Russia and West compete for influence in Africa amid new ‘Cold War’
Russia, French and US leaders are traveling across 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, the AP said in a report.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emanuel Macron are each visiting several African countries this week.
Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, went to Kenya and Somalia last week. The US ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will go to Ghana and Uganda next week.
“It's like a new Cold War is playing out in Africa, where the rival sides are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede, director of Democracy Works.
Lavrov, in his travels across the continent, has described the West as the villain, blaming it for rising food prices, while the Western leaders have accused the Kremlin of using food as a weapon and waging an imperial-style war of conquest — words calculated to appeal to listeners in post-colonial Africa.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been working to win support in Africa for several years, reinvigorating friendships that date back a half-century, when the Soviet Union backed many African movements fighting to end colonial rule.
Moscow's influence in Africa was on display in March during the U.N. vote to condemn Russia's war with Ukraine. While 28 African nations voted in favor of the resolution, a significant minority of countries on the continent — 25 — either voted to abstain or did not vote at all.
Russia's top diplomat this week visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia, pledging friendship and charging the U.S. and European countries with driving up food prices by pursuing “reckless” environmental policies. He also accused them of hoarding food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The situation in Ukraine did additionally negatively affect food markets, but not due to the Russian special operation, rather due to the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions,” Lavrov said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital.
Lavrov was warmly received in Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni, who for years has been a U.S. ally but has refused to criticize Russia over the war. Museveni even suggested at the outbreak of the war that Putin’s actions might be understandable because Ukraine is in Russia's sphere of influence.
Lavrov voiced support for reform of the U.N. 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 spurn Moscow when he has good relations with Western countries that participated in slavery.
Museveni, an opinion leader on the continent who has held power for three decades, is an obvious choice for Russia as someone to strengthen ties with, said Ugandan political analyst Asuman Bisiika.
“Uganda is the center of gravity in East Africa,” Bisiika said.
On his tour of Africa, France's Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to spread propaganda in support of the war. And he charged the Kremlin with blackmailing the world by thwarting the export of grain from Ukraine.
"They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked cereals in Ukraine. They are the ones who regulate their cereals,” he said in Benin. His itinerary also included Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.
Macron appealed to Africans to side against Russia.
“I’m telling 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. “That’s the reality.”