On March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly proposed a resolution calling on Russia to stop using force against Ukraine immediately. A total of 141 member countries approved the resolution, while 5 opposed it and 35 abstained, including 25 African countries. Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, eSwatini and Morocco decided not to participate in the vote. Algeria, Uganda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Mali, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), Sudan, South Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa abstained. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against this resolution.
To understand the position taken by these countries on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it is necessary to know the ties that Russia has established on the African continent over the course of the last century through a series of trade and security agreements. Actually, the Russian presence in Africa goes back a long way, although it was smaller at an earlier stage.
Economic, commercial and diplomatic relations
An exemplary case of the kind of multifaceted relationship Russia has long had with Africa has been the presence of the USSR in Algeria since 1962, a partnership based on strong ties with Algerian elites, which continued even after 1991.
It is worth remembering that, between the end of the 1950s and perestroika, the Soviet Union had invested significant resources in Algeria, Libya, Angola, Namibia and Guinea. However, it was not until 2001 that the first sign of the tangible interest of post-Soviet Russia in Africa was seen. It is easy to understand, then, why Algeria was among the African countries that abstained from the March 2 vote. During a visit to the North African country in March 2006, Vladimir Putin proposed the cancellation of Algeria’s debt to Russia of approx. 4.7 billion dollars. In the following years, the two countries signed important economic agreements, such as the gas deal between Gazprom and Sonatrach.
Subsequently, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, during his presidency from 2008 to 2012, made an extensive trip to Africa, which led him in particular to Namibia and Angola, carrying forward Putin’s policy. The beginning of the institutionalization of Russia’s African policy can be traced to this period, with the appointment in March 2011 of a special representative for cooperation with Africa, Mikhail Margelov.
When Putin became president again in May 2012, Russia relaunched its relations with Africa to broaden its interests. In March 2016, Morocco’s King, Mohammed VI, traveled to the Kremlin where he was received by Putin, 14 years after his first visit and 50 years after his father Hassan II’s visit. The meeting focused on the development of economic cooperation, but important and sensitive political issues were also addressed. Over the years, the volume of bilateral trade between Russia and Morocco has grown, and in 2018 it reached the value of $1.47 billion.
Russia is also interested in African diamonds. Hence the agreement that its national diamond mining company, Alrosa, signed with Angola in 2017, and later with Zimbabwe. The company Rosneft obtained two concessions for the exploitation of offshore gas from Mozambique.
South Africa has historical ties with Russia, both commercially and politically. In September 2006, Putin visited, and on that occasion two large metallurgical and mining groups, Evraz and Renova, made important investments, buying the company Highveld Steel and Vanadium and taking over 49 percent of manganese in the United Manganese of Kalahari joint venture.
With Libya, Russia reached an agreement on the participation of Russian Railways (RZD) in the construction of a line between Sirte and Benghazi. In Guinea, the Russian company Rusal, the world’s leading aluminum producer, has established a presence. To complete the details of Russian commercial expansion in Africa, Armz, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the state nuclear company, acquired a uranium deposit in Tanzania in 2010.
This list of Russia’s business partners in Africa gives you an idea of the extent of their network: Algeria, Libya, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mozambique, Angola, Zambia, Sudan, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Congo-Brazzaville, Mali, Central African Republic, Tanzania, South Africa, Uganda and Chad. Russian investments in the continent, especially in relation to trade, have become considerable and in 2018 reached $20 billion in value.
As part of this “conquest” strategy, and to visibly and directly signal its presence on the continent, Russia followed the example of France and held its first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi on October 23 and 24, 2019.
Security and intelligence agreements
Russia’s arms exports are one reason for their presence in Africa. Some statistics indicate that Russia has become the main supplier of armaments to the African continent and dominates half of the continent’s market, more than double the involvement of China and the United States. Algeria is at the top of the list of Russia’s major clients in this sector. In fact, as early as 2006, in exchange for the debt cancellation mentioned above, it had to sign contracts for over 6.3 billion dollars.
The other major customer for Russian weapons is Egypt. In 2013, after the military coup of Marshal Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Russia sold arms to Egypt, strengthening military cooperation. Thus, between 2013 and 2017, the Egyptian army purchased 46 Mig-29M fighter aircraft, Buk-M1-2 and S-300VM anti-aircraft systems, as well as 46 Ka-52 attack helicopters. In addition, Russia is partnering with Nigeria in the fight against the jihadist group Boko Haram by training the Nigerian military. Libya, after paying off its $4.6 billion debt, has committed to purchasing $3 billion worth of Russian military equipment.
From 2014 to the present, security has been the predominant theme of Russian policy in Africa. In recent years, Putin has signed agreements with some 20 countries: the most recent are those with Mali (June 2019), Congo (May 2019) and Madagascar (October 2018). These agreements generally provide for the training of officers in Moscow, delivery of new military equipment or maintenance of existing equipment, joint military exercises, and the fight against terrorism and maritime piracy.
South Africa, in particular, has developed diplomatic relations with Russia in the bilateral sphere and within BRICS. Starting in 2009, this coincided with the rise to power of Jacob Zuma, a former head of the secret service of the African National Congress (ANC), who had close contacts with the Russian secret service, the KGB, during the years of the struggle against apartheid.
If there is one significant aspect of cooperation between Russia and African countries, it is that which concerns intelligence. Members of Russian intelligence services exchange information with their African counterparts. In this context, conferences are held, one of which took place in May 2019 in western Russia, with the participation of representatives of the intelligence services of Namibia, Burundi, Tunisia, Uganda, Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville. It should be noted that since 2014, that is, since the beginning of the crisis in relations between Moscow and the West, Russia has strengthened its presence in Africa by deploying private military units and establishing or restoring cooperation with local intelligence services.
The Wagner Group
The Wagner Group – also known as PMC Wagner, ChVK Wagner or CHVK Vagner – is Russia’s best-known private military (mercenary) group and is active in several countries in Africa, although local governments deny its presence. Its founder, Dmitry Utkin, is a former officer in the General Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. However, some documents seem to show that the head of Wagner is St. Petersburg billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The Wagner Group is present in various ways and in various forms in at least half of the countries of Africa. Its presence has certainly been reported in Libya, Sudan, Mozambique and the Central African Republic. The group is also said to be active in Mali, but the government, under the aegis of the military, denies this.
It should also be mentioned that African countries have often resorted to private militias. Jade Andrzejewski and Albane Violleau, co-authors of a report on private military units, and the Observatoire étudiant des relations internationales recently listed the countries that use or have used private military units: “There was Angola and Sierra Leone in the 1990s. And then there are currently countries that use this famous Russian company (Wagner). We have the names of the G5 Sahel countries. There are also Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, in addition to Mali, Mauritania and Niger. There is also Sudan.”
The foundation of the Africa-Russia relationship
To understand the nature of Russian presence and influence in Africa, beyond trade relations and security issues, it is necessary to link it to the history of decolonization and the struggle against apartheid. It was around the 1950s, during the collapse of the French and British empires, that the African continent became an object of interest for Russia, although Africa had been in Lenin’s thoughts since the 1920s. During the Suez Canal crisis, in October 1956, the Soviet Union provided economic and military support to Egypt, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. At that time, the USSR forged ties, in terms of military aid, with the National Liberation Front (NLF) in Algeria, with the anti-apartheid fighters of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) – which was hosted in Crimea – as well as with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo).
In addition, the USSR accentuated its policy of exercising influence, involving in particular, from 1961 onwards in Moscow, the Russian University of Friendship among Peoples “Patrice Lumumba,” which for many years welcomed thousands of students from Africa, but also from Asia and Latin America.
During the 1960s, as more African countries gained their independence, Moscow established relations, sending them its diplomats. During the period of the Cold War, the USSR was very involved in Angola, with at least 10,000 military personnel, starting in 1975. They played an important role, together with Cuban troops, in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, eventually leading to the independence of Namibia.
After the collapse of the USSR, Russia significantly withdrew from Africa in 1992, above all for lack of funds: nine embassies, four consulates and 13 cultural centers were closed. It was not until 2001 that we saw a new, increased Russian interest in Africa.
It can be said that over the years, Russia has tried to improve the perception of its role and influence in Africa, but without being convincing. As shown in the voting on some UN resolutions, Africa has a broad voting history in the General Assembly, especially when it comes to sensitive issues. Long before the General Assembly resolution of March 2, 2022, some African countries had cast their votes on the Crimea issue: Sudan and Zimbabwe voted against the resolution condemning the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, while Algeria, South Africa, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and others abstained.
As part of its strategy, Russia has also increased over the years the benefits it offers to African students who want to study at Russian universities. In 2013, the number of African students enrolled in Russian universities was estimated at about 8,000. However, in recent years, Russia has become a less desirable study destination than Europe and the United States, not only because of the climate, but also because of the racist attacks experienced by African students.
The reality of the Russian presence in Africa also requires an analysis of the results of the promises and agreements signed. The balance sheet is not as positive as one might think. In Uganda, there has been no follow-up to the 2017 announcement of construction of a refinery by the Russian company Rostec; Rosneft’s gas projects in Mozambique have never materialized; the civilian nuclear program in South Africa has never seen the light of day. Similarly, the Russian policy of using mercenaries from the Wagner Group has been strongly criticized because their methods, which do not comply with laws and do not take responsibility for operational mistakes.
The current war between Russia and Ukraine also puts many African countries in an uncomfortable situation. It is difficult for them to take a clear position of support or condemnation against one or the other side, for fear of offending their partners. At the start of the Russian invasion, the African Union called for respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also condemned the Russian invasion and called for dialogue. But these appeals are far from constituting a true common African front. Proof of this is the fragmentation of positions during the vote on the UN General Assembly resolution of March 2, which condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Senegal and Uganda, for example, justified their abstention by invoking their membership of the Non-aligned Countries Movement (NAM).
There follow, by way of example, some official positions. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that he had been contacted to play a mediation role because of his good relations with Moscow. His country, however, abstained from voting on the resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine. The Senegalese president, Macky Sall, in addition to his declaration as the current president of the African Union, said he had a telephone conversation with his counterpart Putin to “urge a lasting ceasefire.” Kenya, through its ambassador to the UN Security Council, even before Russia began the invasion, had expressed strong condemnation, in a February 21 speech.
But these attempts to make the voices of Africans heard were not welcomed and have clearly not changed Putin’s position. Guinean writer Tierno Monénembo did not hesitate to remark: “It is difficult to take a stand when you are small, when you are weak, when you are badly armed and underdeveloped. That’s not how you meddle in the affairs of the great.”
Serious questions emerge from the analysis of the Russian-African relationship: what prospects are emerging in this relationship in the short, medium and long term? How else can the disagreement between African countries be understood or interpreted when it comes to a vote in the Security Council or the UN General Assembly condemning Russia? These questions cannot be answered immediately, but they do help in considering the future of relations between Africa and Russia.
Meanwhile, Russia’s policy in Africa, and in particular its intensification in recent years through military intervention and intelligence services in some states, is tending to divide Africa on international issues. Who is destined to benefit most from such “interested love” in a multipolar world?
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.5 art. 6, 0522: 10.32009/22072446.0522.6
. See “10 points synthétiques sur le vote à l’Assemblée générale des Nations Unies”, in Le Grand Continent (https://legrandcontinent.eu/fr/2022/03/03/10-points-synthetiques-sur-le-vote-a-lassemblee-generale-des-nations-unies), March 3, 2022.
. See A. Kalika, “Le ‘grand retour’ de la Russie en Afrique?”, in Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 114, Ifri, April 19, 2019, 20.
. See Russian Foreign Trade, “Russian trade with Morocco in 2018”, at https://en.russian-trade.com/reports-and-reviews/2019-02/russian-trade-with-morocco-in-2018/, February 10, 2019.
. Cf. T. Coloma, “La stratégie économico-sécuritaire russe au Mozambique”, in Notes de l’Ifri, May 2020, 14f.
. See A. Dubien, “La Russie et l’Afrique: mythes et réalités”, in https://fr.obsfr.ru/analytics/notes/10953/, October 1, 2019.
 . See “Russian Arms Sales Growing in Africa”, in Defense World (www.defenseworld.net/news/26576/Russian_Arms_Sales_Growing_in_Africa), March 24, 2020.
 . Cf. J. Garçon, “Moscou efface la dette d’Alger pour placer ses armes”, in Libération (www.liberation.fr/planete/2006/03/13/moscou-efface-la-dette-d-alger-pour-placer-ses-armes_32850), March 13, 2006.
 . Cf. K. Malhotra, “La Russie est-elle un acteur clé en Afrique?”, in BBC News (www.bbc.com/afrique/region-46811868), January 9, 2019.
 . Cf. A. Dubien, “La Russie en Afrique, un retour en trompe-l’œil?”, in Le Monde diplomatique (www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2021/01/DUBIEN/62663), January 2021.
. BRICS is the acronym for a group of five countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that has been meeting since 2011 in annual summits.
. Cf. A. Dubien, “La Russie en Afrique, un retour en trompe-l’œil?”, op. cit.
. The Wagner group is defined in several ways. The newspaper Libération, on February 18, 2022, renamed it Putin’s “secret boots abroad.” For the Ecole de guerre économique (Ege), Wagner is “the leading element of Russian influence operations in sub-Saharan Africa” (cwww.ege.fr/infoguerre/le-groupe-wagner-fer-de-lance-des-operations-russes-dinfluence-en-afrique-subsaharienne/, January 4, 2022). Others call it “Putin’s shadow army” (www.leparisien.fr/international/groupe-wagner-comment-larmee-fantome-de-poutine-destabilise-la-presence-francaise-en-afrique-18-02-2022-64EDEHIBMFHYVNGQ2W6ATPN4AA.php/, February 18, 2022). Another strong definition could be added: “Vladimir Putin’s secret and violent army” (https://lameuse.sudinfo.be/920809/article/2022-03-13/le-groupe-wagner-larmee-secrete-et-violente-de-vladimir-poutine/, March 13, 2022).
. Cf. B. Sironi, “Russia in Africa: I paesi in ballo con Wagner”, in Nigrizia (www.nigrizia.it/notizia/russia-in-africa-i-paesi-in-ballo-con-wagner), September 10, 2021.
. Cf. ibid.
. See R. Koubakin, “Où sont les sociétés militaires en Afrique?” in Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com/fr/societes-militaires-privees-smp-presence-en-afrique/a-60719176), February 9, 2022.
. Cf. A. Dubien, “La Russie en Afrique, un retour en trompe-l’œil?”, op. cit.
. Patrice Lumumba was a Congolese statesman and the first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo from June to September 1960. He was one of the main figures involved in winning the independence of the Belgian Congo.
. See A. Arkhangelskaya – V. Shubin, “Russia’s Africa policy”, in Occasional Paper, No. 157, Johannesburg, South African Institute of International Affairs, September 2013.
. Cf. A. Dubien, “La Russie en Afrique, un retour en trompe-l’œil?”, op. cit.
. For example, the European Union had imposed sanctions on the Wagner Group, accusing it of human rights violations in the Central African Republic and elsewhere. See “Groupe Wagner: ‘Pourquoi l’UE s’inquiète-t-elle des mercenaires russes en Afrique centrale?’” in BBC News (www.bbc.com/afrique/monde-59710727), December 19, 2021; E. Vincent, “Exactions et prédations minières: le mode opératoire de la milice russe Wagner en Afrique”, in Le Monde (www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2021/12/14/exactions-et-predations-la-methode-de-la-milice-wagner-en-afrique_6105992_3212.html), December 14, 2021, stating, “Some security documents consulted by Le Monde sketch a picture of the Russian mercenary unit’s activities in the Central African Republic, Mozambique and Libya. In Mali, the group is also formalizing its presence in a gold mining zone.”
. The current president of the African Union, Macky Sall, and the president of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, have urged both sides to implement an immediate ceasefire and to initiate without delay political negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, in order to save the world from the consequences of a global conflict, to work for peace and stability in international relations, for the benefit of all the peoples of the world. See “Guerre Ukraine – Russie: Macky Sall prône un cessez le feu durable lors de son appel avec Poutine”, in BBC News (www.bbc.com/afrique/monde-60677773), March 9, 2022.
. The non-aligned movement is an international organization that included 120 states in 2012. These countries define themselves as non-aligned, meaning neither for nor against any major world power.
. See “Crise ukrainienne: l’ambassadeur kényan établit un parallèle avec le colonialisme en Afrique”, in Courrier international (www.courrierinternational.com/article/discours-crise-ukrainienne-lambassadeur-kenyan-etablit-un-parallele-avec-le-colonialisme-en-Afrique), February 24, 2022.
. See A. Cascais – R. Koubakin, “Les alliés de la Russie en Afrique”, in Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com/fr/les-allies-russes-en-afrique/a-61069668), March 9, 2022.
. It should be noted that the Patriarchate of Moscow has officially created its own exarchate in Africa. Russian Orthodoxy has thus extended to Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria, Libya, Central Africa and the Seychelles. The Russian-African clergy is to be hierarchically subject to the Russian bishop of Yerevan, Armenia, Leonid (Gorbačev), who has been elevated to the dignity of titular metropolitan of Klinsk, Belarus. It is a gesture that had a strong impact on the Patriarch of Alexandria Tawadros II – the second in dignity in the list of the 14 Churches historically recognized in the universal communion – who last August, on the Turkish island of Imbros, extended his hand to the autocephalous Metropolitan of Kyiv, Epiphanius, marking a point of rupture with the Russian