with the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Soviets provided much-needed support for Africa during the liberation movements thus creating a legacy of enduring goodwill. This connection is the foundation upon which Russian-African relations are built. These relationships have grown deeper over the years, solidifying the connection and making Africa more sympathetic towards Russia against their perceived Western enemies.  

Over the past few years, Russian influence on Africa has grown in several ways that have further emboldened this relationship.

Economic Interests and Military Cooperation

Economic ties between Russia and Africa greatly affect the continent’s political stance. Russia has continually grown its influence through trade, investment, and military cooperation. African nations are the main beneficiaries of Russian exports like grain, fertilizers, and energy resources, which are critical for their economic stability and development. These economic interdependencies have nurtured a sense of loyalty and mutual benefit, that in turn translates to favorable political inclinations towards Russia.

Despite the conflict in Ukraine affecting major southern ports, Russia has taken significant measures to ensure the continuous export of grain to Africa. This includes finding alternative routes and logistical solutions to maintain supplies and demonstrating the strategic importance of these exports. This crucial support nurtures a sense of loyalty and mutual benefit, translating to favorable political inclinations towards Russia.

Russia’s diplomatic and military influence on African nations has significantly grown over the past few decades through arms sales, military training, and security agreements. Russia has emerged as a key figure in the African security dynamics. Countries like Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, and Sudan among others have substantial military cooperation with Russia, relying on its military technology and expertise. In matters of diplomacy and military, there are Russian fingerprints all over Africa that make it easier for the continent to align with the country’s political direction.

Perception of Western Hypocrisy

The perception of Western hypocrisy is a major driving factor that encourages African nations to side with Russia. There is an overwhelming feeling among African leaders and intellectuals that the West’s reaction to the Ukraine crisis is inconsistent with its approach to conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. This has created a feeling of double standards since the level of outrage against Russia has been quite amplified whereas no similar interventions have been made in other warring nations across the continent. For instance, the conflict in Sudan, prolonged for several decades, has only courted limited attention from the West, putting to question their perceived moral authority. This realization is pushing African nations towards alternative global powers like Russia and China, who are seen as more consistent and respectful of African sovereignty.

In this respect, Africa shares the same ideological stance with Russia and China as they are against continuous Western imperialism and interventionism even when it’s uncalled for. African leaders have oftentimes uttered anti-imperialist rhetoric, echoing Russia’s criticism of NATO’s expansion and Western hegemony. This ideological synergy has greatly reinforced political solidarity and mutual support that is now being interpreted as a geopolitical shift. However, from the inside, these nations’ actions, particularly in forums like the United Nations, express their feelings towards the Western hegemony. African nations still view this Western hegemony as soft colonialism and are looking for a way out. With China and Russia seemingly standing against this hegemony, they offer the continent a reprieve from this neocolonialism.

The Role of China and BRICS

Besides Russia, China has also grown its influence in Africa over the past couple of decades through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These development initiatives have opened room for strategic alignment between Africa and China significantly reducing reliance on the West for the continent’s development. The strategic partnership between China and Russia often presents a united front against Western policies, promoting a multipolar world order that diminishes Western dominance. 

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are further consolidating support, especially with its expansionist agenda that is challenging the economic power of the G7. Recently, BRICS has expanded to include more members like Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), further broadening its influence and reach. BRICs provide a platform for cooperation and economic integration with a common agenda that excludes the West. Most importantly, African countries are key beneficiaries of this relatively new bloc and as such are naturally inclined to support this shift. Moreover, there is the view that these emerging powers provide unconditional economic and political support as compared to Western assistance that comes with conditions and constant interference in their domestic affairs. In particular, American support is tied to the implementation of social issues prevalent in the United States, specifically expanded rights and quotas for women in government positions and embracing the LGBT agenda. 

Is This Part of a Larger Geopolitical Shift?

All the signs point to Russian support by many African nations as being part of a larger geopolitical shift. Years ago this could not have been possible as African nations were held captive by the West with few alternatives. But now, the emergence of China and Russia has emboldened the continent to take a stand and realign their interests with partners providing equal footing for mutually beneficial relationships.

This shift involves realigning global power structures in favor of a multipolar world that supports the coexistence of multiple powerful states or blocs reducing the unilateral influence of the US and its NATO allies.

Additionally, there is a notable change in how African countries manage their mineral resources. African nations are increasingly asserting control over their resources, limiting Western involvement. For instance, France has been effectively expelled from Niger, reflecting a broader trend of reducing Western dominance in Africa’s resource management. This expulsion and similar actions have had significant after-effects, including shifts in economic partnerships and a re-evaluation of foreign investment strategies within these nations. African countries are now exploring more diversified and balanced relationships, often looking towards Russia, China, and other emerging powers for more equitable cooperation.

The strategic partnership between China and Russia, which includes coordinated foreign policies and mutual support in international forums, further reinforces this shift. China’s support for Russia, particularly in the face of Western sanctions and political pressure, signals a united front that African nations view favorably. The combination of economic benefits from China and military and diplomatic support from Russia creates a compelling alternative to the Western-dominated international order.

Todd Davis

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