Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far been met with diplomatic silence in Africa, except for a comment made by Kenya’s ambassador to the UN earlier this week. Analysts say that while many Africans disagree with Russia’s use of force, the continent’s governments are aware of Russia’s power on the world stage.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Kenya, Andrii Pravednyk, spoke to reporters in Nairobi and appealed to the international community to help his country against Russia’s invasion.
“Today, the future of Europe and the future of the world is at stake. Today Ukraine calls on the international community to take the following actions, to implement devastating sanctions on Russia now without any delay,” he said.
But so far, African governments have said nothing about the Russian aggression. One exception is Kenya, whose ambassador to the U.N., Martin Kimani, condemned the prospect of an invasion Monday, three days before Russian forces entered Ukraine.
“Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression,” he said.
Separately, South Africa issued a statement Wednesday urging Ukraine and Russia to find a way to de-escalate tensions.
Steven Gruzd is the head of the Russia-Africa Program at the South African Institute of International Affairs. He says African states are well aware of Russia’s power in the international system.
“African countries are mindful of the role Russia plays in international politics. It is a supporter without asking governance questions, without asking [about] the internal affairs of countries," he said.
"There was a big Africa-Russia summit in 2019 in Sochi where 43 African leaders went. Russia is definitely wooing the continent and that may weigh on how critical countries are going to be," he said.
But Grudz says in principle, African government oppose the idea of rearranging borders by force.
“We were left with colonial borders at the end of the 19th century and when our countries became independent, we decided that we would respect those borders even though they cut off ethnic groups and language groups and so on. Otherwise, it’s a recipe for total disaster. So, I think the fact that there is some political affinity between Russia and African countries would probably make the statement more muted but African countries will stand for their principles and one of those is territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he said.
Kenyan international relations expert Kizito Sabala says he doubts the Kenyan ambassador’s words at the U.N. will affect Nairobi’s relationship with Moscow.
“Russia is going to ignore this statement just like any other from the U.S. or any other partner. They are just going to proceed with what they want to do and what they think is right but in terms of relations, I don’t think it is going to adversely affect Kenya-Russia relations,” he said.
Russia has exerted increasing influence in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Mali and Libya in recent years. Some governments have used Russian mercenaries to battle insurgent groups.
The mercenaries are accused of widespread abuses against civilians. The Russian government denies any link to the mercenaries.