THERE are war crimes, and then there is hypocrisy in determining and approaching war crimes. There is international doctrine on humanitarian interventions, and then there is selective enthusiasm on its application as a useful weapon against an enemy than an assertion of universal principle.
There is massive aid delivery, both humanitarian and military, to Ukraine. There is also much concern for Ukrainian refugees and warm hospitality.
However, in the initial stages of the conflict, African students fleeing Ukraine faced uncooperative Ukrainian and Polish border guards. We are talking here about the international law of armed conflict, commonly known as humanitarian law.
In the case of populations being displaced, as we are witnessing in Ukraine, humanitarian law stipulates that at all times and under all circumstances, it is forbidden to force individuals in flight back to a territory where they are in danger.
Thus, when the students were prevented from fleeing to safety, Ukraine, a non-European Union country, and Poland, a member of the EU bloc, were in flagrant violation of humanitarian law.
Yet no major Western think tank or media ever questioned such double standards when it comes to adhering to the principles of international law. African governments, on the other hand, were busy bemoaning the ‘inequalities’ of geopolitical relationships while relegating the plight of the African students to a side show.
African leaders focused on choosing alliances between Russia and the West, and the respective political positions of major powers, at the expense of the war’s impact on African human security.
It is difficult to see the value of international principles, harder still to understand the contrasting positions of multilateral institutions such as the UN. There is an extraordinary case of double standards in the handling of the war in Ukraine.
In so far as there is an impact on Africa, Ukraine is not an unfortunate development or a distraction from Africa’s deadly conflicts. The lethargy with which the West, the UN and relief organisations responded to the starvation in Tigray is an eye opener, unfortunately a negative one.
Other sources of dismay include the fact that when special interests of multinational corporations are involved, the West has been, for far too long, fatally ambivalent about war crimes. Little mention has been made of the role that lobbyists paid by the extractive industry continue to play in whitewashing genocidal crimes.
Zero media coverage of the war in Ethiopia and the attendant reports of human rights abuses coincided with a surge of, among other things, Canadian mining activity in the area, as well as by other Western, Chinese, Australian, and United Arab Emirates companies.
This is not an isolated incident. From Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo all the way to Mano River oil and mining in West Africa, these have always shaped the conduct of foreign policy.
Yemen is another example where oil-rich countries, Saudi Arabia and UAE, clients of big arms corporations, were allowed to destroy the country and its people.
Likewise, normative principles, values and moral standards needed for a rules-based order are neglected. The US and Western allies seem to oppose military takeover of power when they dislike the leaders of a coup, like in Sudan, but endorse it in Egypt and now Chad when the perpetrators appear to push Western interests.
This is not only inconsistent and hypocritical, but dangerous and unhelpful to the consolidation of democracy in Africa.
What has come to the surface is that humanitarian law and international crimes are not treated equally. However, the most flagrant and widely deplored contradiction is between the swift response against Russia and a reality in which acts of genocide and the siege of Tigray by combined Eritrean and Ethiopian forces have been tolerated for almost one year.
No attempt is made to divorce acts of genocide from its victims. Little pressure is applied on the Ethiopian government to stop the war and lift its blockade – after all, enforced starvation remains a war crime.
Ukraine exposed the nakedness of Western humanitarianism. The nature of Western duplicity has become all too evident. Particularly, America’s history of moral evasiveness around wartime atrocities undermines the very principles it claims to uphold.
Africa should take note of this. It is high time to look to other directions to ensure the sincerity of multilateral institutions, and strengthen global approaches to conflicts.