By Wole Olaoye
It was the cat that stole the fish but the police arrested the dog, a situation that made the baboon take to his heels. “Why are you running?” Forest dwellers asked him. “I know that the dog’s arrest is a decoy; the chains held by the police are designed for my waist.
When Russia started its aggression against Ukraine, you would have thought that Africans have nothing to do with their ancient quarrel and the politics of supremacy being played by the US and Russia. You were wrong. At the slightest opportunity, both Ukraine and Russia will demonstrate their unseemly side by descending with venom on the convenient whipping boy, Africa.
I don’t know who advised the African leaders to visit Ukraine and Russia to try and mediate in the ongoing conflict. Yes, blessed are the peacemakers in another context, not this one in which both parties have dug in, espousing irreconcilable positions. In any case, you can only mediate when the parties have some measure of respect for you. The AU delegation comprising Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbuly, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, President of the Union of Comoros Azali Assoumani, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema, actually meant well. But good intentions count for nothing where the intercessor is perceived as a perennial mendicant.
It took the undiplomatic comment of Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to trigger the inner revulsion of Ukrainians to the visit. Magwenya had said that he had not heard any explosion nor witnessed a missile attack in Kyiv while he was in the city with the African delegation. But the Kyiv Post, countered with a claim that its reporters, including “every other media organisation present in the city – saw and heard the missiles in the skies over the capital and witnessed several loud explosions as they were intercepted.”
The Ukrainians interpreted Magwenya’s statement as a ploy to deny the devastation caused by Russia. The Ukrainian presidential advisor and negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, quickly said the African leaders had no business poking their noses into European affairs. He said African leaders had neither the capability nor the power to get involved in matters they knew nothing about, adding that this was beyond their understanding. He added that Africa and its leaders were using the failed trip to achieve their geopolitical goals in favour of Russia, which provides Africa with food supplies.
Said Podolyak, “The African delegation had no goal of settling the conflict or finding a solution. Obviously, this is not their task. It is not at their level or competency. They just want to be on the misinformation agenda and resolve their own issues, like the increasing resources they receive from Russia, including food supplies.”
Podolyak, who is one of the advisers to the Chief of Staff of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the trip was a mere fishing expedition for information on behalf of Russia. Obviously, the Ukrainians are not enthused by South Africa’s membership of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the acronym used to describe the club of fast-growing economies that hope to collectively dominate the global economy by 2050.
President Zelenskyy was more diplomatic. However, he all but said the African leaders were on a futile mission. He declared that talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdraws its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory. He said he couldn’t understand what the African leaders hoped to gain by meeting with the Russian leader.
“To allow any negotiations with Russia now while the occupier is on our land is to freeze the war, to freeze everything: pain and suffering,” Zelenskiy told a joint press conference with the delegation. “We need real peace, and therefore, a real withdrawal of Russian troops from our entire independent land.”
I must confess that I’m an admirer of the uncommon tenacity and youthful vigour with which Zelensky has been discharging his duties as the Ukrainian commander-in-chief. It is difficult to believe that this is the same lawyer and comedian of yore. Having said that, I must assert my right to self-love. We, Africans, have historically always been at the receiving end of all sorts of insults no matter what we bring to the table. If we don’t stand our ground, every Vladimir and Volodymyr will treat us as foot-mat.
At the onset of the war, Nigerian students were at the receiving end of racism in both Ukraine and Poland. I recall that even in refugee camps, Africans were treated as dirt. There was the well known case of the Ghanaian student who said he had left the refugee camp he was placed in after fleeing Sumy in northeastern Ukraine because of discrimination. His story: a Ukrainian man had complained to camp officials that sleeping beside a black man was traumatising. The student was then moved to another space within the camp.
African envoys spoke out strongly at the mistreatment of African nationals trying to flee Ukraine during a special session of the United Nations General Assembly.
African nationals, mostly students, have accused Ukrainian security forces of racially profiling them, and of stopping them from getting on trains. The reports of discrimination have caused uproar and left a bitter taste in Africa.
Over social media, several African students said they had been bypassed to allow Ukrainians and other European nationals to cross the border into Poland first. They said they were made to spend hours and days in freezing temperatures without food or sanitation facilities. “We echo here the outcry of African students who are fleeing the war in Ukraine and are facing discrimination in their exodus in search of shelter. This situation is unacceptable”, said Baudelaire Ndong Ella, the Gabonese Ambassador to the UN.
With the plethora of problems bedevilling Africa, why have our leaders not concentrated their efforts on resolving the conflicts on our continent first? I’m sorry, I don’t believe in peace vending at all costs. To be looked down on, talk down on and discriminated against by people whose only claim to superiority is hinged on the iniquitous appropriation of Africa’s resources over the centuries, is totally unacceptable, more so when our leaders have to travel to receive those insults instead of paddling the canoe of the various challenges on our continent. If you can see the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob in what is going on, then you’ll understand why our leaders should stay home and fix this blessed continent.
Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Northern Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Cameroon’s north-west and south-west regions are African conflict hotbeds. Ethiopia’s conflict has since escalated. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front and its allies have their eyes on the capital Addis Ababa. A humanitarian crisis is apparent in many parts of the country. African Union (AU) mediation, led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, is ongoing. In the mean time, people are dying. South Sudan has its own daunting challenges. With the fight for power between rival forces in the Republic of Sudan, refugees are heading south, thereby compounding an already bad humanitarian situation.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has been embroiled in an intractable cycle of violence for several years. The country desperately needs a new approach for sustainable peace. The conflict in north and south-west Cameroon has not received the attention it deserves from regional and continental actors. The situation has degenerated from protests over poor governance and marginalisation to a deadly insurgency. Many people have died; many more are displaced.
The ever-present threat of violent extremism and terrorism in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin (LCB) regions, East Africa and the Horn, and Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado, is also hovering over the coastal countries of West Africa. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, particularly, have seen continuing attacks.
The terror attack in Uganda reflects the threat that violent extremism will continue to pose to Central Africa, East Africa and the Horn. Reports of possible collaboration between the Islamic State-affiliated Allied Democratic Forces and al-Shabaab are alarming. The Cabo Delgado extremist insurgency has been ongoing since the end of 2017.
The spread of the threat from the Sahel to West Africa’s coastal countries is best evidenced by the resurgence of attacks in northern Cote d’Ivoire near the border with Burkina Faso. Cote d’Ivoire is now suffering repeated attacks, and the fear is that violent extremism could affect other parts of the country and neighbouring states such as Ghana, Benin and Togo.
With all these problems at home, what are African leaders doing in Kyiv trying to quench another man’s fire?
As this piece was going to bed, word came that an attempted ‘coup’ of sorts was unfolding in Russia. See why we should maintain our lane for now?
(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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