It is the responsibility of every nation-state to assure the security of its people and it is fundamental and constitutionally right to make sure that citizens are free from fear, want and integrity. In order to guarantee the safety of its citizens, the nation-state may infringe into the security of other nations or countries and this could lead to conflicts and/or wars. The repercussions of such wars most often are cascading and contagion not only within the neighbourhood but across the world. The Russian war on Ukraine is not only affecting their neighbourhoods but it is equally affecting states across the world including Africa. The world is interconnected with security alliances and treaties, so too is Africa. Russia does not have a colony in Africa but had close relations with African countries especially during the period of liberation movements. In the contemporary era, Russia had built diplomatic and military ties with some African states including Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Madagascar, Mali, and Sudan. Pressure from the western bloc on African countries to side with Ukraine against Russia has been very controversial.
The Russia-Ukraine war has placed Africa in a difficult diplomatic position with many African leaders trying to remain neutral. Russia has positioned itself strategically in the African continent through security and economic influence despite strong trade links between Africa and the West. China, another key player in the continent, appears to be on Russia’s side amid the invasion of Ukraine making it more difficult for many African states to take an official position in the Russia-Ukraine war. The war can contribute both positively and negatively to the existing socio-political challenges of Africa. The conflict opens doors for growth opportunities as Africa’s natural gas could reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. It can as well upset many fragile economies in Africa. Even so, Africa’s peace and security operations depend on external funding, mainly from the West. As donor countries focus their resources on the war in Ukraine, their financial contributions to security operations in Africa may reduce. Furthermore, the African Union has declared 2022 as the year of nutrition, recognizing the need to strengthen resilience in food and nutrition security(1). Yet, the conflict remains one of the continent’s main drivers of food insecurity. As Putin’s war with Ukraine continues, Africa’s food crisis looms. Before the war, countries like Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa were already grappling with soaring food prices due to intrastate conflict, climate change, or COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted production efforts and supply chains in these countries (2). Raising food prices and deepening income inequalities in Africa can further exacerbate existing grievances in conflict-affected states or fuel new conflicts (2).
Foreign relations with African countries have been contingent to their colonial roots. Russia was not a party in the colonization of the African continent and thus had not had a sphere of influence in Africa as far as colonial roots are concerned. This might have been as a result that, the Imperial Russian Empire already had substantial territory under its influence and had no real rational motive to actualize an African campaign. Russo-African relations go far back to the 1950s-1960s, during Africa’s ‘decolonization’ era and the cold war era, which was an ideological conflict between the Capitalist US and the Communist USSR, where some African countries were Soviet allies (i.e., Russia’s allies)(3). Its involvement in Africa reduced significantly in the 1990s due to post-Soviet chaos, and then grew again from 2014(4).
Even though Russia’s increasing involvement in Africa has been evident since the mid-2000s, the Russo-African conference held in Sochi (Russia) in 2019 brought together 43 of Africa’s 54 national leaders in attendance. The conference showcased a fresh tangible importance in Russia’s strategy to intensify ties with Africa (5). Russia’s relationship in Africa is largely influenced by its economic and military interest (i.e., in African resources and security markets). Economically, unlike most western powers, who invest significantly in Africa’s economic development, Russia’s interest lies in exploiting Africa’s natural resources. It has established natural resource deals with about twenty African countries, to exploit minerals such as diamond, and oil, using parastatals such as “Rosneft” and “Lukoil”.
Apart from its economic interests, Russia has also built strong military relations with Africa. This has focused largely in the area of arms sales, training of troops, mercenaries and gaining naval port access. Russia has taken advantage of instability and continuous conflicts in some African countries, to obtain rich arms agreements and mining deals. For example, Russia uses private military contractors or mercenaries (the Wagner Group) in ongoing conflicts in the Sahel and Mozambique. Russia equally has military relations with Khalifa Haftar in Libya, Faustin Archange Touadéra in the Central African Republic (CAR), and coup leaders Colonel Assimi Goïta in Mali and Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Sudan, among others (5). In addition, Russia has signed 21 military cooperation agreements with African governments. These agreements are mostly aimed at securing port and base access to support naval operations in the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Russia recently established its first ever Naval Base in Africa, in Sudan’s Red Sea coast (6).
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks armaments, Algeria is one of Russia’s most important military allies in Africa. It is also the largest customer of Russian weapons on the continent, followed by Egypt, Sudan and Angola (7). These groups have been accused of torture, human rights abuses and their actions slowing economic development (8). This continuous Russia’s nuzzling in Africa, especially in military alliances is making the West very uncomfortable, thus shelving their so-called security protection and making the continent more vulnerable to conflicts.
Russo-African Relations to Peace and Security in Africa
Reminiscent of the fact that the African continent is reputed for its unpredictably evolving nature of conflicts, the nature of relations between African states and its foreign counterparts is of great essence in enhancing global peace and security as relations between African countries and non-African countries can either contribute in preserving global peace and security or complexifying the existing conflicts in the region. Russia is a typical example of non-African states increasingly growing its presence in Africa on the back of a breakdown in relations between France and its African colonies which has consequently paved a way for the latter to rekindle old links that existed before and during the Cold War (9).
Russia’s presence is noticeably felt in Africa through its business-inclined relations with countries such as Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, South Africa, Sudan, and Libya. These growing relations can be accountable to several reasons ranging from re-enforced military cooperation for some African states, economic interests, and political alienation. The signing of treaties between African states and Russia is therefore proof of Africa’s wilful engagement into issues of shared interests but, how does this renewed relationship influence African stakes of peace and security?
African countries are exhibiting a disposition to look beyond a single foreign partner in their endeavour to find stability and security. The Russian federation is not the only foreign country trying to increase its influence in Africa- home to abundant resources. The USA organized a second U.S.-Africa leadership summit in December 2022, following up on an initial Washington gathering in 2014. The European Union on its part has made public a new $172 billion investment in Africa especially in infrastructure, in a bit to counter China’s Belt and Road initiative (10). The conveyance of these hegemonic powers in Africa in the quest for guaranteeing security in Africa may turn to be a battlefield for dominance.
Russia’s presence is equally accompanied by the proliferation of military bases, weapons and ammunitions in a conflict-sensitive region as witnessed in Sudan which implants traceable sources of strategic weapons that may help to induce, facilitate or transform violent acts into more complex war-like scenarios. Thereby arousing instability within the region. Russia’s hopes to build military bases in Mozambique, Sudan, Madagascar, Egypt, Eritrea, and Central African Republic may soon transform Africa into a theatre of war between the East and the West for hegemony like the current case with Ukraine.
The gradual conveyance of superpowers in Africa both economic and military reasons is exposing the vulnerable conflict-prone continent to be another theatre of war like Ukraine aimed to tilt the world’s present status-quo. The pressure on African countries to shift their stance from neutrality and non-alignment due to ideological factors is putting Africa in a security quagmire. The former African colonial masters feel threatened with the Russian interest in the continent and thus are doing everything to deter the strong relations between African countries and the Russia
Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.