This position largely embodies the reaction of some African countries to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Across the continent, many seem hesitant to risk their own security, foreign investment and trade by supporting one side in this conflict.
Despite widespread condemnation of attacks on Ukrainian civilians and their own citizens fleeing the war zone – from countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya – the reaction of some key African countries has been much more restrained.
The countries of the continent are in a delicate position and will not want to be drawn into the battle for intermediaries, says Remy Adekoya, an assistant professor at York University in England.
“There is a strong line of thought in African diplomacy that African states should abide by the principle of non-intervention and therefore should not be involved in proxy wars between East and West. How some states got involved in proxy wars. like during the Cold War,” Adekoya told CNN.
One influential voice that has made it clear that he will not make an enemy of Russian leader Vladimir Putin is South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Addressing his country’s parliament on Thursday, he said: “Our position is very clear … there are those who insist that we take a very hostile position and a position against, say, Russia. And the approach we have chosen. … we insist that there be a dialogue.”
After initially issuing a statement calling on Russia to immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine, South Africa has since placed the blame for the war squarely on NATO’s doorstep for considering Ukraine’s membership in a military alliance that Russia opposes.
“The war could have been avoided if NATO had listened for years to the warnings of its own leaders and officials that its eastward expansion would lead to more, not less, instability in the region.” This Ramaphosa said in Parliament on Thursday.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma also issued a statement saying that Russia “feels provoked.”
South Africa has strong ties to Russia, and Ramaphosa has written about being approached to mediate the conflict given his membership in the BRICS, a group of emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Ties between the two countries also date back to the days of apartheid, when the former Soviet Union supported South Africa and the African National Congress in their liberation struggle. “These services are not forgotten,” Adekoya said.
South Africa was one of 17 African countries that abstained from voting on a UN resolution demanding Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine on March 2. She took a similar stance during Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Nigeria and Egypt were among the 28 African countries that voted to condemn Russia, while eight others did not submit a vote. Eritrea was the only African country to openly vote against the resolution.
“Strength of Leadership”
Many of the countries that abstained from voting at the UN are authoritarian regimes. They view Putin’s unilateral decision to invade Ukraine as a show of strength and selfishness that they can appreciate and support, Yetunde Odugbesan-Omede, a political analyst and professor at Farmingdale State College in New York, told CNN.
His father ruled Uganda with an iron fist for 36 years, and there were speculations that Kainerugaba would become the successor when the 78-year-old Museveni eventually retired.
Kainerugaba tweeted: “Most of humanity (not white) supports Russia’s position in Ukraine. Putin is absolutely right!”
Some African countries are also hesitant to move against Russia because they want to “keep their options open if they face existential threats or some sort of revolution in their own country in the future,” Adekoya said.
“They saw how Putin kept Assad in power in Syria, because if not for Russian intervention, the Assad regime would have fallen long ago,” he added.
Adekoya also pointed out that some of the restrained reaction stems from what is perceived as Western hypocrisy.
Kimani drew a parallel between Ukraine’s rise as an independent state after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the experience of post-colonial African states, criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s build-up and his support for redrawing Ukraine’s borders by recognizing the breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk.
“Kenya rejects such a desire for violent persecution,” he said, referring to Russia’s recognition of the two territories as independent states. “We must complete our rebuilding from the ashes of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression.”
During his speech, he also mentioned other countries in the Security Council that violated international law and did not face sanctions. “He didn’t name them, but he talked about the US and the UK that invaded Iraq in 2003 … and were never held accountable,” Adekoya said.
“There are many people in many parts of the world who would like to see other regions rise in power and would like to see the end of Western dominance in the world order, to put it simply… of course, not a single sane person in Africa or anywhere in the world is looking at what is happening in Ukraine now, and they think it’s good… but many people really see the hypocrisy,” he added.
Establishing Stronger Ties
In recent years, Russia has established itself as one of Africa’s most valuable trading partners, becoming a major supplier of military equipment to key alliances in Nigeria, Libya, Ethiopia and Mali.
Some analysts say the support or lack of condemnation of Russia speaks to a broader view in parts of Africa that Western policy stances are not always working in their favor.
Unlike many of its European counterparts, Russia is not a former colonial power in Africa, and therefore has more room for soft power to challenge Western dominance on the continent.
The Soviet Union also had client relationships with many African states during the Cold War, and Moscow sought to revive some of those ties.
However, Africa has often found itself at the center of power struggles in great power rivalries between key geopolitical players such as the US, China and Russia.
Some countries are trying to use this provision in various ways.
Odugbesan-Omede explained that Tanzania, for example, sees the current situation as a profit opportunity for its energy industry. “Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan sees this as an opportunity to find markets for gas exports,” she said. “Tanzania has the sixth largest gas reserves in Africa. While some African countries will experience some economic shock from the Russo-Ukrainian war, others are trying to weather the storm looking for new profit opportunities,” added Odugbesan-Omede.