Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Africa has essentially been portrayed as a collateral victim of the ongoing conflict. Yet the recent trips of senior officials from the parties to the conflict suggest that the continent's role is much more important than that.
On October 3, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, landed in Senegal for an African tour which was to take him to several countries. Although interrupted on Monday, October 10, this visit allowed the head of Ukrainian diplomacy to visit Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Placed under the sign of strengthening relations with the mainland, this tour was an opportunity for Kyiv to talk about cooperation in the fields of digital transformation, IT, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, trade, education and security. In Accra, Dmytro Kuleba also announced the forthcoming opening of a Ukrainian embassy, a sign of the new dynamic that the European country wishes to impart to its relationship with the countries of the continent.
While the economic aspect of this new cooperation desired by Ukraine will undoubtedly be important, the timing of Dmytro Kuleba’s visit suggests that the most urgent thing for kyiv is to strengthen its political and even security ties with African countries. . Indeed, the tour of the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs comes about three months after that of his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. He had been to Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Economic opportunities and international support
Well before the visit of Minister Kuleba, the USA and France, two of the main supporters of kyiv in its war against Russia had also dispatched their heads of diplomacy to several countries on the continent. This incessant ballet of senior foreign officials on the black continent therefore seems to show that its importance has gradually increased on the world geopolitical scene.
The strategic importance of Africa has often been reduced to the economic opportunities it offers for Western countries. The immense reserves of oil, gas or strategic mineral resources have often aroused the greed of global economic giants, while its young population is often targeted as potential mass consumers by large brands in search of markets of export.
Although since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis it has been portrayed as one of the main collateral victims of the crisis, it is above all its political importance that has been highlighted in recent months.
With its 54 countries, Africa is indeed the continent with the most members within the United Nations Organization (28% of the total membership). This situation makes it a powerful ally when voting on resolutions within the institution, or for the defense of a political opinion on the international scene. A situation, visibly well understood by Russia, which took the Western powers by surprise by forging close relations with certain African countries and improving its image in popular opinion, particularly in the Sahel.
Proof of this reality, the Ukrainian president spoke directly to the African Union (AU) last June during an intervention during which he announced the appointment of a “special representative of Ukraine for the ‘Africa’ and the preparation of a ‘major Ukraine-Africa political and economic conference’. During his tour last July, Sergei Lavrov himself declared that “African states are playing an increasingly important role in politics and the global economy”.
Prioritize African interests
In the opinion of several experts, the events in Ukraine, although tragic, may represent an opportunity for Africa to definitively impose itself as the arbiter of a global geopolitical game, the consequences of which it has often suffered. Already, more and more voices are being raised on the continent as elsewhere (China, Germany), to grant Africa two permanent seats within a Security Council frozen since the end of the Second World War.
Today, the most pessimistic already see in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict the beginnings of a third world war. Although this theory is very alarmist, the reality is that this war which started in Europe, is also being played out in Africa, although only on the political level…for the moment. It is up to African countries to always put their interests first, namely the right to trade and have relations with whomever they want without having to choose one side or the other in a conflict between great powers.