Members of the East African Community are torn apart by the Russian-Ukraine war. Some want peace whereas others are indifferent about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan declined to vote in favor of the United Nations condemnation of Russia for invading Ukraine.
Whereas Rwanda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic voted that Russia stops the war to enable peace in Ukraine.
The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a nonbinding resolution that condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and called for its immediate withdrawal.
After a rare emergency session that started on Monday, 141 countries voted for the resolution, 35 abstained, and five voted against it.
Only Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria voted with Russia against the resolution.
The resolution deplored Russia’s “aggression” against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and “demands” Russia “immediately” withdraw from Ukraine.
It also condemned President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put his nuclear forces on alert.
The resolution is not legally binding but the vote tally could serve to put additional pressure on the Kremlin. A similar motion was vetoed last week in the UN Security Council, with Russia’s vote the only one against.
Before the UN vote, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, publicly expressed support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine although active soldiers in the country are prohibited from making such political statements.
He added; “Putin is absolutely right! When the USSR parked nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba in 1962, the West was ready to blow up the world over it. Now when Nato does the same they expect Russia to do differently.”
Gen Kainerugaba – who is the commander of Uganda’s land forces – tweeted that “the majority of mankind (that are non-white) support Russia’s stand in Ukraine”.
Along with Sudan’s Gen Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, Gen Kainerugaba is the only senior military officer in Africa to publicly voice support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prominent Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, also tweeted that even “an amateur in international power politics can see that Moscow can never allow Ukraine’s accession to Nato & EU, coz it poses an existential threat to Russia!”
To clarify why Uganda abstained from condemning Russia and calling for peace in Ukraine, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Adonia Ayebare, said; “Uganda abstained on the UN General Assembly vote on the Ukraine crisis. As incoming chair of the Non-aligned Movement neutrality is key. Uganda will continue to play a constructive role in the maintenance of peace and security both regionally and globally.”
The West African regional bloc Ecowas has condemned Russia’s invasion, while the African Union called on Moscow to respect Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”.
South Africa’s foreign affairs ministry has called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.
It should be noted though that Russia has been expanding its influence in Africa in recent years and after the invasion of Ukraine, it will be expecting its new-found allies to provide support, or at least remain neutral, in international bodies such as the UN.
From Libya to Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Mozambique and elsewhere, Russia has been getting more involved – often militarily with help fighting rebels or jihadist militants.
At the UN Security Council, Kenya, currently a non-permanent member, made its opposition to Russian action in Ukraine very clear.
Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) on Feb. 21 gave a scathing condemnation of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, comparing it to colonialism in Africa.
In a statement to the UN Security Council at an emergency meeting to discuss Russia’s decision to recognize the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, Martin Kimani said Russia’s move breaches the territorial integrity of Ukraine and pointed out that Africa itself has had to contend with borders created by colonial powers because of the greater goal of peace.
But there has not yet been a loud chorus from other countries backing Kenya’s position. The continental body, the African Union, expressed “extreme concern” about what was going on, but was muted in its criticism of Russia.
South Africa, which is a partner of Russia in the BRICS group, has called on the country to withdraw its forces from Ukraine but said it still held out hope for a negotiated solution.
On the other hand, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has been reported as backing Russia’s decision to recognize the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.
And on Wednesday the deputy leader of the Sudanese junta, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, led a delegation to Moscow in a sign of closer ties between the two countries.
One of the clearest examples of how alliances have been shifting in Africa came just a week before Russia’s attack on Ukraine with the ending of French involvement in fighting jihadists in Mali.
Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga confirmed, in an interview with France24, that his country has signed military co-operation agreements with Russia. But he denied that the controversial Russian private military company, the Wagner Group, was involved.
This Russian help in Mali, along with a reported offer to the military government in Burkina Faso, fits a pattern over the past five years where Russia has intensified steps to increase its influence in Africa, both official and informal.
As the renewed Russia-Africa engagement gained momentum, a 2019 summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi was attended by delegates from more than 50 African countries, including 43 heads of state.
President Vladimir Putin addressed the leaders, appealing to a history of backing liberation movements and pledging to boost trade and investment.
But there has also been another kind of presence: the opaque provision of security to governments in a number of African countries, in the form of training, intelligence and equipment, as well as involvement of Russian mercenaries in local conflicts.
As Mr Putin indicated, there are historic ties stretching back to the days of the USSR, Russia’s predecessor, when Africa was one of several spheres of competition between it and the US.
Africa, in total, has more than a quarter of the votes at the UN General Assembly, and can be a powerful collective voice in other international bodies.
A 2021 report on perspectives of Africa-Russia co-operation, published by Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, pointed out that African countries have tended to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in the past.
“None of the African countries introduced any sanctions against Russia [after 2014]. In the voting in the UN on Ukraine-related issues, most countries of the continent express a neutral position,” the report said.
With the invasion of Ukraine, if that neutral stance continues, or if it is translated into more vocal support, then Russia’s efforts over the past few years could be seen to have paid off.
Trade between Africa and Russia has been growing lately. African countries imported agricultural products worth US$4 billion from Russia in 2020. About 90% of this was wheat, and 6% was sunflower oil.
Major importing countries were Egypt, which accounted for n Disruption in trade, because of the invasion, in the significant producing region of the Black Sea would add to elevated global agricultural commodity prices – with potential knock on effects for global food prices. A rise in commodities prices was already evident just days into the conflict.
This is a concern for the African continent, which is a net importer of wheat and sunflower oil.