Russia is often shown by its own propaganda as a key partner in the decolonization of Africa. “Cooperation with Moscow is a matter of life and death,” – Ugandan senior military officer and politician Jeje Odongo said for the Russian state-owned domestic news agency RIA Novosti. But what consequences tightening ties with Russia can really bear for African countries? Read our article.
Russia’s impact on Africa
Russia has had strong connections with African countries for a long period, and the Soviet Union supported pro-independence movements in Africa at the time of Western political dominance.
“Russia has arguably expanded its influence in Africa in recent years more than any other external actor. These engagements extend from deepening ties in North Africa, expanding its reach in the Central African Republic and the Sahel, and rekindling Cold War ties in southern Africa. Russia’s approach is distinctive among external actors in that Moscow typically relies on irregular (and frequently extralegal) means to expand its influence – deployment of mercenaries, disinformation, election interference, support for coups, and arms for resources deals, among others. This low-cost, high influence strategy seeks to advance a very different world order than the rules-based, democratic political systems to which most Africans aspire. The outcomes from Russia’s interventions in Africa, therefore, will have far-reaching implications for governance norms and security on the continent,” – writes Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Besides, after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the role of the Global South externally increased for the Russian Federation. Country’s President Vladimir Putin also said on 20 March 2023 that he gave “priority” to relations with African countries, as Moscow was looking for new partners to face international sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, writes africanews.com.
It is important to note that the colonial past of most African countries builds anti-Western sentiment in their societies, which is exploited by Russia. For example, this narrative of decolonization is widely used by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Expert’s point of view
We have asked about African decolonization and possible Russian help in this process by an independent researcher of Africa Marta Oliynyk-D’omochko.
– What are the issues related to the colonial past most pressing for Africa right now?
For Africa, one of the critical issues of its development and politics is avoiding the trend of neo-colonialism. And this is probably the biggest consequence of the colonial period now. The colonial period, the gaining of independence by African countries — all this was not an easy period for Africa. To a greater extent, the former metropolises did not set themselves the goal of developing colonies, but of obtaining profit from them. Accordingly, after gaining independence, most African countries tried to minimize contact with the former metropolises. Participation in the non-aligned movements and neutrality in conflicts (which we see now when it comes to clear support for Ukraine) are direct consequences of this. We can also add distrust to Western countries, which is actively fueled by propaganda. This is if we talk about the political component.
Many conflicts and ethnic contradictions also take their roots in the colonial era, when territories were divided without taking into account the peculiarities of the ethnic groups that inhabited them (for example, Sudan and South Sudan), when one ethnic group was favored, discriminating against another, which later resulted in a desire for revenge (Rwanda). All these events took place not so long ago and their consequences still affect African countries’ political and security life.
Underdeveloped social and political institutions, the chaos into which Africa plunged due to the unprecedented rapid pace of gaining independence without proper preliminary preparation – all this has its roots in colonialism. It was reflected in the lost decades (the period from the 1970s to the 1990s) and has an impact on life now in the African continent, particularly in political instability, poor governance, human rights violations, and certain marginalization on the world stage.
– Russian politicians and media say that the cooperation of African countries with Russia will help them to finish the decolonization process. Does Russia really have enough resources for this? Are there problems that this country could effectively solve?
In this case, it is most likely that Russian politicians and the media mean by “the end of the decolonization process” the transition to the Russian orbit of influence, the entry into the block of countries under the auspices of the Russian Federation, which will become the second block in opposition to the Western world.
It should always be remembered that Russia has no altruistic intentions in Africa, it pursues its own economic and political interests there. Although Russia talks about overcoming dependence and decolonization, in fact, it aims to make African countries dependent on themselves by various methods in order to obtain the desired political results for it. In terms of security, Russia is trying to “lend” The Wagner Group to African countries, in terms of politics – to provide support to dubious regimes.
In general, if we look at what Africa aspires to, then the best indicator here will be Africa’s Agenda 2063 – the road plan of the African Union for the development of the continent. Among the goals listed there (the general list is here), the idea of Pan-Africanism (more detailed about this you can read here, – author’s note) and “African solutions for African countries” marks a red thread.
That is, the question is even whether African countries need a solution imposed from the outside, for which they will have to pay by losing their independence. And it is worth noting that not all African countries see Russia as a main partner. No matter what theses about decolonization are spread by Russia; European countries individually and the EU, in general, are important economic and political partners of African countries.
– Can cooperation with Ukraine in the future help to solve some of the problems of African countries related to the colonial past?
Ukraine is a unique partner for Africa precisely because of its approach and the absence of a colonial, invading past. Ukraine and Africa have many common features, we have many common problems and, accordingly, there are many areas for joint solutions. In fact, just as Africa seeks to avoid the trend of neo-colonialism, Ukraine is trying to get rid of intrusive, invading Russia.
If we talk specifically about the problems caused by the colonial past, then Ukraine can offer solutions for Africa in terms of security and politics. These are both joint military exercises and assistance in strengthening the defense capabilities of African countries. Recently, Ukraine organized courses for diplomats from African countries. In this format, it is possible to conduct courses for managers, and public managers with Western partners, which is in demand both in Africa and Ukraine.
Africa has been marginalized on the world stage for a long time. Something similar happened in the case of Ukraine. Now we can join forces, and act together within the framework of initiatives, in particular regarding the reformation of the UN as an ineffective international institution.
As for the Ukrainian-African relationship, in December 2022 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that Ukraine is already reloading its relationships with dozens of African countries and it should be stepped up in 2023.
“Ten countries have already been determined where new embassies of Ukraine in Africa will be opened. We also developed the concept of the “Ukraine – Africa” trading house with the opening of its offices in the capitals of the most promising countries of the African continent. In addition to the existing representation of Ukraine in ten African countries — along with new embassies and trading houses — we must achieve representation in thirty countries of the African continent,” – President said.
It is worth adding, in October 2022 Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had the first in Ukrainian history diplomatic tour in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, in the same month, several African countries supported Ukraine in voting for the resolution against Russian aggression at the UN for the first time.
“But this is only the result that is on the surface. During the tour, we managed to agree on a number of specific things,” – Dmytro Kuleba noted.
Earlier we also wrote about Ukrainian-African economic cooperation and Russian propaganda in Africa.