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Why some African nations continue to support Russia

THE number of African countries that abstained from the UN General Assembly vote condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine came as a surprise to some. But it follows a certain logic based on recent and historical precedent, says analyst Aanu Adeoye.

‘Africans see this Russian-Ukraine invasion as Russia on the one hand versus Ukraine and some Western allies,’ Aanu Adeoye, a Russia-Eurasia programme fellow at Chatham House in London told RFI.

Initially releasing a strongly-worded statement on the Russian invasion in late February, South Africa’s foreign ministry slightly backtracked with a statement explaining their abstention, saying the UN resolution does not ‘create an environment conducive for diplomacy.’

‘You’ll recall that South Africa abstained the last time, too, in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea,’ says Adeoye, adding that it also supports Russia as one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) emerging countries group,’ says Adeoye.

‘If South Africa felt so strongly about the failures of the resolution as it was written, it should have voted against.

‘And South Africa… as well as five other liberation movements in southern Africa, have historical ties with the former Soviet Union,’ he tells RFI. ‘All six abstained in the vote.’

Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ruling party, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Namibia’s ruling SWAPO party, and ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe were all based on socialist or communist doctrine, and a number of these movements received help from the Soviet Union.

For its part, Angola used Russian arms to gain independence from Portugal in 1975, and its flag features a Russian AK-47.

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) ruling party also gained support from the USSR during the anti-Apartheid struggle.

Influence in the Sahel

Russia has made a number of forays onto the African continent, particularly in the mining and security sectors.

Russia has bolstered itself against sanctions by extracting and exporting gold from Sudan, according to the British Telegraph newspaper.

Bypassing Sudan’s civilian transitional government, Russia dealt directly with paramilitary leader Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Hamdan Dagalo reportedly to smuggle out gold, boosting its reserves by 20 percent.

The gold deals pre-date Hemedti, however; Russia began working with Sudan during the strongman Omar al-Bashir era. At one point in January 2019, the Russian foreign ministry admitted Russian contractors were training the Sudanese army in Sudan.

Some have gone further, suggesting that Hemedti’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), once known as Janjaweed, are currently being trained by Wagner Group, a private military outfit owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin crony Yevgeny Prigozhin. RSF allegedly protects Sudanese gold mines in remote areas.

Sudan also abstained from the UN vote concerning Ukraine.

Further west in the Sahel region, experts indicate that the Wagner Group is providing security for Mali, amidst the withdrawal of French and European troops in the country.

Tensions rose between France and junta leaders after the second coup d’etat in May 2021, resulting in France’s announcement that it would pull its troops out by June.

‘Russia is much more interested in Africa now, but we shouldn’t blow this interest out of proportion,’ he says, indicating that the number of Wagner soldiers,  at about 1,000, is far short of the number of French troops or the 15,000 UN peacekeepers.

That said, they are interested in presenting themselves as reliable security partners, and they are ready to sell weapons without any pre-conditions, which makes this a big deal among quite a number of people” such as military junta leaders.

‘The Russians are not going to ask you any silly questions about a transition to democracy, it’s not something that they concern themselves with,’ he adds.

Guns for Uganda

One of the abstentions came from western ally Uganda, but this goes in line with President Yoweri Museveni’s previous dealings with Russia.

At the 2019 Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, some African leaders said they would be interested in buying arms and weapons. Museveni went one step further.

‘Uganda said that Russia should give more loans to African countries so they can purchase arms and weaponry from Russian manufacturers,’ says Adeoye.

However, Ugandan opposition leader MP Robert Kyagulanyi, known as Bobi Wine, condemned Russia’s actions against Ukraine, and the president Museveni’s meeting with Russian Ambassador to Uganda Vladlen Semivolos.

Their encounter came a day after the vote with a strategic photo op covered by local and international press.

‘What Moscow is preaching to African countries is this sovereignty saying: “We are not going to interfere with your internal affairs, we are not going to preach to you about stuff like human rights and democracy.” They just want to do business with the government,’ says Adeoye.

Reassessment

However, the sanctions against Russia by the US and the European Union could impact the average consumer on the African continent.

‘People might start feeling the pinch. Not only the price of oil has gone up, but the price of wheat too,’ says Adeoye.

‘Wheat is present in so many staple foods, so many African countries are dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat right now,’ he says.

Ukraine’s cabinet passed a resolution on Wednesday banning exports of rye, barley, buckwheat, millet, sugar, salt, and meat until the end of this year, further squeezing the African continent.

Between the sanctions and the foreign isolation, Russia may be forced to re-assess its business in Africa and elsewhere.

‘With the economy taking a hit, the Russians are going to have to prioritise, and that might affect where they can do business abroad,’ concludes Adeoye.

 

 

Source
Laura Angela Bagnetto/RFI

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