On May 18 2022 I had an engaging interview with Radio Free Europe (also known as Radio Liberty), a US Congress-funded news organization founded in 1949, which focuses on Eastern Europe. It is remarkable that Radio Free Europe, which was founded at the early stages of the Cold War, remains active long after the Soviet Union unraveled, officially ending with it the Cold War era.
The interview was on Russia’s role in Africa and how that role might likely be impacted upon by the war in Ukraine. Todd Prince, who contacted me for the interview, said he did so on the strength of my 2019 article for the Brookings Institution entitled What Does Russia Really Want From Africa? Remarkably, on July 15 2021, I had also taken part in a virtual workshop by London’s Chatham House on Russia’s Quest for Global Influence- Africa.
This reflection draws from both the interview with Radio Free Europe, my contributions to the Chatham House workshop in July 2021 and my 2019 blog for Brookings Institution. The following are the takeaways:
One, however long it lasts, the war will inevitably end one day, and most likely around a negotiating table – even if by accident it escalates into a Third World War. Its impact on Africa or Russia-Africa relations will largely depend on how the end of the war affects the current system polarity or distribution of power in the global system: if Ukraine is successfully turned to become Russia’s Vietnam, then we may likely see the country retreat from its pre-war attempts to resurge and project power on the global system into the sort of self-doubt it had at the immediate end of the Cold War. If on the other hand, it is seen as emerging victorious from the war, it will become more emboldened and will likely scout for other non-Western allies more aggressively in an attempt to create a new sphere of influence.
Two, in my presentation at the Chatham House workshop, I posed the question of whether Russia’s deepening engagement with Africa could revive the Truman Doctrine – an American foreign policy, which made containing Soviet expansion anywhere a priority for the United States. Announced by President Harry S. Truman on March 12, 1947, it led, in 1949, to the formation of NATO, a military alliance that still exists. The Truman Doctrine lasted until the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 and is often used to date the start of the Cold War. US Senator Tim Kaine has suggested that while the Truman Doctrine operated during the Cold War era in which the world was congealed into a bi-polar ideological struggle between the East and West, a 21st century Truman Doctrine should take into consideration the fact that the world has become ‘tri-polar’ – democracies, authoritarians and violent non-state actors. In fact, one of the criticisms of my Chatham House paper by some reviewers was my suggestion that US policy in Africa is influenced by Soviet expansionism in the continent. But if American foreign policy in Africa before the Ukrainian War was not overtly influenced by Soviet positions as some argued, is the situation likely to change after the Ukrainian War? However this war ends, with Sweden and Switzerland applying to join NATO, and the West showing uncommon solidarity in their opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the distrust between both sides is likely to intensify, leading to a neo-Cold War order. However, unlike the old Cold War that was fought on an ideological contest between capitalism/liberal democracy and socialism/communism, the neo–Cold War order is likely to be driven by a contest between those supporting the current Western-dominated global configuration of power and those opposed to it, led by China, Russia and others that traditionally hold grouses against the West. With President Joe Biden recently promising that the USA will defend Taiwan militarily if China tries to annex it, and China unlikely to give up its claim on the island, a closer collaboration between China and Russia after the war seems likely – in a classic case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The character of the neo-Cold War order will largely depend on which side emerges stronger from the Ukrainian conflict.
Three, in many ways the contest over narratives and moral high grounds which is likely to drive the neo–Cold War order after the Ukraine war, has already begun: while the West justifies its support for Ukraine on the need to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty from an alleged aggression by a bigger power, Russia blames it on the West’s Eastward expansion of NATO, an organization set up in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the defunct Soviet Union. Russia further questions the rationale for that expansion especially given that its Cold War counterpart, the Warsaw Pact, was officially dissolved on July 1 1991.
Russia’s justifications for its military operations in Ukraine seems to resonate well with some Africans. For instance on March 2, 2022 17 African countries abstained from the United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, representing almost half of all countries that sat on the fence. In the same vein on April 7 2022, Nigeria, alongside 21 other African countries,abstained from voting to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over its invasion of Ukraine in an apparent disagreement with the 93 members of the Council which voted in favour of the suspension.
Like in the old Cold War era, the neo Cold War order will present both opportunities and threats to African countries: on the one hand it could offer smart African leaders a bigger latitude for bargaining with both sides while on the flipside, it could accelerate the current democratic reversals in the continent because countries that are treated as pariahs for unconstitutional changes of government could find company in the welcoming embrace of Russia and China which normally claim that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of African countries.
Four, sanctions against Russia present both threats and opportunities for Africa. For instance, the European Union’s decision to phase out dependence on Russian oil and gas over three years could hurt non-oil producing African countries as prices skyrocket but will also present opportunities for increased revenue for many African oil and gas producing countries. The sanctions and Russia’s human and material commitments to the war could also hurt several of the deals it entered with African countries. For instance,since 2015, Russia has signed over 20 bilateral military cooperation agreements with African states. Some of these deals may be in jeopardy as Russia focuses on its military campaign in Ukraine. Similarly Russia is involved in energy and power development in Africa mostly through state-owned companies like Gazprom, Lukoil, Rostec and Rosatom. In the short term at least, Russia’s commitments to the war in Ukraine could affect all these deals. In a neo-Cold War order after the war, these deals will either be strengthened or yielded to the West depending on which side emerges stronger from the war.
Additionally, some of the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West such as the confiscation of the Western assets of Russian ‘oligarchs’, the decision to exclude seven Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system and global financial firms like Visa and MastercCard announcing that they were halting operations in Russia, could shake investor confidence on the West as a haven for investments and hiding assets. This could potentially force African leaders to push for a further integration of the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System, (PAPSS), a cross-border, financial market infrastructure which is expected to facilitate payment transactions across Africa without reliance on the dollar.
Five, Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of wheat and sunflower to Africa. It has been estimated.that between 2018 and 2020, Africa imported US$3.7 billion in wheat (32% of the continent’s total wheat imports) from Russia and another US$1.4 billion from Ukraine (12% of the continent’s wheat imports).Even before the Ukraine war, food prices in several African countries were already at a ten-year high as a result of disruptions to food production and supply chains caused by or exacerbated by climate change and Covid-19. The war has further escalated food prices, worsening the crisis of food insecurity in some African countries. But it also presents an opportunity for Africa to look inwards in its food consumption habits to invest massively towards self-sufficiency in food production.
Six, a question many analysts have shied away from asking is, whether Africa is sufficiently positioned to absorb refugees from the West in the event of the Ukrainian war escalating into a World War 3? Though this possibility seems remote and undesirable, it will not be out of place for Africa to engage in scenario mappings that will include this option.
Jideofor Adibe is Professor of Political Science at Nasarawa State University, Keffi and Publisher of Adonis & Abbey Publishers (www.adonis-abbey.com). He can be reached on: email@example.com or 07058078841 (text/whatsapp only)