A United States (US) bill that would oblige Washington to punish African governments that abet Russian ‘malign’ activities on the continent is sailing through Congress.
The countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act passed the House of Representatives on 27 April by a huge, bipartisan 419-9 majority and is now sure to be passed by the Senate and become law soon. It would direct the US Secretary of State ‘to develop and submit to Congress a strategy and implementation plan outlining United States efforts to counter the malign influence and activities of the Russian Federation and its proxies in Africa.’
The bill broadly defines such malign activities as those that ‘undermine United States objectives and interests.’ The Secretary of State would have to monitor the actions of Russia’s government and its ‘proxies’ – including private military companies (clearly Wagner is in the sights) and oligarchs.
The government would have to counter such activities effectively, including through US foreign aid programmes. It would need to ‘hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities.’
The bill was introduced to Congress on March 31 and was clearly a response to Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Several other punitive laws aimed at Russia – including one directing the administration to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine – were introduced at about the same time.
New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the bill was designed to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to ‘pilfer, manipulate and exploit resources in parts of Africa to evade sanctions and undermine U.S. interests,’ and to finance his war in Ukraine.
Mr Meeks also presented the bill as supportive of Africa, intended to protect ‘all innocent people who have been victimised by Putin’s mercenaries and agents credibly accused of gross violations of human rights in Africa, including in the Central African Republic and Mali.’ It is specifically in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali that Wagner has been accused of committing human rights violations to prop up dubious governments and thwart Western interests.
Some African governments suspect there’s more at play than protecting ‘fragile states in Africa,’ as Mr Meeks put it. ‘Why target Africa?’ one senior African government official asked. ‘They’re obviously unhappy with the way so many African countries voted in the General Assembly and their relatively non-aligned position.’
It is true that proportional to other regions, more African states did not support the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution of March 3, condemning Russia’s ‘aggression’ against Ukraine. Twenty-seven African governments voted for the resolution. Just one – Eritrea – voted against, while 17 abstained and the rest were absent.
Does that mean the new U.S. bill is designed, at least partly, to punish Africa for its relative lack of support for the US-led effort to punish Russia? Perhaps. Though the sponsors would say it targets Africa because that is where Russia and its proxies have been most active.
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