On June 20, the Ukrainian President addressed the African Union (AU) in a solemn speech from the capital, kyiv. What is Zelensky looking for in Africa? one might ask.
Indeed, since the independence acquired in 1991 after the break-up of the USSR, Ukraine has never shown any interest in Africa despite the multiple challenges facing the continent. If now, suddenly, its president discovers the existence of Africa, it is because there is interest.
Since February 2022, the country has been facing one of the most intense conflicts since the Second World War, imposed on it by the Russian neighbor. Had it not been for the rapid intervention of Westerners to support it, the country would undoubtedly have already been engulfed by the Russian bear. In such a context, all support is necessary and requested. Zelensky really needs it, he is so cornered by the powerful Russian army.
However, what can be the real significance of this discourse? What Zelensky needs most right now are weapons and ammunition. In this respect, Africa is the poor relation of the world. It has to resort to external partners for its own equipment.
Economically, the continent also has no particular goods to offer Ukraine. Africa is a continent of young people. Zelensky also needs fighters. Africa could therefore be a source of supply of men.
Already, at the very beginning of the conflict, Ukraine was discreetly recruiting combatants in a few African countries. But this was quickly denounced. After the painful experiences of the First and Second World Wars where Africans were enlisted in the colonial framework to go and fight for the Europeans, one can wonder if States will agree to see their nationals taken on board in the conflict. Nothing is less sure.
Africa must prioritize its own interests
Africa can hope to obtain from Ukraine a solution to the food crisis due to the shortage of wheat in world trade. There is also the problem of fertilizer supply which arises. The rainy season is here, and the fertilizer still hasn’t arrived. This could disrupt the agricultural campaign.
But Ukraine does not have the solution alone. Because both wheat and fertilizer come from both Ukraine and Russia, and the Russians currently control the commercial ports of the attacked country.
The most plausible support that Africa could give to Ukraine is only moral and diplomatic support. This could lead to condemnation by the African Union of Russian aggression and alignment with Ukraine’s positions in international bodies.
But even this simply formal support, can Africa dare it? Not sure. Because we should avoid scaring off the Russian giant, which is much more important for Africa than Ukraine. The continent, indeed, has more trade and cooperation relations with Russia than with Ukraine, whose weight is practically insignificant in Africa.
The armies of some countries are equipped and trained by the Russians. They will not intend to call into question long years of cooperation just to satisfy kyiv.
More pressing concerns
It is true that Western states will try to exert “friendly” pressure on African states in their area of influence. But will that be enough? Be that as it may, African states, if not economic and military powers, must at least know how to identify their interests. In this specific case, to benefit from the wheat and fertilizer that they do not produce or produce enough, they cannot officially take a position in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.
In April 1955, at the height of the Cold War, at the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandoeng, the developing countries had laid the foundations for non-alignment. With the breakup of the USSR, this design fell into disuse.
The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is a reminder that it may be time to rekindle the non-alignment, because Africa sometimes has more pressing concerns than taking a stand in situations created by the very people who subjugated it. for a long time, and who sometimes, deep down, despise it.