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African States May Be Pushing to Revive Non-Aligned Movement, Analysts Say


Displays show the list of countries taking part in voting on suspending Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council during an emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York, April 7, 2022.

Some African nations' repeated abstentions on U.S.-led resolutions condemning Russia could be a subtle signal for the revival of the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations, analysts say.

For years, the NAM had about 120 countries voicing a principle not to formally align with or against major power blocs.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the U.N. General Assembly has passed two nonbinding resolutions. For the first, half of the African Union member states abstained from voting — or simply withheld votes — to condemn Europe's largest country.

Last week, the General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. Of the 58 nations abstaining, 24 were African, including Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. Eight African states, including Algeria, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, were among those voting against the resolution.

Pauline Bax, the International Crisis Group's deputy program director for Africa, said African nations were deeply concerned about food and fuel prices rising on the continent because of the conflict, and their posture regarding condemning Russia could point to their unhappiness about the global intergovernmental body's inaction.

''It's a way of saying they're not going to choose sides in this war, and especially not if it's going to be a cold war between the U.S. and the East," Bax told VOA. "And abstaining is one way to send a message.''

Paul Ejime, a London-based international affairs analyst, suggested that a desire to protect sovereign national interests, as well as bilateral ties with Russia, might explain most African nations' reluctance to vote on a resolution against the Kremlin.

''The U.N. needs to give Africa a bigger say," Ejime said. "Fifty-four nations make up the continent of Africa, but they're only being treated like unequal partners."

Naureen Chowdhury Fink, executive director of the New York-based Soufan Center, said that because African nations have long ''been champions of the Non-Aligned Movement,'' abstention seems ''a logical choice."

''Food security has also been a concern for many states, and abstention may be a way to demonstrate an unwillingness to get involved in great power conflicts, especially when there are negative consequences for citizens at home,'' Fink told VOA.

Fink added that "repeat abstentions signal reliability, particularly important for states depending on Russia, or Russian actors, for preserving their security. To some audiences, the abstention also signals [an] unwillingness to be seen as an unquestioning or undisputed supporter of the West.''

Ejime suggested that sovereign African nations were likely using their U.N. votes to let the global community know that ''you can't win a war with another war.''

African countries' reactions to Russia's invasion of Ukraine "have ranged from solidly supporting Ukraine to condemning NATO's response," a new Gallup poll has found.

The poll found that "median approval of Russia's leadership stood at 42% last year," higher than the global median of 33% but lower than Africa's approval ratings for leadership in the United States (60%), China (52%) and Germany (49%).

Gallup polling found that Africans' more positive view of Russia peaked in 2011, with a 57% approval rating.

Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, a quote was wrongly attributed because of an editing error. VOA regrets the mistake.

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