Africa: the West and Russia in search of allies | Atalayar

This week, Russia and the West opened a new front in their struggle for influence since the start of the Ukrainian conflict. The setting is Africa, the goal being to gain allies for their geopolitical interests. This week, the continent was visited by two personalities: Emmanuel Macron, the French President, and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The first visited Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau, while the second visited Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia.

The countries visited were not chosen at random. In France’s case, the focus on West Africa is likely due to the region’s proximity to the Sahel, whose terrorism is moving ever closer to its borders. This forces France, which is withdrawing its military presence in Mali, to strengthen its credibility as a priority partner of the countries of the region, vis-à-vis Russia. Moscow has in its favor the continent’s heavy reliance on Russian wheat and fertilizers, both of which are blocked by international sanctions. An example of this is Egypt, the world’s largest importer of wheat, mainly Russian. In this regard, it is essential to obtain the approval of the African Union (AU), whose headquarters are in the Ethiopian capital.

Have the two countries achieved their goals?

In the case of France, the visits were marked by the dilemma of what should take precedence in Franco-African relations: security or the defense of human rights and the recognition of colonialist evil.. Security in the face of terrorism has taken precedence over human rights, even though the leaders of Cameroon and Benin are autocrats. In both countries, Macron pledged to guarantee their security, promising to send military equipment to equip the military forces of both countries. There have been symbolic gestures of “reconciliation” with France’s troubled colonial past, such as the inauguration in Benin of an exhibition of works returned by France to the African country. However, Macron did not call on the two countries to respect human rights. The latter is relevant given that both countries have authoritarian regimes and Cameroon suffers from a linguistic conflict between the English-speaking eastern regions and the rest of the country, which is French-speaking. Nor has there been progress in France’s overhaul of its colonial legacy in a country that experienced a brutal civil war for independence between 1955-1971. This adds to Macron’s criticism of Russia’s presence on the continent in a country that signed a security agreement with Russia in May and abstained in the UN vote to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Such criticism is likely to bolster Cameroon’s decision to opt for Moscow as its security guard, because unlike France, Russia has no colonial past on the continent. As for Benin, we will have to see how the terrorist threat in the Sahel evolves, especially if it crosses the borders of Porto-Novo, in order to assess the effectiveness of French military assistance.

For Moscow, the main objective of its African tour is to convince African countries – dependent on Russian and Ukrainian wheat and fertilizers for their livelihoods – that Moscow is not responsible for their rising prices, which could lead to famine. on the continent.. He will also try to win the good graces of the countries visited so that they do not support the sanctions against Moscow. At this stage, Russia has the advantage of exploiting the abstention of the countries of the continent during the vote to sanction Russia at the United Nations as proof of the weakness of Western foreign policy. However, the abstention of these countries is a double-edged sword for Russia, because if they do not support the West, they are also not interested in supporting Moscow, in a continent where dependence on the West and more and more to China for infrastructure and development is very high. Russia has understood this game and is making efforts to build infrastructure: in Egypt Russia will build a power plant and in the Republic of Congo an oil pipeline. In terms of political values, Moscow is more in tune with African countries than with the West on the primacy of security over human rights, key to facilitating Russian diplomacy on a continent where authoritarianism is in rise.

In conclusion, the war in Ukraine is also being played out on the diplomatic terrain, particularly in the search for allies according to the geopolitical visions of Moscow and the West. Africa is the theater of operations for these maneuvers, as we have seen this week with the visits of France and Russia to the countries of the continent.. Paris prioritizes security over human rights and revising the colonialist legacy, while criticizing the Russian presence. Such criticism will only reinforce the dependence on Russia of countries like Cameroon, which has a security agreement with Russia. The delivery of military aid will depend on terrorism in the Sahel, especially if it spreads to West Africa, and the reaction of the armed forces of these countries to the threat. Russia has the main asset of continental dependence on its wheat and fertilizers and refraining from sanctioning it over the Ukrainian conflict. However, it does not have an active infrastructure investment policy on par with the West and China, which is key to winning mainland support. Moscow is directing its policy in this direction, investing in pipelines and power plants in Egypt and the Republic of Congo.

Developments in the Ukrainian war will determine the success or failure of the West and Russia’s strategy to win support in Africa. The visits to Paris and Moscow this week demonstrate that winning the support of African countries is essential in the fight for global influence sparked by the conflict in Ukraine.

Amanda J. Marsh