President Zelensky wants to address the African Union? here are a few tips
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked to speak to the African Union. The announcement was made by President Macky Sall of Senegal, chairperson of the African Union for 2022.
If accepted, his speech will take place against the backdrop of the racism that many Africans have experienced in trying to leave Ukraine, three United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the Russian-Ukrainian war to which a significant number African countries abstained and growing anxiety over the repercussions. effects of war and related sanctions.
Zelenskyy’s approach to the African Union is important because rarely – if at all – European leaders care what Africans think about major geopolitical events. As such, this initiative indicates a weariness with African opinion on war and a desperation to shape it in the future.
Zelenskyy’s speech will build on previous efforts by European and Ukrainian diplomats to drum up support for Ukraine. In early March, Ukrainian embassies reportedly offered money to citizens of some host countries to join its frontline forces. This angered the governments of Senegal and Nigeria who both issued statements warning citizens.
More recently, the Ukrainian Ambassador to South Africa posted a video on Twitter calling on South Africans to “stand up for the Ukrainian people”, while accusing the South African government of avoiding meetings with her. South Africa’s head of public diplomacy responded and called the act undiplomatic.
Nevertheless, some European and American experts have fallen into the temptation to blame China’s influence or Russia’s disinformation. This is not only an oversimplification, but ignores the agency of African governments and peoples. This is a classic case of “othering”.
So how could Zelenskyy get African governments to be more “on the sidelines”? Is this a realistic ambition?
So far, Zelenskyy has relied on well-organized speeches that strike a delicate balance between appealing to emotion and logic, positioning solidarity with Ukraine as a means of upholding basic principles of United Nations charter. His speeches were successful in Europe and North America where there is deep unity and unanimity in favor of Ukraine’s cause. However, Africa is an entirely different context and requires two key adaptations.
Treating African governments with respect and complexity
First, Zelenskyy must acknowledge the fact that the decisions African governments have made and will make regarding the war are shaped by a variety of longstanding foreign policies that fall into four distinct categories, ranging from the perception of Russia as an ally (for example Eritrea), to the prioritization of self-determination and the need to avoid irredentism (eg Ghana). Decisions are also, of course, determined by what best serves African national and collective interests in the short to medium term.
African countries are not the only ones to prioritize their interests. Europe has implemented selective sanctions against Russia and therefore still imports natural gas from Russia today. To reduce soaring gas prices, the United States imported record amounts of Russian oil in March.
Major powers like China and India have also blocked to their existing foreign policy positions on intervention and prioritize national interests despite pressure from others. China’s position came as no surprise given the Sino-Russian strategic partnership and their common border. New Delhi argues that its position – defined by its longstanding membership in the Non-Aligned Movement – serves India’s national interests. India even bought oil from Russia at a reduced price.
It should also be noted that for African countries, neither Russia nor the Euro-American alliance substitutes for the other. Take security for example. Russia cannot substitute for the enormous funds that Europe and America devote to peace and development initiatives in Africa.
On the other hand, Europe and America have gradually become essential partners for accessing military equipment to wage wars against terrorism, for example. Russia can fill some gaps – even for agricultural trade.
Zelenskyy must avoid the attempt by US and European leaders to portray Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “fringe behavior” – because that framing suffers from two challenges.
Moreover, most African countries lack the financial capacity and extensive partnerships to quickly cut ties with Russia or Ukraine, for example to secure alternative energy suppliers, let alone the technological and economic structure to accelerate adopting renewable energy.
The result – Zelenskyy must show he respects African foreign policy and expect African countries to put the interests of their own citizens first.
Avoid moral demagoguery and specific victimization
Second, in engaging with African governments, Zelenskyy must recognize that the rapid, broad and concerted response of the Euro-American alliance to resolving the crisis in Ukraine differs greatly from their handling of the existing and disastrous sites of conflict in Yemen, in Palestine and Ethiopia. Tigray region. The contrast is too stark to ignore, even for the director-general of the World Health Organization who said “Ukraine’s attention shows a bias against black lives.”
In this regard, Zelenskyy must avoid the attempt by US and European leaders to portray Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “fringe behavior” – because this framing suffers from two challenges.
First, it ignores the abundant evidence from multiple countries and coalitions – including other members of the P5 – violating international law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of weaker states. Indeed, Africa has been the victim of such violations – for example with regard to the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity when a NATO-led multi-state coalition intervened illegally in Libya – against the judgment of the AU Peace and Security Council. .
The Libyan experience also provides a good explanation of why the vote to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council – as Libya did in 2011 – received the least support from African member states. . It’s not just that Russia’s suspension is more concrete than statements, or that Russia’s expulsion from the HRC before a full international investigation sets a dangerous precedent. The hypocrisy is worrying for many countries.
Second, the ‘marginal behavior’ framing ignores the relevance of NATO.s potential for expansion, especially given the lessons learned from the Libyan experience.
While the principle of indivisible security emphasized on March 14 by China’s UN envoy may not be popular, the wisdom behind it is not lacking in African political consciousness. Indeed, South Africa, explaining its vote at the UN on March 2, 2022, noted that “it is understood that one of the root causes of the conflict relates to the security concerns of the parties. This should have been addressed in the resolution”.
Thus, Zelenskyy recognizing that African governments having their own valid interpretation of the underlying causes of war as well as views on the path to peace and security will be crucial.
The question is, can Zelensky really do that in an address to his African counterparts?
Certainly, the task is too complex for a speech.
Rather than “talking” to African governments, a conversational attitude is perhaps more prudent. A respectful dialogue where Zelenskyy presents himself as ready to listen to African perspectives, to respond to questions and suggestions from African equals, is likely to inspire the most constructive engagement from the African side.
However, even in the event of dialogue, positive results for Ukraine cannot be guaranteed. But a better understanding by all could at least help to move towards a reformed international order.