Russia-Ukraine Crisis: Where do African Countries Stand?
Samir Bhattacharya, Research Associate, VIF
Context

On 21st February 2022, President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of Ukraine’s breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk and decided to support Moscow-backed separatists with a military operation [1]. Three days later, when Russia started its air and missile strikes in Ukraine’s Donbas region, ittransformed into a full-blown war[2]. The attack led to strong condemnation from most Western countries, followed by economic sanctions. As the economic sanctions imposed by both US and EU failed to persuade Russia from withdrawing its troops, on 27th February, US and 94 countries called an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly, the first emergency meeting in 40 years. The goal of the motion was to adopt a resolution condemning Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine as violating Article 2, paragraph 4 of the Charter of the United Nations [3].

UN Resolution against Russia

The United Nations General Assembly in New York was requested to vote on a resolution asking for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine on 2ndMarch [4]. During the meeting, 141 countries out of 193 supported the resolution condemning Russia [5]. Only 27 African countries voted in favour of the resolution in the UN General Assembly, indicating that there was a lack of agreement among African countries. Africa has three rotating seats on the UN Security Council, the ‘A3’, currently held by Ghana, Kenya and Gabon. During the UNSC voting earlier in end February all of them voted in favour of the UNSC resolution condemning Russia [6]. However, Russia a permanent member of UNSC had vetoed the UNSC resolution.

In the UNGA resolution, however, 24 out of 55 African countries declined to join the resounding vote denouncing Russian aggression. Among them, 17 African countries abstained [7]. Russia’s all-time African allies, Sudan, Mali and the Central Africa Republic, and South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Algeria, Madagascar, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zimbabwe, abstained. The abstention of South Africa came as a surprise, given it has consistently opposed the Israeli occupation of Palestine as well as the NATO intervention in Libya [8]. Three major countries China, India and United Arab Emirates, also decided to abstain.

Another six African countries decided to not participate in the vote. Ethiopia, the second-most populous nation of Africa, and Cameroon did not appear in the voting hall. And Eritrea, Ethiopia’s former opponent turned ally, was the only African country to vote against the motion, keeping company with Russia and three other staunch Russian supporters: Belarus, Syria and North Korea [9].
A similar text has previously been submitted in the UN Security Council, with 11 countries supporting it, but it was rejected due to Russia’s veto.The UNGA vote was symbolic and had no legal ramifications. Nonetheless, the vote highlighted Russia’s rising influence on the African continent since several African countries declared neutrality in line with their own national interests.

African Reaction

Russia was anticipated to maintain its soft power and sympathy in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, countries where coups have occurred lately. In addition to these countries, Sudan’s formidable paramilitary leader, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, flew into Moscow with a big delegation on the first day of the crisis [10]. On the same day, a memorial to Russian paramilitaries who helped fight out insurgents a year ago was held in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic [11]. In Ethiopia, Russian flags flew at a ceremony to commemorate a famous 19th century battle against Italian invaders, honouring Russian volunteers who allied with Ethiopian soldiers [12]. Even Morocco, a long-time friend of the United States, issued a tepid response, emphasising its commitment to all states’ territorial integrity and national unity [13].

During the crisis, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, was one of Mr Putin’s most ardent supporters. An influential figure in Uganda, he recognises the value of Russian no-questions-asked weaponry. Though later disowned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Uganda’s first son declared that the bulk of humanity (non-white) backed Russia’s position on Ukraine. He went on to say that when the Soviet Union stationed nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba in 1962, the West was prepared to blow up the entire planet. When NATO does the same, they should not expect Russia to respond differently [14].

Historic Connections

Under the pretext of insufficient diplomatic mechanisms, most African countries abstained or opposed the resolution, calling for direct engagement between the parties involved. However, the reason behind this conspicuous silence against Russia is multifold. The origins of the Russia-Africa proximity can be traced back to their historical relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Throughout most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a key player in Africa. The Soviet Union funded several post-colonial African movements demanding self-determination and freedom in order to gain an ideological advantage against the West. Once the countries gained independence, Soviet Union provided technical, educational and financial aid as well as military assistance to many countries. And most importantly, it vehemently opposed and disassociated itself with West-backed dictatorial military regimes such as Idi Amin (Uganda), Jean-Bédel Bokassa (Central African Republic), Mobutu Sese of Seko (Zaire or DRC) and Samuel Doe (Liberia) [15].

Instead, for many African countries, the Soviet Union served as an ideological role model, an ally, and a diplomatic clout in the conflict between the West and the East throughout the Cold War. Indeed, the Soviet Union positioned itself as a counterweight to Western neo-colonialism and a guiding light to the continent to bring in transformative social change. Later, the Soviet government offered growing African republics economic support, including infrastructure and agricultural development, as well as security and health sector collaboration. The Soviet provision of security support, especially equipment and knowledge, to post-colonial forces across Africa generated a long-term legacy of Soviet hardware and military operating culture. In certain nations, this heritage has stood the test of time. The Soviet Union also supported South Africa’s battle against apartheid [16].

Return of Russia in Africa

Despite the legacy of the Soviet Union, Russia’s outreach to Africa has remained abysmally low since the demise of the Soviet Union. This was due to Russia’s domestic problems, such as a failing economy and international sanctions imposed by the US and Europe. However, in recent years, Russia has used an odd combination of diplomacy, firearms, and mercenaries to strengthen its influence in Africa. In truth, Russia’s recent admission might be linked to its necessity following the harsh sanctions imposed during the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Putin’s administration boosted its participation in Africa as part of this approach, as it sought new markets and diplomatic assistance. Russia has recently established substantial trading ties with key African economies such as South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, and Sudan. It has diplomatic missions in 40 African countries.

Russia-Africa Summit

It was in this backdrop Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa Summit in 2019. Held in Russian city Sochi, the event drew 50 African countries and 43 African Heads of the States, making it a huge diplomatic triumph [17]. After the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit, President Putin wrote off US$20 billion in debt owed by African countries to Russia, coupled with plans to double Russia’s trade with Africa to US$40 billion per year [18]. Dubbed as the ‘Year of Africa’, a second Russia-Africa summit is scheduled for St. Petersburg in late 2022.

Russian Resources and Weapons

Russia is among the most important partners for defence procurement and a key arms supplier. According to SIPRI data Russia, between 2016 and 2020, supplied 30 percent of arms purchases by countries in sub-Saharan Africa [19]. China provided 20 percent, France 9.5 percent and the US 5.4 percent [20]. Many African countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Angola rely heavily on Russian military hardware. Because of their over-reliance on Russian aircraft, Ethiopian and Ugandan militaries are the most vulnerable to Russia-related sanctions. Currently, both Ethiopia and Uganda are engaged in active military campaigns. The former against rebel forces in the Tigray region, and Uganda against the Allied Democratic Forces rebels in eastern DRC. As a result, they are heavily dependent on Russia for their victory against rebel forces. Many other countries such as Burundi, DRC, Eritrea, Kenya and Rwanda are also reliant on Russian arms supply to varying degrees.

Russian Mercenaries

In addition to the import of arms, a growing number of African countries have contracted with Russian mercenaries and bought ever-greater quantities of Russian weapons. Russian mercenaries present in Africa are principally employed by the Wagner Group, a company linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Mr Putin[21].

Wagner Group provides African countries with counterinsurgency and counterterrorism training as well as use of military hardware. In exchange, Russia receives concessions to extract mineral resources, commercial contracts or access to ports and airbases. In recent years, Wagner mercenaries have fought in civil wars in Libya and Mozambique. They are presently providing security to the President of the Central African Republic, where they helped to prevent a rebel assault on the capital in 2021. In January, Wagner fighters appeared in Mali as part of a deal to combat Islamist insurgents that infuriated France, the former colonial power. French officials have unambiguously expressed their incompatibility in working alongside the Wagner Group, and in February 2022, France announced its decision to withdraw its troops from Malian soil[22].

Racial Discrimination

Hundreds of thousands of citizens sought to flee the nation as Russia bombed key towns in Ukraine. Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania were among the countries that welcomed them. However, according to several sources, many Africans leaving Ukraine could not leave the conflict zone. African sympathy for Ukraine was dampened by tales of Ukrainian border guards shoving African students to the back of lines as they sought to exit the country. Racism and prejudice have also been raised as a result of this.

Around 20 percent of Ukraine’s international students are Africans. Moroccans make up the largest group with 8,000 students, Nigerians are second with 4,000, and Egyptians are third with 3,500[23]. There were several reports that some Africans had been turned away at European borders while trying to leave the war-wracked country[24]. Both Senegalese President Macky Sall, chair of the African Union and the African Union Commission chairperson and Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed their disapproval towards the unfair and unethical treatment of African students. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria also strongly reprimanded the Ukrainian authorities for their harsh treatment of African students[25].

Impact on Africa

The United States and European nations adopted numerous sanctions against Russia after the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Despite being geographically distant from the region, the conflict’s spillover effect and consequent economic sanctions are of great worry to the African continent since they will have a varying impact on different African countries. The biggest and most definite effect of the war is the rise in oil, gas, and wheat prices.

The effects of price rises depend on whether a country is a net exporter or importer. As Europe shifts away from Russian gas supplies, it may turn to African countries searching for newly found energy sources. Algeria, among African countries, owing to its geopolitical location and vast reserves, is poised to benefit the most from the situation. Oil-producing countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Libya, Algeria, Republic of Congo, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and Chad will increase theirstate revenues thanks to the oil price rise. Similarly, gas producing countries like Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal and Tanzania are also set to benefit, especially if they can increase their production. Senegal has 40 trillion cubic meters of proven energy reserves[26]. Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, seeking a $30 billion investment to tap a vast gas discovery in the Indian Ocean, opines this war can finally bring the necessary investment in different parts of Africa[27]. Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline route countries, just before the war, decided to cooperate. On 16th February, they signed the ‘Declaration of Niamey’ to increase their natural gas exports to European markets[28]. However, most African countries do not produce oil and are net importers. For these countries, the global oil price hike will result in skyrocketing prices of petrol and related products and asharp rise in transportation costs.

Sanctions prohibiting deals with the Russian government or businesses linked to it would have far-reaching immediate ramifications for African states that rely on Russia for military and civic gear. Russian helicopters are used for transport in UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan’s Darfur area[29]. The sanctions will affect both in-service equipment and anything that had not been delivered by the time they came into force.

Likewise, the war will exacerbate the miseries of most African economies that are already reeling under the negative impacts of the pandemic. For oil-importing African countries, the current crisis entails additional costs on importing oil and natural gas for agricultural and industrial production. The war will most certainly impact food security across the continent as both Russia and Ukraine are significant sources of wheat and fertiliser in Africa. African countries imported $4 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia in 2020[30]. Among these products, wheat takes the lead with a rate of 90%.

On the other hand, Ukraine exported $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products to Africa in 2020. While wheat represents 48% of the products, corn accounts for 31%[31]. When most African countries are already suffering from the pandemic, this new added pressure can take a huge toll on them.

Africa faces significant energy and power supply concerns, with electricity pricing and dependability being major factors limiting the region’s industrial output. Companies like Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec, and Rosatom are present on the continent, providing choices for dependable electricity and power supply as well as the development of nuclear energy. The current crisis may cause these projects to be delayed or abandoned entirely, raising serious concerns about the continent’s energy security.

Way Forward

As the world scrambles for a way to stop the war, Africa’s position remains divided, with some criticising the Russian aggression and others implicitly backing Russia. Furthermore, the way numerous African nations behaved in the Ukraine crisis to maintain the balance between Russia and the West, it caught the West by surprise. In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it appears that African countries are stepping cautiously to safeguard their national interests while supporting the rights of Africans stranded in combat zones. Despite their disagreements in opposing Russian aggression, they were completely united in their opposition to discrimination against African citizens seeking humanitarian help. Going forward, it is likely Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world could push it closer to African countries.

Endnotes :

[1]The Hindu. February 22, 2022. “Russian President Putin recognises separatist eastern Ukrainian regions”
https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/putin-to-recognise-ukraine-rebel-territories-as-independent-kremlin/article65072160.ece
[2]The Economic Times. March 10, 2022.
“Ukraine war: Two weeks that changed the world”
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/ukraine-war-two-weeks-that-changed-the-world/articleshow/90115263.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
[3]UN News. March 2, 2022. “General Assembly resolution demands end to Russian offensive in Ukraine”.
https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113152
[4]Frontline. March 10. 2022. “Ukraine conflict: Russia's re-engagement with Africa pays off”.
https://frontline.thehindu.com/dispatches/ukraine-conflict-russias-reengagement-with-africa-pays-off/article38452851.ece
[5]Idem
[6]All Africa. March 7, 2022. “UN Vote On Russia Invasion Shows a Changing Africa”.
https://allafrica.com/stories/202203080011.html
[7]Idem
[8]Daily Maverick.March 8, 2022. “Untangling the narrative web surrounding South Africa’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict”.
https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-03-08-untangling-the-narrative-web-surrounding-south-africas-stance-on-the-russia-ukraine-conflict/
[9]The Guardian. March 2, 2022. “UN votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for withdrawal”.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/02/united-nations-russia-ukraine-vote
[10]Deccan Herald. March 11, 2022. “Russia ramps up ties with Sudan as Ukraine war rages”
https://www.deccanherald.com/international/world-news-politics/russia-ramps-up-ties-with-sudan-as-ukraine-war-rages-1090260.html
[11]VOA News. February 24, 2022. “CAR's Capital Pays Tribute to National Army, Russian Soldiers”
https://www.voanews.com/a/car-capital-pays-tribute-to-national-army-russian-soldiers/6457665.html
[12]BD News 24. March 5, 2022. “Shunned by others, Russia finds friends in Africa”.
https://bdnews24.com/world/africa/2022/03/05/shunned-by-others-russia-finds-friends-in-africa
[13]MAP. March 2, 2022. “Morocco's Non-Participation in UNGA Vote is Sovereign Decision, cannot be Interpreted as 'Strategic Misalignment”.
https://www.mapnews.ma/en/actualites/world/ukraine-crisis-moroccos-non-participation-unga-vote-sovereign-decision-cannot-be
[14]The Independent. March 3, 2022. “Disregard Muhoozi’s tweet backing Russia on Ukraine: Minister Oryem”
https://www.independent.co.ug/disregard-muhoozis-tweet-backing-russia-on-ukraine-minister-oryem/
[15]Premium Times, March 11, 2022. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: What does it mean for Africa?”.
https://www.premiumtimesng.com/opinion/516583-russias-invasion-of-ukraine-what-does-it-mean-for-africa-by-yusuf-bangura.html
[16]Reuters. March 11, 2022. “Ramaphosa says South Africa has been asked to mediate Russia-Ukraine.”
https://www.reuters.com/world/ramaphosa-says-south-africa-has-been-asked-mediate-russia-ukraine-2022-03-10/
[17]Daily Sabah. March 7, 2022. “Repercussions of the Russia-Ukraine war for Africa”
https://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/op-ed/repercussions-of-the-russia-ukraine-war-for-africa
[18]UA Wire. October 24, 2019. “Putin: Russia has written off $20 billion of African debt”
https://www.uawire.org/putin-russia-has-written-off-20-billion-of-african-debt
[19]SIPRI. March 15, 2021. “International arms transfers level off after years of sharp growth; Middle Eastern arms imports grow most, says SIPRI”
https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2021/international-arms-transfers-level-after-years-sharp-growth-middle-eastern-arms-imports-grow-most
[20]All Africa. March 9, 2022. “Russia's Re-Engagement with Africa Pays Off”. https://allafrica.com/stories/202203100021.html
[21]Sky News. March 10, 2022. “What is the Wagner Group of 'secret' Russian mercenaries?”.
https://news.sky.com/story/ukraine-war-what-is-the-wagner-group-of-secret-russian-mercenaries-12562034
[22]Reuters. January 11, 2022. “French official says 300-400 Russian mercenaries operate in Mali”.
https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/french-official-says-300-400-russian-mercenaries-operate-mali-2022-01-11/
[23]DW. February 24, 2022. “Thousands of African students are stuck in Ukraine.”
https://www.dw.com/en/thousands-of-african-students-are-stuck-in-ukraine/a-60902104
[24]Statecraft. March 2, 2022. “African Union “Disturbed” by Reports of Racial Abuse of Africans Trying to Flee Ukraine.”
https://www.statecraft.co.in/article/african-union-disturbed-by-reports-of-racial-abuse-of-africans-trying-to-flee-ukraine
[25]BBC News. February 28, 2022. “Ukraine conflict: Nigeria condemns treatment of Africans”.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-60555650
[26]How we made in Africa. March 3, 2022. “Ukraine crisis: Could Africa become Europe’s next gas station?”.
https://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/ukraine-crisis-could-africa-become-europes-next-gas-station/140820/
[27]Brookings. February 25, 2022. “What does the war in Ukraine mean for 7
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2022/02/25/what-does-the-war-in-ukraine-mean-for-africa/
[28]African Business. February 17, 2022. “Regional Ministers Sign the Declaration of Niamey, Get Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline Back on Track”.
https://african.business/2022/02/apo-newsfeed/regional-ministers-sign-the-declaration-of-niamey-get-trans-saharan-gas-pipeline-back-on-track/
[29]The East African. March 6, 2022. “National interests prevail as African leaders tread carefully on Ukraine crisis”.
https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/national-interests-african-leaders-careful-ukraine-crisis-3738398
[30]Down To Earth. February 25, 2022. ““How Russia-Ukraine conflict could influence Africa’s food supplies.”
https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/africa/how-russia-ukraine-conflict-could-influence-africa-s-food-supplies-81706
[31]Idem

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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