Africa-Press – Eritrea. Far from the frontlines of Ukraine, another war of sorts is raging between Moscow and Kyiv, one being fought with words instead of weapons. The stage is thousands of miles away in Africa, a continent no stranger to conflict.
This, however, is a war of diplomacy, where Russia and Ukraine have the same objective: getting African nations in their corner. The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers were both on a tour of the continent when this week kicked off.
Sergey Lavrov was on a surprise visit to Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy, ahead of the two-day BRICS summit of foreign ministers that begins in South Africa on Thursday.
At the same time, Dmytro Kuleba was in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, winding up his own Africa trip, which included stops in Mozambique, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.
This is Lavrov’s fourth visit to Africa since the Ukraine war began in February last year, while Kuleba was making his second trip out to the continent.
The Ukraine conflict has seen somewhat clear battle lines being drawn around the world. Western nations, predominantly the US and its allies, are firmly with Kyiv, lending all sorts of material, monetary, and moral support.
Russia, on the other hand, has few all-out supporters. What it does have, however, is a lot of nations that have taken a neutral stance on the Ukraine war – nowhere more than in Africa. Searching for allies
Political analysts in Africa are under no illusions about the reasons for Moscow and Kyiv’s growing outreach on the continent.
“These visits are more about getting Africa’s diplomatic support, especially for future voting at the UN,” Dirk Kotze, a political science professor at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, told Anadolu.
Many African countries abstained when the UN General Assembly held a vote last year to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying that their neutral position was in line with their non-aligned foreign policies, he explained.
The data backs Kotze’s remarks: 30 African countries voted in favor of a general assembly resolution this February, just two more than last year, while nearly half of the 32 abstentions were also African nations.
Changing these figures is a priority for Ukraine. Kuleba, its top diplomat, acknowledged as much during his recent tour, asserting that African nations must recognize that “neutrality is not the answer.
He also made it a point to convey that Ukraine wants to support and uplift Africa.
Speaking in Ethiopia on the 60th anniversary of the African Union, Kuleba said his visit was an indicator of Kyiv’s “true commitment to a new era of relations” between Ukraine and Africa.
“We have come to talk as equals and work as partners,” he said, stressing that, as one of the founding countries of the UN, Ukraine has consistently defended and promoted the interests of African nations.
As part of its diplomatic push, he announced in Mozambique that Ukraine will soon establish an embassy in the capital Maputo, a major step on what was the “first visit in the history of bilateral relations” between the two countries.
A statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said opening the embassy is a decision in line with the “renaissance of Ukrainian-African relations. ”
Legacy of colonialism
For Mametlwe Sebei, it is all but obvious that Russia and Ukraine are both jostling for Africa’s support at the UN.
“But they are also aiming for more,” Sebei, head of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa, told Anadolu.
“They see Africa not just as a consumer market, but also as a source of raw materials for the upcoming green energy industries.
On the support for Russia on the continent, he said many African nations hold a sympathetic view of Moscow “because of its anti-colonial legacy from the days of the Soviet Union,” despite the fact that “the Russia today is a capitalist state.
He said Western powers are using Ukraine as a front in attempts to dent China’s growing influence in Africa.
That was a point that Kuleba seemed to directly address during his speech in Ethiopia, when he emphasized that “supporting Ukraine is not about being pro-Western or anti-Western.
He also spoke about Ukraine’s “first African strategy,” specifically how it has “intensified political dialogue with many countries on the continent” and even plans “to hold the first Ukraine-Africa Summit.
Kotze, the professor in Pretoria, pointed out that Ukraine has much ground to cover in Africa.
“It will take time for Ukraine,” he said.
“Russia has been involved with African nations for much longer, selling weapons to some and even helped some countries during their struggles against colonialism.”