Escaping Colonialism to Jump Into Feudalism: How Some African Countries Are Perfecting the Art of Cutting Off Your Nose to Spite Your Face – Lequotidien

Very few pictures have broken my heart as much as the one of Russian mercenaries overseeing an official ceremony in Central Africa did. It represented an era that I believed was behind us. An era of instability where the sovereignty of some African nations hangs in the balance.

Now picture this; a man, shirtless on a horse, riding across green pastures and crossing shallow rivers. If the image makes you think of a Hollywoodian warrior or conqueror, that is because the man on the horse is Vladimir Putin, and this is exactly how he wants you to think of him. The Russian autocrat has been in power for over two decades during which he carefully crafted a myth; a myth that painted him as the saviour who would take Russia back to its Czarist glory days. To achieve this goal, he seems to have convinced himself that Russia must have a strong presence in Africa. Russian presence in Africa by itself is no issue; after all, how many of us Africans haven’t complained at some point in their life that we were too reliant on partnerships with our former colonisers? I certainly stand guilty. What I take issue with is that so many people are now making the mistake to think of Putin’s Russia as an ally to Africans countries. Perhaps they should take some time to reflect on who Putin really is and what he wants with Africa.

A good place to start would be to dispel this myth of Russia being a superpower in 2022. Though it is by far the largest country in the world by landmass, Russia is only the 11th largest economy in the world. To put it in context, the entire Russian Federation would only be ranked 4th largest economy inside the United States behind California, New York, and Texas; with California’s GDP being more than twice that of Russia. As the world renown chess master and activist Gary Kasparov puts it, “Russia is essentially a giant gas station that happens to have nuclear weapons”, referring to the reliance of the Russian economy on the oil and gas industry. Why is it then that so many of our youth think of today’s Russia as this mighty white knight helping us gain freedom from our ‘colonial masters’? The main reasons would be Putin’s most potent assets in his geopolitical endeavours: the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and the paramilitary branch of the Kremlin known as the Wagner Group.

If you spend too much time on your phone like me, then you’ve come across the work of the IRA multiple times already.This troll farm based in Moscow is the world’s most effective tool of online disinformation. They are omnipresent on the internet, from social media fake accounts polluting comment sections to the seemingly innocuous messages we relay on WhatsApp every day. They identify the tension points within a country and use them to foment division amongst the people. In the case of many African countries, our relationship with former colonial powers is a very sore subject, one that brings about deeply seated resentment towards these countries like France and their perceived meddling in our current affairs. Though the sentiment is not born out of anything, it is important to remember that not only Russia was a former colonial empire, but it is also the last country in the world still conducting colonial wars. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has annexed and waged war on Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine, leaving millions of dead and forcing even many more to flee their native land. Yet some amongst us still seem to believe that Russia is somehow a liberating force. Perhaps they also believe Putin’s claims that he is de-nazifying Ukraine by removing its Jewish president. What could we possibility learn about freedom or democracy from a man whose political opponents seemingly can’t fight the urge to throw themselves out of windows and staircases? How can a man who has ruled unchallenged for over two decades help us seek any sort of independence? If anything, Russia is now spreading its colonial tentacles in Africa, and it is not being subtle about it by targeting fragile governments and creating a dependency on their military support.

The most visible Russian presence in Africa is through the Wagner group. Founded by oligarch Yevgeni Prigozhin, this mercenary outfit combines military and commercial interests, and has conducted numerous atrocities on the African continent at the behest of the Kremlin. In 2017 Prigozhin deployed over 500 men to put down opposition to then Sudanese dictator Omar Al-Bashir, and in return he received exclusive licensing to gold mining in Sudan through his M-Invest company. Two years later, the same dictator Al-Bashir would offer to Moscow a military base on the Red Sea for the Russian Navy. In the last 24 months, there have been 4 different coup-d’états in West Africa, with Mali having seen two of them. In 2 of those 3 countries, Russian mercenaries were heavily involved. It is hard to pinpoint Russia’s long-term vision or policy for Africa because it doesn’t have one; their undertakings on the continent can all be reduced to simply countering US policy objectives. Their methods, however, are quite clear: cosy up to leaders in unstable countries to provide military services and infrastructure in exchange for lucrative contracts and strategic partnerships.

Much of the pro-Russian sentiment in Africa is mostly due to the resentment towards France and not because of ideological alignment. Lots of people I have exchanged with on this topic see Putin as an antithesis to France and its outsized influence on African affairs. What is regrettable, however, is that dissenting opinions on Russia’s presence are now being dismissed as “corrupt” or “carrying water” for the French. An alarming number of our pro-Russian brothers have willingly or accidentally locked themselves in a bubble where only those with similar views are allowed entrance.Far from telling people how they should feel towards our former colonisers and one of our main trade partners, I simply will ask one question: how do they believe Russia will bring about democracy on our shores when it has ever existed there in the first place? On the contrary, Mr Putin and his warlords have made it clear that they are looking for territories to extend their influence, and they’ve now put a target on our continent. If we’re not careful who we get in bed with, it could be an African city that suffers the fate of Grozny next.

By Dema SANE


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