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Africa's silence on Ukraine crisis exposes our double standards

A woman takes a picture of artwork that might have been made by British street artist Banksy on a building destroyed by fighting in Borodyanka, Kyiv region, Ukraine, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. [AP Photo]

A delegation of Ukrainian leaders was in Nairobi this week. Listening to their experiences over the last nine months, I wondered whether we have become too numbed by our own experiences as a continent, to care enough.

Led by Ukrainian Orthodox Church Archbishop Evstratiy Zorya, human rights right activist Oleksandra Drik, Politics Professor Olexiy Haran and Chamber of Commerce Director Anna Liubmya, the delegation told harrowing stories of human rights abuses laced with examples of Ukrainian and Russian courage.

Since Russia invaded the Ukraine on February 24th this year, over 100,000 Ukrainian civilians and soldiers and Russian soldiers may have died or been wounded.

Some 13 million or a quarter of the population are on the run, most of them women and children. The Russian policy of “surrender or starve” continues to block humanitarian aid from reaching those left in Ukraine. 

The consistent bombing of the capital Kviv and other towns has damaged hundreds of business, residential buildings and security installations. It may take Sh24 trillion for Ukraine to fully recover. It is the greatest European human rights and refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War.

That Ukrainians continue to hold 80 per cent of their territory against a powerful Russian army is testimony to the courage and patriotism of the Ukrainian nation and the billions of dollars they have received from governments in NATO.

While primarily an aggressive action against one sovereign state, the ripple impact on fuel, fertiliser and food prices has been global.

Russia is the third largest crude oil exporter in the world. Ukraine is responsible for 25 per cent of global cereal production. With its Black Sea ports blocked until recently, 45 per cent of grain exports couldn’t leave Ukraine. No less than 90 national economies including Kenya have been directly affected.

Despite this, most of Africa’s 54 governments have abstained rather than publicly condemn Russia or actively support the military protection of Ukraine. Driven by anti-western sentiments, a wish to retain Russia as a trade partner or a desire not to be instrumentalised in what some see as “a European conflict”, Africa has remained neutral despite the African Union policy of “non-indifference” and international doctrines like the “Responsibility to Protect.” 

Public disinterest may also be informed by the lingering perception that European lives mattered more than African lives when it came to global vaccine distribution.

Secondly, the West has invaded Africa severally over the last four centuries and recently in Libya in 2011. The other factor is a very effective global disinformation campaign waged by the Russian government. The war against the truth has led to numerous arrests and flight of 150 journalists and 15,000 anti-war protestors inside Russia as well as troll farms deliberately promoting #IStandWithPutin hashtags.

Afro-skeptics have also pointed out the disproportionate support for Ukraine compared to much larger African crises. Some 600,000 Ethiopians have died from conflict or famine in Tigray over the last two years.

The world has witnessed some of the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity across 70 killing fields including Axum, Kobo and Wakro Maray. Despite this, the gateway to fortress Europe remains closed to African asylum seekers but appears wide-open for Ukrainians.

Within these narratives, it is significant that Kenya is offering global leadership and building on Ambassador Martin Kimani’s outstanding February 2022 speech to the UN Security Council. As a nation who was invaded and plundered by Great Britain, Kenya would stand with Ukraine and 141 other nations to condemn the invasion.

Firmly reiterated by President William Ruto last month, Kenya will continue to demand Russia respects international boundaries and the sovereignty of Ukraine. Kenya must champion this position in all the African inter-governmental and public spaces until peace returns to Ukraine, war criminals are prosecuted and the damage compensated.

The progress of African-led peace-making in Ethiopia and the DRC tells us peace is possible. Kenya must also demand there be no further double-standards when it comes to complex conflicts.

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