The support by many African leaders and governments of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, or at least reluctance to condemn the Russian military special operation, has frankly alarmed the current political elite in the West.
Foreign Policy believes that much of this has allegedly to do with the African countries’ devotion to non-alignment, their desire to follow China’s line and reliance on Russia for arms and security, which has led Africa to ignore Washington’s demands to support its position on Ukraine.
At the same time, according to Britain’s The Guardian, some observers are talking about the possibility of a new strategic shift in Africa away from the West, similar to what happened during the Cold War. The publication recognizes, however, that the objective reality of the international system is now so different that it raises many questions about the commitment of some African countries to the post-Cold War order and its values.
The refusal of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party to criticize Russia, while claiming it hoped to remain neutral and encourage dialogue between the parties to the conflict, draws the attention of Western observers in particular. Meanwhile, other countries on the Dark Continent take the same line and, while calling for peace, blame the conflict in Ukraine on NATO’s expansion eastwards, complain about Western “double standards” and resist any call to criticize Russia.
Many now recognize the similarities between the current criticism of the West in Africa and its struggle for independence a few decades ago. This is not surprising, since many countries on the African continent are still ruled by parties that enjoyed Moscow’s support during their struggle for liberation from colonial or white racist rule. Ruling party leaders in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique remember how Soviet arms, money and advisers helped African countries win their freedom.
African states have not forgotten the neo-colonial aspirations of the West in recent decades, its desire to get rich at the expense of African wealth and its continued political and economic pressure, including the imposition of sanctions. In particular, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said this today, describing Russia and China as “reliable pillars over the years” that have not only “helped Africa in its struggle for independence, but equally defended sovereignty against relentless attacks from detractors.” This is a clear reference to Western sanctions on Zimbabwe under the previous president, Robert Mugabe.
Pauline Bax, deputy director of the International Crisis Group’s Africa Program, acknowledges that there is a strong anti-Western sentiment in the Sahel today, an anti-imperialist trend in public opinion in particular, and that anti-imperialist orientation means anti-American and anti-Western orientation.
For example, events in Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan are developing blatantly not in favor of the West, given that the previous Western patrons were unable to do anything about the growing criminality in these countries and the activities of various terrorist groups for many years. Under the guise of such instability, the West has only continued to enrich itself, engaging in tacit “cooperation” with criminal elements in a number of countries. It is for this reason that Russia’s active steps, which in the shortest possible time led to the normalization of the situation in these countries and the security of the population, were not only welcomed on the African continent, but have also led to a virtual break with the previous “trusteeship” of France in Mali and the CAR and a rise in anti-Western sentiment. Mali, in particular, was enraged with France when it massacred the civilian population during Operation Barkhane, and this laid the groundwork for Russian expansion in that African country. As a result, Mali has steadily withdrawn from under “the French umbrella.” A similar situation occurred in the CAR.
These African grievances against the West have objectively intensified with the start of Moscow’s special operation in Ukraine. This was particularly evident in the blatantly dismissive treatment of African students fleeing the war in Ukraine, as was highlighted in particular by the Guardian Nigeria, which wrote: “the world is happy to tolerate the dehumanization of the Africans caught up in the war in Ukraine.” It is also incomprehensible in Africa that Europe is reorienting itself so quickly to help Ukrainian refugees, while African refugees have been without similar attention in the EU for a long time.
Others point to an increasing policy of “double standards” on the part of the West. This has manifested itself, in particular, in the lightning-fast adoption of international actions against Russia, but at the same time in ignoring calls to expel African human rights violators from the HRC.
Some African leaders, having judiciously assessed their countries’ vulnerability to instability in economic markets, the growing discontent of their youth, whose numbers are constantly increasing, and faced with their own security problems, have simply concluded that it is not advisable to continue to follow Washington’s policies. African countries were already moved by Washington’s hasty flight from Afghanistan and the horrific scenes of people falling out of take-off planes to the point where Washington was no longer viewed as a defender of its allies. This has created a perception among some African politicians that Washington is an unreliable partner for whom its own security comes first.
The recent shift in thinking in Africa and its increasing anti-Western attitude can be clearly seen in the speech delivered on March 12, 2022 at the Cercle des Nouveaux Monde debate club in Paris by Lionel Zinsou, former Prime Minister of Benin, a graduate of the French High School of Political Science, financier and employee of the Rothschild group: “All we hear now is this crisis, anti-Russian sanctions, oil, gas… Do you understand what this crisis means, for example, for Africa? Russia supplies us with grain and corn. All logistics go through the Black Sea. And the African world froze in horror watching just what was going on. Terrified by the actions of the US and the European Union. Africans won’t buy your stories about democracy. These are just your fairy tales for internal consumption. The majority of the African elite was educated in the Soviet Union – doctors, engineers, pilots, teachers, scientists. Russians are the only Europeans who have decolonized Africa. And Africa remembers it. Just as Africa remembers European atrocities.”
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.