In a world still ruled by those grasping a system which allows the strong to dominate the weak and ill-fed, moderately competitive African states, among others, have been pulled together again into taking a joint position on somebody else’s fight. There is little reward for them in that as the way of international politics, the only road available, is yet volcanic, dangerous and not for the faint-hearted.

Much African common sense and ubuntu beliefs, as shown through African proverbs and sayings, urge African leaders to stay out of other peoples’ family fights lest they eat the stray bullet or bomb that always whizzes forth. But still we push forward, not all of us remembering the value of silence in a loud room, or the utter necessity of speaking with one definitive voice.

I speak here of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a bungled chess move that may yet consume us all. There were several very recent United Nations votes, one within the Security Council which voted down the request for a No Fly Zone over Ukraine (which would have, if approved, put NATO and U.S. planes into direct combat against Russian planes over Ukraine). The second vote was a General Assembly (tally of all 193 nation-states) resolution to condemn Russia as a pariah nation and destroyer of the territorial sovereignty of another country. 

Several African countries sit non-permanently on the U.N. Security Council — Ghana, Kenya, and Gabon . All three, with Kenya taking a very hard position, had condemned Russia’s invasion, with Kenya’s strongly-worded rebuke focusing on the inviolability of borders and the need for every sovereign nation to control its own fate. But in the General Assembly vote, of the 54 African countries asked to vote, Eritrea was one of only five countries in the world that voted against condemning Russia. Another 17 African states abstained from voting at all, with several of them walking out of the hall and out of the process. 

The Central African Republic, where there had recently been a military junta coup, supported Russia, as did Mali, Chad and the Sudan, which had recently had their own military take-overs of government. In fact, most African nations agreed that Russia had been very helpful in supplying a steady supply of arms and military equipment (Russia is Africa’s biggest supplier of military arms), and that Russia had been instrumental in the fight against apartheid and other indignities in Africa’s colonial history. So, Africa was all over the map in dealing with the Russia issue, but it did get involved.

Therein lies the problem. At this juncture in history, for Africa to be taken seriously in international affairs and to command the respect it deserves, the African Union needs to articulate a single African position. Befuddlement does not benefit Africa as a whole, or in parts. Either get fully into international deliberations or stay fully out. Anything else is embarrassing for Pan Africanism, and it’s time for Africa to step up as one Africa. Africa has clout and it needs to use it.

South Africa, for example, abstained during the UN vote, saying “the UN General Assembly was employing double standards, and that rather than to pick on Russia alone, the UN should also condemn other state aggressors in the Palestinian territories, and in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Somalia.”

Very well said, but produced in a single voice which rang hollow. The hostile treatment of thousands of African students who tried to leave Ukraine along with the first week’s exodus was a result of the lack of respect for the African position among the world’s unified nations. Africa must now rise to the occasion and demonstrate diplomatic maturity in order to be taken seriously. There was a clear power imbalance between the warring parties and Russia’s  aggression in its invasion of Ukraine was an unambiguous assault on the law of territorial sovereignty. A unified Africa needs to stand up and trumpet that, lest “when they come for them in the morning, they most certainly will come for me that night.”

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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