Stop using the Russia-Ukraine conflict to force Africa to pick sides

Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Thursday, 14 April 2022 16:43

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Russia-Africa Economic Forum, in Sochi, Russia on October 24, 2019. (Photo by Kremlin Press Office / Handout / Anadolu Agency)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Russia-Africa Economic Forum, in Sochi, Russia on October 24, 2019. (Photo by Kremlin Press Office / Handout / Anadolu Agency)

In the mind’s eye of a handful of men in the autumn of their lives and brandishing weapons of mass destruction, our world is reverting into a grand conflict of spheres of influence. The signal is the biggest war in Europe for more than 70 years. The price is the destruction of thousands of lives and livelihoods in Europe, and lethal mayhem wrecking tens of millions of lives far beyond its borders.

It is a geopolitical reality for which few of the world’s nearly eight billion people would vote. Yet, it has become the all-consuming news on our phones, newspapers and televisions. Like the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Congo, Angola and Ethiopia before them, the brave fighters of Ukraine are trapped between the hammer and the anvil.

In the 30 years since the Berlin Wall was picked apart by souvenir hunters, the international system was edging towards an uneasy multipolarity. Presiding over that evolution was the US, which spends more on its military than the next 11 countries combined. If guns were the sole measure of power, Washington would dominate the world for decades to come.

War all around us

But they are not. War is all around us, as Mark Galeotti points out in his brilliant tome The Weaponisation of Everything. Asymmetric wars are being fought in cyberspace, by smart-suited lobbyists and by paramilitary criminal gangs, as well as in boardrooms where directors chew up the world’s ecology.

This makes the outcome of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine ever more problematic. His bid to rebuild the Russian Empire, the one that collapsed in revolution in 1917, comes as Western Europe’s empires are being held to serious account for the first time since their dissolution.

The only beneficiaries of that will be predators of a breed who strutted across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 1930s.

Beyond the return of stolen cultural artefacts by Britain, France and Germany to Africa and Asia, there is a wider redrawing of the paths of trade and technology. Centuries of bloody expropriation are being dissected by scholars; bills are being presented. Reparations, not flaccid apologias, are on the agenda.

Hostile spheres of influence

This regathering and reconstitution of the Global South should not be diverted by a new tsar looking back to the centuries of blood and iron. The backing of the Russians and other Soviet peoples for Africa’s liberation movements is written into history. But that gives no moral or legal right for a new tyrant to trample on the peoples who are living in what he deems to be Russia’s near abroad.

The UN charter of 1945 accorded all member states sovereignty, territorial integrity and recognition of their liberty and human rights. It was the template under which Europe’s empires surrendered their seized territories. We now have 193 members of the UN. Most of them voted to deplore Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

They did not vote for the redivision of the globe into hostile spheres of influence, with their axes in Washington, Moscow and Beijing. The only beneficiaries of that will be predators of a breed who strutted across Africa, Asia and Europe in the 1930s. Stopping them in their tracks should be our common cause today.

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