24 February 2023 marked the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this interconnected, globalized world, no region has remained untouched by the consequences of this war. Africa is no exception.
Fearing the possibility that Kiev would join the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Moscow sent troops, tanks and missiles. It argued, among other things, that it was “amorphizing” its neighbor, protecting Russian speakers and redressing historical grievances. The brutal violence has resulted in thousands of deaths, destroyed Ukraine’s infrastructure and forced millions to flee their homes. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has hinted at the possible use of nuclear weapons and pulled out of an arms-control deal with the US.
Neither side has been able to prevail in the battlefield. Both still believe they can, especially since Western countries have armed and supported Ukraine. Actual peace talks seem far-fetched because the belligerents do not trust each other.
As the world prepares for both Russian and Ukrainian counter-offensives in the Northern Spring, it is clear that the effects of this conflict reach far beyond Europe’s borders. Rising food, fertilizer and fuel prices have compounded the adverse effects of two years of COVID-19 on Africa’s economies. This war has shown Africa that it cannot feed itself. Heavy reliance on grain imports from Ukraine and Russia prompted the African Union to travel to Moscow in June to propose a deal to make the Black Sea safer for grain shipments to the continent, resulting in Turkey- UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative.
On the diplomatic front, African states have been coaxed and coaxed. Senior Western, Ukrainian and Russian diplomats have crisscrossed the continent over the past year attempting to win African hearts and minds. While some capitals have condemned Russia to the Western world, most have chosen a posture of neutrality or non-alignment. African states have had the largest number and percentage of votes on UN General Assembly resolutions on Ukraine of any region. African leaders have attempted to assert their agency to avoid becoming pawns in a great power chess game.
The more Europeans and Americans pushed and resisted, the closer they were to driving African states into the other camp. For example, Western criticism of South Africa for joint military exercises with Russia and China off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal in February 2023 made South Africa even more determined to go ahead with them, even if they were to attack. coincide with the anniversary.
Will African states continue not to choose sides? It seems ready to continue the courtship, to sway them one way or another. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the world will resort to rewards and punishments, although this will not take away from the way international relations have been conducted for centuries. As this war continues, the likes of African governments will undoubtedly be watched from Brussels, Moscow and Washington, DC. And of course, by their citizens as well.