Russian, French and American leaders are criss-crossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, waging what some say is the most intense competition for influence on the continent since the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron are each visiting several African countries this week. Samantha Power, director of the US Agency for International Development, visited Kenya and Somalia last week. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield will visit Ghana and Uganda next week.
“It is as if a new cold war is being played out in Africa, where rival parties are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, a foundation promoting good governance.
Lavrov, on his travels across the drought- and hunger-stricken continent, has sought to portray the West as the bad guy, blaming it for rising food prices, while Western leaders have blamed the Kremlin for cynically using food as a weapon and waging an imperial war of conquest – words calculated to appeal to listeners in post-colonial Africa.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has struggled for several years to win support in Africa, reinvigorating friendships that date back half a century, when the Soviet Union supported many African movements fighting to end colonial rule. .
“Now this campaign has kicked into high gear,” Gumede said.
Moscow’s influence in Africa was evident in March during the UN vote condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While 28 African nations voted in favor of the resolution, a significant minority of countries on the continent – 25 – voted to abstain or did not vote at all.
The head of Russian diplomacy visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia this week, pledging their friendship and accusing the United States and European countries of driving up food prices by pursuing environmental policies “irresponsible”. He also accused them of hoarding food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation in Ukraine has additionally affected food markets negatively, but not because of the Russian special operation, but rather because of the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions,” Lavrov told Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.
Lavrov was warmly welcomed to Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni, who for years was a US ally but refused to criticize Russia over the invasion. Museveni even suggested at the start of the war that Putin’s actions might be understandable because Ukraine is within Russia’s sphere of influence.
Lavrov expressed his support for the reform of the UN Security Council to give African countries permanent seats and greater influence.
Appearing with Lavrov, the Ugandan leader spoke fondly of old ties with Russia, asking how he could reject Moscow when he enjoys good relations with countries that participated in slavery.
Museveni, a thought leader on the continent who has held power for three decades, is an obvious choice for Russia as someone to strengthen ties with, Ugandan political analyst Asuman Bisiika said.
“Uganda is the center of gravity in East Africa,” Bisiika said.
Museveni, 77, has strictly worn a mask in public since the COVID-19 outbreak. But he wasn’t wearing one when he greeted Lavrov in front of photographers, apparently wanting to show the Russian some warmth. Museveni had put on a mask during his next public appearance a day later.
Russia also courts African public opinion through its state television channel, RT, formerly known as Russia Today. RT has announced the opening of a new office in Johannesburg.
RT was abruptly removed from Africa’s largest pay-TV platform, Multichoice, based in Johannesburg, in March after the European Union and Britain imposed sanctions on Russia. It is unclear whether the creation of the new office will allow RT to resume broadcasting to Africa via Multichoice, which claims nearly 22 million subscribers on the continent.
“For Russia, it is the battle to be heard in Africa. It’s not important for the war effort itself, but for their long-term political influence,” said Anton Harber, a journalism professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. fertile ground for cultivating their influence and, of course, of course, votes at the UN are important.”
During his tour of Africa, Frenchman Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to broadcast pro-war propaganda. And he accused the Kremlin of blackmailing the world by thwarting the export of grain from Ukraine.
“They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked grain in Ukraine. They are the ones regulating their grain,” he said in Benin. His itinerary also included Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.
Macron called on Africans to side with Russia.
“I tell you here in Africa, a continent that has suffered from colonial imperialism: Russia is one of the last colonial, imperial powers. She decides to invade a neighboring country to defend her interests,” he said. “It is reality.”
Power, the top US AID official, was in East Africa to pledge aid to help the region fight hunger amid a devastating years-long drought. She did not refrain from criticizing Russia.
“By blocking Ukraine’s grain exports and restricting Russia’s fertilizer trade, Putin’s actions have resulted in inflicting suffering on the people of Kenya and other countries around the world” , Power said in Nairobi. Kenya in order to take advantage of its own situation.
AP journalist Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda contributed.
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