The war in Ukraine is straining relations between Africa and the West

The war in Ukraine is straining relations between Africa and the West


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has widened a rift between African countries and supporters in the West who are urging the continent to show solidarity with Europe.

The issues were put on unpleasant display this week at the International Forum for Peace and Security in Dakar, where the conflict was a major theme.

French Minister of State Chrysoula Zacharopoulou said at the conference that Russia’s invasion was “an existential threat to the stability and integrity of our continent”.

“That’s why we expect solidarity from Africa,” she said.

She blames the Kremlin for rising energy and food costs that have rattled the global economy but hit African countries in particular.

“Russia alone is responsible for this economic, energy and food crisis,” she said.

Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who is also currently the head of the African Union, said Africa is “not against Ukraine” and that Africans are not “insensitive to the situation” there.

But like other participants at the conference, he also said that many Africans felt that their own problems, such as security, economy or health, were being ignored.

“Africans say that even while Ukraine is at war, is under attack, Africa is under attack, Africa is under constant attack from terrorism,” Sall said.

“The year is 2022, we are no longer living in the colonial era … so countries, even if they are poor, have the same dignity. Their problems must be treated with respect.”

– ‘western paternalism’ –

Former Nigerian President Mahamadou Issoufou said it was disheartening to see so much support for the Ukrainian army as the Sahel he hails from scrambles to find funds to fight jihadists.

“It is shocking for Africans to see the billions that have rained down on Ukraine while attention has been diverted from the situation in the Sahel,” he said.

In contrast, he added, the G5 anti-jihadi force, which was originally supposed to bring together troops from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Mali, has had a much harder time raising $400 million.

Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, who said his junta-ruled country left the G5 this year because it came under too much “French pressure”, also saw a discrepancy.

“For Ukraine, where they asked Africa to take a stand, they raised more than eight billion ($) in just a few days,” he said.

“It’s a policy of double standards. All human lives – black, white, red and yellow – are equal.”

The conference’s host, Senegal, which has close ties to Western countries, caused a stir on March 2 by joining many other African countries in abstaining in a vote at the UN General Assembly on a resolution calling for the Russia will not use force against Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall told TV5 Monde this week that the move reflects the need to “seek a common African position” at a time when her country had just assumed the presidency of the AU.

Almost half of African countries either abstained or did not vote in a UN resolution on Oct. 13 on whether to condemn Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territories.

Aude Darnal, a non-resident collaborator at the Stimson Center, a US international security think tank, said Africa has been looking for new partners in recent years.

“African states have tried to diversify their partnerships with other smaller and emerging powers like India and Turkey” – both at the forum – “and big powers like China and Russia, all posing as equal partners,” she said.

“There has also been a growing weariness towards a sense of Western tutelage,” she added.

African states tried to “protect and advance their interests and partnerships with all sides”.

– ‘Self-centered’? –

But Niagale Bagayoko, the president of the African Security Sector Network (ASSN), dismissed the argument that the world had left Africa as “very difficult to accept”.

“Africa is at the heart of the international agenda,” she said.

“If we really look at the budget for peacekeeping operations and external interventions, Africa is the region next to the Middle East that has received the most interventions over the last 10 years, including sporadic interventions by the Americans.”

She said she feared that recent reactions from African politicians “create the impression that the only concern for Africans in a conflict that has ramifications for the whole world is the impact on their own security.”

“It reminds me of Europeans who believe that if you’re worried about the conflict in the Sahel, for example, it’s only about protecting the (European) continent from migration.”

The risk, she said, is that when the next international call for investment to help Africa comes, Western countries too may respond “in the same self-centered way.”

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