While 43 African leaders attended the Russia-Africa summit in 2019, only 17 were present at the latest event in St. Petersburg. Many African leaders were unhappy about the price hikes resulting from Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal and the bombing of the Odesa grain silos. Kenya, for instance, was absent, calling it, through Foreign Minister Korir Sing'Oei, “a stab [in] the back at global food security prices” which “disproportionately impacts countries in the Horn of Africa already impacted by drought.”
At the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to compensate six African countries, not coincidentally the most Russia-friendly, with up to 50,000 tons of free grain each. However, African Union president Azali Assoumani did not consider this sufficient and called for a ceasefire.
Self-proclaimed neutral president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, who nonetheless held joint naval exercises with Russia in February, along with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, who recently surreptitiously wanted to deliver 40,000 missiles to Putin, called for a resumption of the grain deal. But when this was not heeded, further explicit or veiled criticism of the Russian host was omitted.
Meanwhile, in addition to the export silos in Odesa, Moscow also bombed those in the Danube ports of Reni and Ismail, destroying a total of 220,000 tons of grain. If the original plan to wipe “brother land” Ukraine off the map fails, then destroying its granary seems to be the backup plan. This means that the UN World Food Program, which had bought 80 per cent of its grain stock from Ukraine by July 2023, now faces a global food crisis and has to buy elsewhere at higher prices and with longer transportation time.
Of course, no speaker at the conference was so undiplomatic to liken the deployment of the food weapon to the Holodomor (the mass starvation of millions of Ukrainians in 1932–33 resulting from Soviet policies). In contrast, many African leaders praised Soviet support for their countries during the anti-colonial liberation struggle. Several participants also showed their gratitude through their CCCP caps (Russian abbreviation for the Soviet Union or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).
Guinean diplomat Lama Jacques Sevoba emerged as a catwalker par excellence by combining his pilotka cap, including hammer and sickle badge, with a contemporary Putin-head studded shirt. Would it not yet have dawned on him and some other Africans that the Soviet battle cry “workers of the world unite” has long since been replaced by the current Kremlin motto: “Authoritarians of the world unite?”
Has it been forgotten in Africa that the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine also supported the African anti-colonial struggle and even trained African National Congress (ANC) fighters? As Olexiy Haran, professor of political science at the National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, recently recalled, African diplomats once associated Ukraine with anti-colonial and anti-apartheid resolutions. He noted that Ukraine – not the Soviet Union – happened to be a member of the UN Special Commission against Apartheid, in which former Ukrainian politician Hennadii Udovenko served as vice chairman between 1985 and 1992.
Ukraine, however, lacks the resources to compete with Russia's propaganda campaign in Africa. An extensive media mix spreads the Kremlin narrative: Russia Today, RT France, news agencies Sputnik Afrique and Arabique. All four, whether in cooperation with domestic media or not, influence operations by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin-affiliated organizations such as AFRIC and FZNC, social influencers and bots, papers and radio stations etc. Hence, a Senegalese minister asked its Ukrainian Ambassador Yurii Pyvovarov why his country had attacked Russia. Meanwhile, Kemi Seba, a French-Beninese influencer with one million Facebook followers, posted a video claiming Moscow was “trying to retake Russian territory.”
Russia after all supposedly “liberates” both Ukraine from Nazis and Africa from jihadist terror and the neocolonial West. Because yes, the anti-terror operations (2013 -2022) with which France assisted five Sahel countries at their request, evoked bitter colonial memories in the population. The French caused many civilian casualties – even groups with local grievances against corrupt and failing administrators were attributed terrorist intentions – upon which the jihadists got more recruits, gained terrain and violence increased.
That this led to military coups among others in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, which were justified on the grounds of the security situation and welcomed by parts of the civilian population, was not surprising. Besides, Prigozhin added fuel to the fire of anti-French sentiment with a widespread disinformation campaign accusing the French of plundering African minerals and training terrorists. Under the decolonization banner of non-interference and self-determination, Africa for Africans and empowerment of the continent in a multipolar world, old friend Russia presented itself in the guise of Prigozhin’s Wagner as an alternative to the French fiasco.
Nevertheless, Wagner's anti-terror operations featured not only the most egregious human rights violations but were in reality terror campaigns. Moreover, the group acts primarily as a Praetorian Guard of dictatorships – like in the Central African Republic – and military juntas, the latter serving as recruits of Putin's Authoritarian International. As a result, half of African UN member states did not vote for resolutions condemning Russia's war against Ukraine, even though according to an IPSOS poll, a majority of Africans believe that Russia should withdraw from Ukraine and is guilty of war crimes.
Not only Russia's war against Ukraine makes unmistakably clear that when Russians promise African citizens self-determination and sovereignty, it is only a masquerade for their own neocolonial agenda. In exchange for Wagner’s security assistance, Prigozhin acquired mining concessions for gold, diamonds and other minerals. Thus, billions are being extracted from the public treasury and the African people.
When Putin speaks highly of friendship between Russia and Africa, he means those Africans who share the spoils with him and follow the same kleptocratic maxim as he does: everything for me and my cronies and the rest has to shut up.
While the Soviet Union offered Africa a communist ideal, even if the promise of heaven on earth turned out to be a mirage, Putin's mafia state primarily exports corruption. And since Prigozhin's recruitment of African cronies proved so successful, he is, despite his mutiny, still too useful to Putin.
However even if military coup supporters in Niger or elsewhere wave Russian flags, corrupt partnerships between the various juntas and Wagner seem unlikely to win the hearts and minds of the people. According to the latest Afrobarometer: seven out of 10 Africans prefer democracy to any other form of government. As do some 90 percent of Ukrainians.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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