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Opinion
Bobby Ghosh

Africa Becomes Collateral Damage of Ukraine War

The continent’s leaders have largely been reluctant to push back against Moscow, but their fence-sitting hasn’t spared them from the invasion’s fallout.

Cost of war.

Cost of war.

Photographer: Khaled Ziad /AFP/Getty Images

At the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the most powerful condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s adventurism came from an African. In a speech that went viral worldwide, Martin Kimani, Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, invoked Africa’s traumatic colonial experience to condemn the Russian leader’s imperial revanchism. “[African states] rejected irredentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious or cultural factors,” he said. “We reject it again today.”

Since then, however, African criticism of Russia has been muted, especially in the UN, where the continent’s 54 votes can swing resolutions. Barely more than half of the African states voted for the March 2 UN resolution condemning the invasion; 17 abstained, eight chose not to vote at all. Eritrea — along with Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Russia itself — voted against. Despite diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and its allies to rally African opinion against Russia, more countries have climbed onto the fence: 33 either abstained or didn’t vote in an April 7 resolution to suspend Russia from the UN’s human rights council.