By Awuor Alai
90 days; that is how long it took as the world debated on whether there would be a war or not. With so many contradicting views from critics and political analysts, it was hard to tell whether Putin was seriously about to launch a full-on offensive or if it was simply a reminder to the rest of the world that the bear would not be subdued.
On the one hand, there were experts who watched the Crimea and Russian borders intently, noticing the heavy concentration of Russian troops; a sure sign of a looming invasion. Then there was the second camp that based their ‘perhaps not’ theory on the lack of warmongering on Russian news outlets as has been the case before such an event.
Well, all this was put to rest (or unrest) in Donbas on the 24th of February. Russian missiles hit and their military convoys crossed the borders into Ukraine. It wasn’t just coercive diplomacy at play after all. Suddenly the amorality of Putin was in question. Was his real agenda a complete and utter reconstruction of the Russian empire? Who was next on his list? Estonia? The war was here – is still here.
As Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and SU-57 fighter jets with bombs render the skies above Ukraine laying cities to rubble, there is a lot of significant insight for the rest of the world to gain from the power play on display.
The unfortunate invasion of Ukraine by Russia has entered its 36th day and it is imperative to look at this war in the various dimensions it presents. The take-home for Africa from this war is domiciled in security, diplomacy as well as strategic competition.
At a glance, oil exporters from Africa are at a vantage position given the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by European countries and the US. However, as the prices continue on an upward trajectory, some countries in Africa run the risk of entering a bottleneck situation, especially those whose industries are heavily reliant on oil exports.
As one of Russia and Ukraine’s biggest buyers, Africa may also find itself staring food insecurity square in the face. The two warring countries together provide 25% of the world’s grain supply.
Hard truths: Might over right
If ever there has been any doubt about what major powers like Russia are willing to do in their quest for unilateralism then that should be cleared by now. The Russia-Ukraine war clearly shows how for Russia, diplomacy has become nothing but an inconvenient drawback standing in the way of its agenda. Russia had fashioned itself as an impartial, anticolonial intermediary on the continent using alternative multilateral vehicles such as BRICS.
Brics is a convergence of the emerging powers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The voices of dissent from these member states did nothing to deter Russia from invading Ukraine and neither did protests from the AU chair Macky Sall and other members states (permanent and non-permanent) of the Security Council.
From Russia’s violent descent upon Ukraine however, it is clear that Russia has yet to shed off its colonial style of rule, especially over countries like Ukraine which are its former republics.
Africa must not be beguiled into regarding Russia as the congenial intermediary it has fashioned itself to be; when push comes to shove the interests of Russia will come first and will inform any foreign policy not just in Ukraine but also on the African continent.
Africa and the rest of the world must find a way to shake off the triumphalist hubris that saw George Bush establish a new world order following the 9/11 tragedy.
American power has its limits and limitations and with the eruption of new wars in failing states like Somalia and Sudan failing to whet the American appetite enough to coax much needed military interventions, new players like Russia are finding it easy to strategically expand their reach into new regions in Africa.
Gold and diamond in CAR, Bauxite in Guinea and many other mineral extraction projects in Africa, Russia has been steadily exerting its presence in the continent, displacing western influence slowly but surely.
With a strong foothold established in the eastern Mediterranean, naval port access in the Red Sea and presenting itself as the next best alternative to democracy, Russia has found a solid theatre in Africa; fertile ground for its geostrategic pursuits.
The means employed by this shrouded ally should also be a cause for worry for African democracies; election interference, ‘security’ and arms for natural resource deals, mercenaries, extra-legal and often opaque contracts – all blaring alarms warning of a bleak outcome if African dependency on Moscow’s military assets continues to grow.
The Wagner group and its pervasive presence in Africa have been one of the reasons why the African Union has been unable to act and speak in one accord regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Apart from countries like Ghana, Gabon and Kenya, most countries have chosen a ‘sitting on the fence’ position with Touadera supporting Russia’s interventions in Luhansk and Donetsk and his counterpart from Sudan Dagalo visiting Moscow with a delegation in a move to strengthen ties.
The animal farm syndrome: African wars get different treatment
The double standards that the Russo-Ukrainian war has exposed on the part of global powers have been astounding. For the onlookers from the African continent, it is apparent that some wars are more important than others.
It is commendable that global powers have come out guns blazing to defend the sovereignty of Ukraine and help put a stop to the massacre that the invasion is meeting out on Ukrainians.
The sanctions by the west and the UN are as timely as they are necessary. However, the limp-wristed and largely spiritless treatment that wars in Africa receive leaves one to wonder whether some wars are more crucial than others.
Surely the humanitarian situation in Tigray in recent times and the violence slowly escalating in South Sudan is right up there (or should be) with any other atrocities that are dominating the headlines. Most of the fighting in Africa gets the kind of media attention that leads one to think it is just a skirmish here or there when in truth the situation is way direr.
There is a need to deconstruct the inferred biases that inform the value that is attached to human life, especially by people from the western world.
All human life is valuable and all conflict or war, no matter the geographical placement or the racial orientation should be treated with the same swift condemnation that we have seen in the case of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Charlie D’Agata’s (senior correspondent for CBS) report from Kyiv regarding the ongoing crisis leaves nothing to the imagination. He said, “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.”
A stark lack of professionalism has been seen across several media houses where comparisons have been made based on race, skin colour and even social class. Most such comments, aside from rage on social media, go unpunished and remain uncensored. Imposing ‘epidermal passports’ on victims of war in Africa and other non-western countries is a reality whose end is certainly not in sight.
In a nutshell
The war has singlehandedly unleashed upon the world racial dehumanization that is not just shocking but also horrifying. As millions fled Ukraine in search of safety, students and other civilians of African descent living and working in Ukraine were stopped at borders, shoved off trains with animals sometimes being allowed to get on before Africans.
While the entire world should stand in solidarity with Ukraine at this time, African leaders must look incisively at what is happening to Africa and Africans as a direct result of the war. Our dependencies on the west must not veil the truth which is that even in the face of war, Africa’s needs will come last.
The split March 2nd vote at the UN General assembly condemning Russia’s invasion and demanding its retreat and respect of the territorial integrity of Ukraine speaks to how the vested interests of some African nations affected their votes.
The voting pattern can also be attributed to the support that the Soviet Union gave to some African countries during their struggles for independence as well as the reluctance to be sucked into a brand new Cold War.
Still, there is an unreciprocated interest in the west that is doing Africa more bad than good. Africa has her eyes glued on the tragedy in Ukraine but how many similar or worse situations are unfolding back home?
Away from oil, fuel and grain prices, there is a lot more that Africa must look out for to protect the sovereignty of her people. It happened with climate change where Africa did not do much to cause the problem but was and is still on the receiving end as the repercussions ravage the planet.
Africa has had no hand in the Russia Ukraine war but it is already experiencing the negative impact of the war, top of the list being racial discrimination.
There is a disheartening level of tolerance for the kind of maltreatment Africans have received in Ukraine despite the fact that Article 3 of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention guarantees access to the humanitarian facility of refugee protection “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.
Cover Image by: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona