Africa mostly calm amid widespread condemnation of Russia

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently remarked that Russia’s war on Ukraine should be seen in the context that Moscow is the “centre of gravity” in Eastern Europe.

His son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, was more forceful, stating that most Africans “support Russia’s position in Ukraine” and “Putin is absolutely right!”

Amid a global chorus of condemnation, much of Africa backed down or remained noticeably silent. Twenty-five of Africa’s 54 nations abstained or did not register a vote in the UN General Assembly resolution earlier this month condemning Russia.

The reason? Many nations on the continent of 1.3 billion people have long-standing ties and support with Moscow, dating back to the Cold War when the Soviet Union backed anti-colonial struggles.

These relations have grown closer in recent years: as U.S. interest in Africa seemed to wane under President Donald Trump’s administration, Russia – along with China – has extended its influence, expanding its economic footprint to include everything from agricultural programs to power plants. In 2019, dignitaries from 43 African countries attended a summit with Russia, which has also become the main arms exporter in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The developments have not gone unnoticed. Last month, European Union leaders held a long-delayed summit in Brussels to discuss ways to counter Russian and Chinese influence in Africa.while Western military and civilian leaders view Russia’s growing presence both on the African continent and in the Middle East as a long-term security threat in the West. China is also one of the few countries to support for Moscow.

There have been exceptions to the stream of sympathy running through Africa, with Kenya and Ghana criticizing Russia’s actions.

But, elsewhere on the continent, countries not only refrain from criticizing, but seem to be celebrating their alliances with Russia.

As the war in Ukraine escalated, leaders of the ruling African National Congress attended an event at the Russian Embassy in Cape Town to mark the 30th anniversary of the country’s diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation .

The ANC has ties to the Kremlin that date back to the Soviet Union’s diplomatic and military support for the fight against apartheid, which Western powers failed to provide. Some South Africans point out that Russia was not among the colonizers of Africa.

South Africa’s friendship with Russia is “rooted in bonds of brotherhood”, said lawmaker Floyd Shivambu, leader of the country’s left-wing opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party. Shivambu said Russia’s actions in Ukraine were necessary to prevent NATO expansion.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country abstained from the UN censure resolution because it did not call for “meaningful engagement” with Russia.

“We have seen how, over time, countries have been invaded, wars have been started for many years, and it has taken its toll,” Ramaphosa told lawmakers on Thursday, criticizing NATO expansion. in Eastern Europe. “And some leaders of some countries have been killed. On our own continent (Libya), Muammar Kadhafi was killed.

He said he believed Russia felt “a national existential threat” from NATO.

Neighboring Zimbabwe also abstained from voting at the UN, which had previously escaped its own UN sanctions – over alleged human rights abuses and electoral corruption – thanks to Russian vetoes. and China.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa hailed Russia and China as ‘reliable pillars’, citing the weapons they provided and the training they provided to fighters in the 1970s war against white minority rule in Rhodesia.

Russia has major investments in Zimbabwe, including a multibillion-dollar mining joint venture in the Great Dyke region, which holds one of the largest platinum deposits in the world. Russia is also involved in gold and diamond mining operations in Zimbabwe.

In Uganda, where Russian officers are regularly involved in the maintenance of military equipment, the authorities recently announced the signing of a contract with a Russian company to install tracking devices in vehicles to combat violent crime.

The East African country’s representative to the UN says Uganda abstained from the UN resolution on Russia to protect its neutrality as the next chair of the Non-Aligned Movement , a Cold War-era group of 120 member states that includes almost all African nations.

But President Museveni went further, actually meeting the Russian ambassador as war raged in Ukraine. The Ugandan leader, in power since 1986, criticized “the West’s aggression against Africa”.

In recent months, Museveni’s government has tangled with the United States and other countries that have expressed concern over last year’s disputed elections and growing allegations of rights abuses. Museveni also accused the West of interfering in internal affairs, including pushing to recognize LGBTQ rights.

Nicholas Sengoba, a columnist with Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, said many authoritarian African leaders like Museveni are happy to see Putin “standing up to the big boys of the West”.

Following his meeting with the ambassador, Museveni urged Africans in a tweet to find what he called a “centre of gravity”, which he said Russia is for “the Slavic nations of Europe from the east”.

The post was later deleted, but his son Kainerugaba, who commands Ugandan infantry forces, was unambiguous in his comments on social media.

“The majority of humanity (which is not white) supports Russia’s position in Ukraine,” he tweeted on February 28. “Putin is absolutely right! When the USSR stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, the West was ready to blow the world over. Now, when NATO does the same thing, they expect Russia to do it differently? »

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Magome reported from Johannesburg. Associated Press writer Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.