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Part I: Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Africa Must Not Miss The Opportunity

By Isaac Mwanza

The two sides that fought in World War I lived in the same century but in different places. The same is true for World War II. In World War III, both sides are almost everywhere bur they live in different centuries” ~ Haim Harari

From 24 February 2022 when the Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised the launch of what he termed a “special military operation” in neighbouring Ukraine, Western and European governments have been monitoring and scrutinising Africa’s reaction to this military action by Russia in what they termed as “an unprovoked military assault on another sovereign state.” Apparently, they had been expecting African countries to share in their condemnation of Russia’s military action against Ukraine.

Some of the continent’s leaders have toed that narrow diplomatic path out of fear that doing otherwise comes with consequences. Granted, African leaders have very limited options against the powerful West otherwise they would lose the privilege of getting invitations for a cup of tea in London or coffee in Washington to negotiate aid or bailout packages. Understandably then, our leaders would not dare raise the question of how our former colonial masters have contributed to the situation Africa is in today: beggars.

Undoubtedly, Western countries are Africa’s top trading partners together with China. For example, the World Bank report on exports between the United States and Zambia for the period 2016 to 2020 stood at $119.2 million, $97.7 million between the United Kingdom and Zambia, while bilateral trade between Zambia and Russia, stood at just $31.9 million. The big chunk of finances from the Western world revolves around capital goods, mechanical and electrical and consumer products. On the other hands, Russia has been trading in agricultural products such as fertilisers, wheat and metals with Zambia.

It is thus reasonable to conclude that the hands of Africa’s political leaders are tied with such investment, including aid, from the West which may be cut off and wiped out if they refuse to sing the same hymn with the West. However, even under these circumstances, we have seen a good number of African leaders and their countries refusing to open the hymn book and sing with Western European governments over the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand the divided sentiments among our continent’s leaders over Ukraine. The lukewarm reception the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky received at the African Union when he addressed our Heads of State and the lack of interest generally in that address among Africans is sufficient to underscore how Africa has been unenthusiastic to support Ukraine and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) backers.

Many of Ukraine’s backers had colonised Africa and still control our economies through various means and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Noticeably, our attitude as Africans to our former colonisers is steadily shifting away in recent years, rising almost to the level of defiance.

A good fraction of the African population generally view Ukraine as a pawn of the West and NATO in the game of chess with Russia, with the world as the chessboard and the world’s natural resources as the prize. But truth be said, Africa’s leaders are the pawns.

The majority of Africa’s people have taken a conscious stance of non-alignment, or else they are patently sympathising with Russia as recent events in Mali, Burkina Faso and Central African Republic, have shown by way of public demonstrations demanding the departure of French and Western “peacekeeping” troops and corresponding calls by the people in those countries for a stronger Russian presence in their countries.

In the Central African Republic, the interim government openly invited Russia’s Wagner Group, a private army which has been labelled as a mercenary outfit by the US and its NATO allies. Of course, the US had a similar outfit: Blackwater led by one Erik Prince, which the US government referred as a “private military contractor.”

True to form, the United Kingdom also had its inevitable copycat “private military contractor” called “Executive Outcomes,” led by Simon Mann and financed by well-known neoliberal groups. Executive Outcomes was busted on its very first mission, which was to be the ouster of the leader of the tiny but oil-rich nation of Equatorial Guinea on the west African coast.

On their way to South Africa to pick up arms and supplies, the mercenaries’ plane landed in Harare, Zimbabwe where the government of President Robert Mugabe, forewarned of the plot, had all the mercenaries on board, arrested and tried. Their leader, Simon Mann, got a 6-year jail sentence in Zimbabwe before he was handed over to the government of Equatorial Guinea for another trial and a 12-year jail sentence.

South Africans and Zimbabweans, two peoples who consider themselves to be among the worst victims of injustices perpetrated by the West, are caught between a rock and a hard place over the question of Ukraine. They tend to justify their indifference towards Ukraine based on reading into past actions by Western countries and European governments.

The resentment of South African towards the West and in favour of Russia is somehow justifiable. Many educated young Africans in the SADC region condemn the West for its role in sustaining and then assisting the oppressive white “Apartheid” regime of South Africa which ended in 1994 as well as the racist white regime of Southern Rhodesia which ended in 1980.

Published by the Zambia Daily Nation