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Many African countries are staying neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine


As Washington and many European countries push to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, many African nations have remained neutral. Nearly half of all the countries that abstained from condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the U.N. General Assembly are in Africa, and many are reluctant to join sanctions against Russia. However, Aanu Adeoye, who studies Africa-Russia relations at the think tank Chatham House, says even though many African nations haven't condemned Russia, they're actually less supportive than they had been in previous conflicts.


AANU ADEOYE: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So Africa obviously is a huge continent, but I was wondering if you could talk about some shared reasons many of these countries may have to want to stay neutral right now on this war in Ukraine.

ADEOYE: I think the war in Ukraine - for a lot of African countries, many of them increasingly see this as a proxy battle between Russia and the West. So many leaders have decided that it would be in their best interest to stay neutral in this fight. We also need to know that, since 2014, Russia has deliberately tried to be more influential on the African continent, and I think that means it has quite a number of countries on the African continent that consider Russia to be a good friend and a good ally.

And I think some of this also goes back to the Soviet era. If we look at the voting patterns at the U.N. of the 17 countries that abstained, a few countries in southern Africa received quite a lot of support from the Soviet Union during their fight against colonial and imperial rule.

CHANG: Interesting. So although you're identifying that there are several countries who regard Russia as a, quote, "good friend," there has been some shift since 2014 - right? - because 17 African countries voted to abstain from the U.N. vote this time around, as opposed to 26 that abstained when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. So we know that more African countries this time around are condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Why that shift this time around?

ADEOYE: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, more countries decided to not abstain this time - if you look at the countries like Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritania and Mauritius - and I think Kenya's position is instructive. In 2014, Kenya chose to abstain, and I think what this shift in position shows is that so many African countries have a much more lower tolerance from a full-on assault of a sovereign country.

I mean, in 2014, what happened was Russia annexed Crimea and gave support to the Donbas regions, which, to many African countries, that was only a territorial dispute. But now, in 2022, a full-on assault against a sovereign nation is just a red line that so many African countries think that Russia has crossed.

CHANG: You know, almost every African nation has suffered some form of colonization or invasion or slavery at the hands of European countries in the past. I'm wondering - how do you think history plays into the way you see some African countries approaching Russia today?

ADEOYE: Right. There are people on the continent who see how Russia has been an imperialist power and think it should be condemned, but there are also people who see this as an increasingly proxy battle between the West and Russia and have decided that, since Russia did not play any part in colonizing Africa, people in Africa have decided that they will show support to the Russians.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about the economic forces at play here because this conflict is already affecting various countries in Africa - like, wheat prices are climbing there. If any African nations were to join the sanctions against Russia at this point, what further economic impact would you see?

ADEOYE: No African country has joined the sanctions regime. And like you said, the downstream effect of rising prices of wheat, for example, are already having effects in Africa. Joining any sanctions regime against Russia is going to hurt so many African countries, and we've seen that economies have been ravaged by the pandemic, by double-digit inflation.

CHANG: Aanu Adeoye of the think tank Chatham House. Thank you very much for joining us today.

ADEOYE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.