Last month, African leaders were once again summoned by president Vladimir Putin to a Russia-Africa Summit.
The first such summit, held in October 2019 in Sochi, was attended by 43 heads of state or government.
Putin emphasised “state sovereignty” and Russian willingness to offer aid or trade deals “without political or other conditions”.
He claimed “an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments”, and that Russia was well suited to helping African states push back.
The second Russia-Africa Summit took place from 27 to 28 July under the theme ‘For Peace, Security and Development’.
It was attended by 17 heads of state and government, including representatives of 49 of the 54 African nations.
I had no qualms about the first summit. But this second summit was totally ill-timed.
You have African leaders hugging and shaking the hand of a man whose hands are full of blood; the blood of innocent Ukrainian children who have no clue what the war is about.
Instead, most African leaders decided to jump into bed with Putin from the word go.
It is the same African states (26 of the 54) that abstain on UN motions to condemn Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine – an internationally recognised sovereign state.
The themes of both summits were contrary to what Putin is doing in Ukraine.
But here are African leaders happy to give Putin’s imperialist regime a platform to project ‘solidarity’ amid the continuing illegal and barbaric invasion of a sovereign nation.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine has caused global tumult and the poor suffer most.
Still, many of the continent’s leaders remain tightlipped on the issue. Aside from economics, the other major implication of this war is the geopolitical impact of Russia’s aggression.
Good Governance Africa has said: “Putin’s aggression has undermined the very fabric of a post-Cold War order that Russia has been integral to maintaining. Its actions make a mockery of the UN Security Council of which it is a permanent member.”
There is this false narrative that Russia supported liberation movements in Africa.
The first point is to perhaps ask: How many liberation movements were there in Africa – those that got their independence through the barrel of the gun?
Secondly, the liberation movements that were there were supported by the former Soviet Union (USSR) of which ironically Ukraine was a part.
Thirdly, at the height of the Sino- Soviet conflict some movements were supported by the USSR and leftist ones like Zanu-PF, Swanu and PAC by China.
We must get this right because some are getting it wrong and getting blinded in this solidarity narrative.
Vice president Nangolo Mbumba, for example, has described the relationship between Namibia and Russia as excellent.
During the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, Mbumba was interviewed on the Russian state news channel RT, where he said “Namibia will never turn its back on Russia” as Moscow was the only one who stood beside the country in its darkest times.
Mbumba said Russia played a pivotal role in Namibia’s in- dependence, dedicating itself to protecting Namibians and offering training in various areas.
He said the two countries would continue training our people in digitalisation and cyber security to make sure we are safe; that is the field in which we are moving.
Mbumba described the second Russia-Africa summit as a wonderful occasion that “brings leaders together to have a dialogue in a conducive environment”.
What?! Conducive environment? Attending this second summit shows we don’t care that the people of Ukraine are being bombed, kidnapped and executed in mass killings.
Some people ask: “Will joining Western condemnation of Moscow help in any meaningful, practical way to end the war?”
And here is another kind of stupid statement: “Much of the global South has remained neutral on the war in Ukraine, not because they support Russia, but because they cannot side with the US and Nato, which are aggressors themselves”, wrote Imraan Buccus, a senior re- search associate at ASRI (African Social Research Institute).
These people are missing the point. Yes, condemning Russia might not help end the war, but neither does it mean siding with the West and the US.
We should have our own stand against war because war is a terrible thing, and those who provoke, encourage or wage war must be condemned.
In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has directly impacted the food security of many of the world’s poorest communities, particularly here in Africa.
As Joseph Borrell Fontelles noted recently: “As the world deals with disrupted supplies and higher prices, Russia is now approaching vulnerable countries, notably in Africa, with bilateral offers of limited grain shipments, pretending to solve a problem it created itself.” (The Namibian, 4 August 2023).
During the summit, Putin did precisely that – promising free grain shipments to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.
I have no clue what other leaders were promised. Maybe shipments of boxes of Russian vodka!
Notwithstanding these offers and promises, African leaders should not be on the fence in a war situation.
They must find a backbone to condemn Russia. Or are they on a political leash?
- Alexactus T Kaure is a free- lance writer.