By Wole Olaoye
Ukraine is burning. People are wailing. America is threatening. The world stands akimbo. Are we witnessing the humble beginnings of World War III? Or will NATO and Russia step back from the precipice just in time?
But this war cannot be won by levelling cities and depopulating Ukraine. Nor will it be won by demonising Vladimir Putin as Hitler or Frankenstein. Name-calling is not a substitute for a dispassionate analysis of the issues at stake.
If some light is to be gleaned from the dark tunnel of war, it will be precipitated by born-again statesmen like former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
You would think Kissinger, in the evening of his life, would still be parroting the official line as many of his colleagues often do. But no, apparently, he does not want to be remembered as a coward in a moment of grave moral crisis.
The US and its NATO allies must recognise the peculiar complexity of Ukraine and allow it to be a neutral country friendly to both the East and the West, said Kissinger, otherwise Russia will have no option but to fight to keep the country as a buffer between it and the enemy represented by other NATO members who have formed a ring round Russia.
“The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939, when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954 , when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th-year celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The West is largely Catholic; the East largely Russian Orthodox. The West speaks Ukrainian; the East speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other — as has been the pattern — would lead eventually to civil war or breakup. To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West – especially Russia and Europe – into a cooperative international system.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, too, has refrained from condemning Russia so far; neither has he blamed Ukraine. He said China respects every country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and he urged Ukraine and Russia to solve the crisis through negotiations. That is the kind of language expected of a potential conciliator in very incendiary times such as we are witnessing now.
I am not a fan of Mr Putin. In fact, I think the Ukrainian president Zelenskyy, the lawyer and comedian, is much more charismatic and humanistic. I am on record as having criticised Putin’s childishness in allowing his giant dog, Konni, stroll in while meeting with then German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who had a morbid fear of dogs since one bit her in 1995) when the two leaders met at Bocharov Ruchei, in Sochi.
Maybe he has a psychological need to bully people or watch others cringe. But that is his problem, not mine. On the issue of the War in Ukraine, however, it is not a matter of black and white. There are many shades of grey, as Kissinger and many other knowledgeable analysts, especially in academia, have explained.
As an African, I align my compass with that of Nelson Mandela who told the West and its allies not to expect that their enemies would be our enemies. In that sense, Russia is not Africa’s enemy number one. Russia was not one of the countries that sold black people into slavery and used them to develop industries and cities in which they and their descendants are treated as subhuman. Russia did not share in the partitioning of Africa into colonies and the savage exploitation of the continent by the leading nations in NATO.
The last time I checked, Russia was not among the countries warehousing stolen trillions from Africa, nor is it home to shell companies which lend anonymity to powerful thieves of every colour. Russia has never invaded any African country nor has it been linked with sponsoring coups to remove patriotic African leaders whose only crime was that they wanted to shake off the colonial yoke.
When I saw Mr. Macron trying to douse the fire of war during his shuttle diplomacy to both the Kremlin and Kiev before the Russians fired the first shot, I wondered if he was qualified to market peace, considering the history of his country in Africa. Till date, France continues to steal the resources of Francophone African countries through a bandit system in which all monies belonging to the former colonies are warehoused by France which also takes key decisions regarding expenditure, contracts and other matters concerning those countries. (Flashback to my 2018 column, “Franco-Haram, C’est L’esclavage!”)
France has instigated many coups in Africa, funded armed groups doing its bidding all over the place. Its troops are firmly on ground all over the continent in support of its puppets and on the lookout for ‘dissidents’. In some of the former French colonies, nationalism is a mortal sin punishable by death.
The African landscape is dotted with the graves of valiant sons and daughters of the soil who were wasted by France and some other NATO member countries — from Sylvanus Olympio, through Patrice Lumumba to Thomas Sankara and many more. Can we ever forget that on March 23, 1957, Larbi Tbessi, Nationalist and President of the Association of Algerian Muslim Ulema was thrown from a building by French Army officers under Gen. Paul Aussaresses and his death was officially passed off as a suicide?
Give me a break! Although my heart bleeds for Ukrainians because they are caught in the middle of two fierce forces of destruction, the Ukrainian war is not about Africa and no African country has any business parroting any NATO propaganda. True, the war against Ukraine has given rise to a humanitarian crisis which is deeply regrettable because, as John Donne wrote 400 years ago, we are all diminished by these unnecessary deaths. Beyond that, our sensibilities are grated by the open show of racism by some NATO member countries against black Africans fleeing the war zones. We shall not forget.
The US and Germany had assured Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards, but that is what they have been doing since the breakup of the USSR. If Ukraine joins NATO, Russia will be more vulnerable because unlike the US which is bounded by large oceans east and west, and by powerless nations north and south, Russia has no protective natural barriers, and has had aggressive neighbours on three sides.
Who would go to sleep when a deadly snake is coiled up in his rafters?
AfDB’s Great Work In Nigeria
In the midst of so many unwholesome events all over the world, it is heartwarming that there are promises of better days ahead, if the interventions of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Nigeria are critically assessed. With an active portfolio comprising 63 operations valued at $5 billion (33 sovereign operations, $2.7 billion; and 30 non-sovereign operations, $2.3 billion), the bank is determined to deliver on its promise to the continental giant in line with its transformational “High 5s” agenda.
One of the priority areas is “Industrialise Africa” under which about 40% of the portfolio is grouped. “Improve the Quality of Life for the People of Africa” accounts for 23%, while “Light Up and Power Africa” accounts for 16%. “Integrate Africa” and “Feed Africa” stand at 13% and 8% respectively.
Despite disruptions caused by the COVID 19 pandemic and in spite of security challenges in some of the areas where ongoing projects are located, the bank’s portfolio quality remains satisfactory with an overall rating of 3 on a scale of 1 to 4.
I am an ardent follower of the transformational ideas and projects that are geared towards turning Nigeria to a land of progress, prosperity and hope, whatever be our collective challenges as a nation. As we know, implementation is key. That was why I was delighted to witness the Joint Country Portfolio Performance Review Workshop hosted by the Nigeria Country Department of the AfDB led by Director General Lamin Barrow and the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, represented by IERD Director Aisha Omar, last week. It will be good to continue getting it right.
Mandela said if Nigeria gets it right, Africa will get it right. Maybe that was a bit hyperbolic, but there’s some truth embedded in it. Thanks to AfDB, we seem to be getting this one right.
(Wole Olaoye is a public relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021)
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