The West, Russia Race to Build Stronger Ties in Africa

Leaders from the U.S., France and Russia have been traveling across Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine. The simultaneous moves to exert influence in Africa are considered as the most intense since the Cold War when the U.S.S.R. and the West had looked for closer ties in the continent. Last week, both Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and French President Macron visited several African nations, while the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Power went to Kenya and Somalia in July. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Thomas-Greenfield is also expected to visit Ghana and Uganda soon.

As the West accuses Russia of using food as a weapon, Lavrov blamed the rising food prices on Western sanctions on Russia during his travel across Africa, where many countries are suffering from food shortages.

Putin has been working to build closer ties in Africa for several years and strengthen old alliances from Soviet times when it supported many African movements in their fight to push out European colonial rulers.

Russia’s influence in Africa was apparent during the U.N. vote to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as 25 countries abstained from voting for the resolution, compared to 28 voting in favor.

Lavrov visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia at the end of July, when he accused the U.S. and European countries of driving up food prices by pushing risky environmental policies. He also accused them of keeping large amounts of food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lavrov was welcomed in Uganda by President Museveni, who has been known as a U.S. ally for many years. But he refused to criticize Russia over the invasion. Museveni even suggested at the outbreak of the war that Putin’s actions might be understandable because Ukraine is in Russia’s area of influence.

Lavrov voiced support for reform of the U.N. Security Council to give African countries permanent seats and greater influence.

Museveni is considered an opinion leader in Africa and has held power for about 30 years.

Meanwhile, Macron urged African not to side with Russia during his Africa trip. He said Russia is one of the last colonial, imperial powers, and Africa would know Russia’s actions the best as it has suffered from colonial imperialism.

Power was in East Africa to promise aid to help the region’s fight against hunger during a period of severe lack of rain. She also criticized Russia’s blocking of “…Ukraine’s grain exports and restricting the trade of Russia’s own fertilizer.”

Power said in Nairobi that Putin’s actions have caused pain to the “…people of Kenya and on other countries throughout the world.”

“He is hurting the people of Kenya,” she added, in an effort to help “his own situation.”

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