In recent weeks, the world has witnessed the tensest moments in international relations since the end of the Cold War. This was evident in the deliberations and voting by United Nations members on resolutions calling on Russia to end its invasion and withdraw its forces from Ukraine.
The events were also a stress test for military and political alliances.
Africa had a significant influence on the outcome of the vote with 54 countries(27.97% of all votes).
First, the meeting of the 12-member Security Council on February 25, 2021. The three African representatives, Gabon, Ghana and Kenya, along with eight other countries voted for the resolution. However, Russia used its veto power to block it. This veto prompted the United States and 94 countries to convene an emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on February 27, 2022 where a similar, but non-binding, motion was tabled. The assembly’s first emergency meeting in 40 years.
The resolution included a condemnation of Russia’s decision to “increase the readiness of its nuclear forces”. It was adopted with the required two-thirds of the votes of all Member States.
There was less unanimity in the African votes in the General Assembly than in the Security Council, where the allocation of non-permanent seats, while obeying a certain geographical distribution, does not impose on the representative countries be the spokespersons for their region.
The majority of African countries clearly sided with Ukraine – 28 out of 54 (51.85%). Only Eritrea voted against the resolution. But nearly a third abstained from taking sides (17 out of 54) – that’s if we understand that abstention is halfway between a yes and a no. Eight countries were absent.
My research investigated similarities and differences in countries’ responses to crises. For example, I examined the 2015 refugee crisis in Europe and the opposing reactions from Western and Eastern European countries. I explained them through their different identities – or the “who are we? “.
I also reviewed the Joint Valletta Action Plan, an immigration pact signed by the European Union and the African Union in response to the refugee crisis. I showed that the plan, which helped reset AU-EU relations, was based on interdependence, a kind of interest where the parties held on to their interests (territorial integrity for Europeans and economic development for Africans ) but recognized (especially the more powerful Europeans) that they needed each other to advance those interests.
Research conducted by authors such as the Dutch political scientist Erik Voeten also shows that voting in the General Assembly is – in general – driven by interests. But, as American political scientist Alexander Wendt has shown, what constitutes interest depends on the perception of each government. So much so that two rival countries can sometimes vote for the same resolution.
Historically, as Voeten has shown, voting patterns have been shaped by the big issues of the day. In the 1950s, colonialism pitted European countries against Asian and African countries. From the 1960s to the 1980s, it was the Cold War and the division between Eastern and Western blocs. More recently, voting patterns have been structured by the desire of developing countries to get or get help from developed countries and, increasingly, liberal-illiberals to divide between democratic regimes and authoritarian regimes
This division outweighs other potential explanations for voting patterns at the emergency general meeting over the invasion of Ukraine. The degree of closeness of the country’s ties with the West or Russia is an additional explanation.
The dividing line
The group of 27 African countries that voted for the resolution was overwhelmingly made up of aligned western democracies. These were Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Niger, from Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Zambia.
But the list also included a few undemocratic or hybrid regimes. These were Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Libya, Chad, Egypt, Mauritania, Rwanda and Somalia.
They all had one thing in common, however: they are all Western allies, with close military ties such as military bases and joint military operations against jihadists.
Conversely, most of the 17 African countries that abstained or, like Eritrea, voted against the resolution, are authoritarian or hybrid regimes. These include Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Some of them have close military and ideological ties with Russia, sometimes dating back to the Cold War. This list includes Algeria, Angola, Congo, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mali, Central African Republic.
There were also a few exceptions to the rule.
A number of functioning democracies – Namibia, South Africa and Senegal – also abstained. All have strong affinities with the West. But in the case of Namibia and South Africa, their respective ruling parties – the South West African People’s Organization and the African National Congress – received support from the Soviet Union during their struggles for power. ‘independence.
The case of Senegal is more puzzling. The country is a darling of the West due to its long democratic tradition. The Senegalese government declared that his abstention was in accordance with the “principles of non-alignment and peaceful settlement of disputes”. However, its president official statement as the current chairman of the African Union with the chairman of the AU could be interpreted as supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
This liberal or illiberal split conveys three kinds of insights.
First, that the world is convulsed by the kind of clash of civilizations predicted by the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington who claimed that cultural identity would be the fault line in world conflicts.
This fault will give way to world-civilizations: Western, Chinese, Islamic, Latin, Slavic and perhaps African. While his idea of a clash – and of identity as a driving force – seems to be materializing, that identity is based on ideology – not culture. Illiberalism having replaced communism.
We just hadn’t arrived at the triumph of democracy proclaimed by American political scientist Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History published in 1992 after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Second, that authoritarian regimes find comfort and support in the proximity of similar regimes for their survival. It works like an insurance policy. Russia having shown its determination to rescue authoritarian regimes like Syria, these countries do not want to close the possibility of resorting to its help if they were faced with an existential threat.
Third, if the war in Ukraine escalates globally and a Cold War 2.0 including China takes hold, African countries would split into blocs instead of presenting a common front.
Seen in the context of the renewed EU-AU partnership, this divide will take on greater significance now than at their summit in Brussels, a week before the conflict erupted, where they proclaimed a common vision for 2030 and sought a strategic alliance. .
The EU’s demands for democracy and as such alignment are likely to increase and it will naturally seek to deepen its relations with like-minded African countries.