When the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the African vote split right down the middle. Of the 54-member strong bloc, 28 voted for the resolution, 26 abstained or absented themselves, while Eritrea stood solidly with Russia. For all intents and purposes, 28 African states were in favour, and 26 were against the resolution.
The vote must have sent shivers down the African Union’s spine. The organization aims to make Africa speak with one voice on the global stage. Yet, the African voice fragmented precisely at the moment when “multilateralism lies on its death bed”, as Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN put it.
How do we explain this lack of unity in the African bloc, and what accounts for its reluctance to stand firm against Russia’s aggression? Is it an illustration of Russia’s increasing power on the continent, reflecting its expanding military and economic alliances with African states? Or is it a historical legacy, harking back to a bygone era of solidarity between the socialist bloc and the Third World against an imperialist West? Or, more idealistically, but still with reference to the Cold War era, is it an expression of non-alignment, a refusal to take the side of either of the old superpowers and instead chart an independent path to peace and security, perhaps closer to China as an emerging global power?