NPR’s Ailsa Chang interviews Aanu Adeoye of the Chatham House think tank about African nations’ responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
While Washington and many European countries are pushing to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, many African countries have remained neutral. Nearly half of all countries that refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly are in Africa, and many are reluctant to join in on sanctions against Russia. However, Aanu Adeoye, who studies Africa-Russia relations at the Chatham House think tank, says that while many African countries have not condemned Russia, they are actually less supportive than they had been. been in previous conflicts.
AANU ADEOYE: Thank you for inviting me.
CHANG: So Africa is obviously a huge continent, but I was wondering if you could talk about some common reasons that a lot of these countries might want to stay neutral right now on this war in Ukraine.
ADEOYE: I think the war in Ukraine – for a lot of African countries, a lot of them see it more and more as a proxy battle between Russia and the West. So many leaders have decided it would be in their interest to stay neutral in this fight. We should also know that since 2014 Russia has deliberately tried to be more influential on the African continent, and I think that means that there are a number of countries on the African continent that see Russia as a good friend and a good ally.
And I think some of that goes back to the Soviet era as well. If we look at the UN voting patterns of the 17 countries that abstained, a few Southern African countries received a lot of support from the Soviet Union during their struggle against colonial and imperial rule.
Chang: Interesting. So, although you identify that there are several countries that consider Russia to be, in quotes, a “good friend”, there has been some change since 2014 – hasn’t there? – because 17 African countries voted to abstain in the UN vote this time, compared to 26 who abstained when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. So we know that more African countries this time condemn the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Why this change this time?
ADEOYE: Yes, absolutely. As you said, more countries have decided not to abstain this time – if you look at countries like Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritania and Mauritius – and I think Kenya’s position is instructive . In 2014, Kenya chose to abstain, and I think this change in position shows that so many African countries have a much lower tolerance for an all-out attack on a sovereign country.
I mean in 2014 what happened was Russia annexed Crimea and gave support to the Donbas regions which for many African countries was just a dispute territorial. But now, in 2022, an all-out assault on a sovereign nation is just a red line that so many African countries believe Russia has crossed.
CHANG: You know, almost all African nations have suffered some form of colonization, invasion or enslavement at the hands of European countries in the past. I wonder – how do you think history plays into how you see some African countries approaching Russia today?
ADEOYE: It’s true. There are people on the continent who see what an imperialist power Russia has been and think it should be condemned, but there are also people who see this as an increasingly proxy battle between the West and Russia and who decided that since Russia did not play a part in the colonization of Africa, Africans decided to show their support for the Russians.
CHANG: Well, let’s talk about the economic forces at play here because this conflict is already affecting various countries in Africa – like, wheat prices are going up there. If African nations were to join the sanctions against Russia at this stage, what further economic impact would you see?
ADEOYE: No African country has joined the sanctions regime. And as you said, the downstream effect of higher wheat prices, for example, is already having effects in Africa. Joining any sanctions regime against Russia is going to hurt so many African countries, and we have seen economies have been ravaged by the pandemic, by double-digit inflation.
CHANG: Aanu Adeoye from the Chatham House think tank. Thank you very much for joining us today.
ADEOYE: Thank you for inviting me.
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