FT Rejoinder: This is no time for neutrality in Africa on Ukraine
Dear Mr David Pilling,
I read with interest your op-ed titled, “This is no time for neutrality in Africa on Ukraine”, published in the 25 March 2022 edition of the Financial Times. In the article, you suggest that Africa forgoes its neutral stance regarding the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.
To support your claim that many African countries are turning a blind eye to what is going on in Ukraine, you reference the 17 African countries that abstained from voting on the UN resolution to condemn the Ukraine invasion. You note that Africa’s “Hesitancy to condemn Russia” is due to its non-alignment and Russia’s influence in Africa, such as its training of the Presidential guards and advising African states, “On the dark arts of keeping tabs on their people and on fixing elections.” You then conclude by mentioning that Russia’s charm offensive in Africa might benefit the continent’s autocratic leaders but will not help the citizens.
With all due respect, the article comes across as condescending to 1.2 billion Africans and smacks of neo-colonial pontification whereby Africans have to take positions that align with western interests. I appreciate that you are the African Editor of the Financial Times based in London and are knowledgeable about African affairs; however, I trust you will be willing to read the perspective of someone whose parent, grandparent and other ancestors are Africans.
As you rightly pointed out, Africa has a tradition of non-alignment. President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt were part of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was set up during the cold war by developing countries to ensure sovereignty in its “struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression, occupation, domination, interference or hegemony as well as against great power and bloc politics.” Kwame Nkrumah made it clear that “We face neither East nor West: we face forward.” However, you dismiss the aims of non-alignment by arguing non-alignment differs from neutrality, noting, “If a psychopath is bayoneting a civilian to death, neutrality does not mean pressing the two sides to discuss their differences.” Just as the western countries embraced the Monroe Doctrine, Truman Doctrine, Atlantic Charter and even the North Atlantic Alliance, why is it so hard for the west to accept Africa’s non-aligned neutral stance in this war?
Furthermore, neutrality is not the exclusive preserve of African countries. We see how the west has used neutrality to our detriment. We see the west’s neutrality when our brothers and sisters fleeing war and poverty drown on its shores as the west looks the other way. We see the west’s neutrality as it shows sympathy for white Ukrainians escaping Putin’s bombs and looks the other way as African men, women and children residing in Ukraine are prevented from escaping because of the colour of their skin. We even saw the west’s neutrality when it turned a blind eye to the crimes against humanity conducted by its allies.
In its 13 March 2022 editorial, the FT also castigated India (despite its aim to promote dialogue), stating, “Even if New Delhi’s stance is entirely in keeping with past practice, such careful neutrality is no longer in India’s best interest, for both strategic and economic reasons.” The west has an uncanny ability to get the black and brown world involved in its proxy and direct wars. During World War II, millions of Africans served in the colonial army despite facing racism. At the same time, 2.5 million Indians fought for the British Empire in the second world war with little compensation or recognition. Now we are being shamed for not taking sides in the west’s proxy war with Russia.
You note that the abstention of many African countries is a “Sign of creeping Russian influence, mixed with a misplaced nostalgia for the Soviet Union.” This comment smacks of the colonial and neo-colonial narrative about Africa’s lack of agency. During the colonial era, officials in the metropolis would instruct people in the colonies on what to do, what to say and how to behave; now, you tell us to take sides in the west’s proxy war with Russia. Africa is not part of NATO, is not in Europe and is no longer a colony, so it does not have to take sides with the west in this war.
As you know, Africa’s voice has never mattered in the grand scheme of global affairs. Since we don’t have a veto at the United Nations, it is incredulous to see a western journalist make a big deal about Africa’s neutrality in the Russia-Ukraine war when the west has used its veto card numerous times to the detriment of our continent. Between 1946 to date, the five permanent members of the UN have vetoed around 264 UN resolutions. Sixty-four of these resolutions have related to Africa, covering issues such as the South African question, Angola’s complaint against Apartheid South Africa, independence for Zimbabwe and Namibia. France, the UK, and the US vetoed these resolutions on sixty-one occasions.
For instance, on 8 March 1988, the UK and US vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on the South African Apartheid regime while France and Germany abstained. Herbert S. Okun, the US Deputy Ambassador to the UN, said, “Because of the inclusion in this draft resolution of a call for mandatory sanctions, my delegation must regretfully vote against it.” Sir Crispin Tickle, the UK representative, said, “The draft resolution before us contains a particular use of language, especially in calling for the imposition of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter, which we cannot accept and are compelled to vote against it.” During deliberation on a UN resolution on 9 April 1987 to grant independence to Namibia, the French and German UN representatives noted that France and Germany do not support the adoption of comprehensive sanctions against the South African apartheid regime. Germany, the UK and USA voted against the resolution while France and Italy abstained. Despite nine countries voting in favour of the resolution, it did not pass due to the UK and US veto. Between 1963 and 1973, the United Kingdom used its veto seven times to frustrate Zimbabwe’s independence. Yet the west has the nerve to accuse us of being neutral in its proxy war with Russia.
The neo-colonial logic that the west’s enemy should be Africa’s enemy and Africa should partake in its proxy wars needs to stop. We are appalled by the carnage in Ukraine, but we don’t have to take sides. The path of peace and diplomacy is a better option than fanning the flames of war by using Ukraine as a testing ground for western ammunition and Putin’s aggression.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA