The greeting was then rather formal. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor elbowed her US colleague Antony Blinken in Pretoria on Monday. They probably kept their distance because of Corona, but of course the picture at the start of the US chief diplomat’s trip to Africa was not entirely without symbolism, the relationship with the continent was also better. Which is due to Donald Trump, who was not interested in Africa, but above all in the Ukraine war, which made it clear that many African governments are not very keen on getting involved in a conflict with which they have little to do . From which they only feel the consequences, in the form of rising food and energy prices.
When the UN General Assembly voted to condemn the invasion in the spring, almost exactly half of the 54 African countries did not vote in favor: Eritrea was against, 17 countries abstained, and eight countries did not appear at all. In Europe and the USA, people were amazed to shocked that even long-standing partners like South Africa did not want to condemn the Russian attack, and not a single country has imposed sanctions anyway. South Africa’s Foreign Minister Pandor initially condemned the war, calling on Russia to “withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine immediately,” but was then quickly backed down to the line of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), which ultimately said: Only negotiations can bring peace. We don’t take sides.
Blinken’s visit will not change that – even if he shook hands with his colleague. South Africa’s government traditionally feels close to Russia because the Soviet Union supported the fight against apartheid at the time – the fact that Ukraine was also part of the USSR at the time is no longer taken quite so seriously. The war in Africa comes at a time when sympathy for Europe and the US is waning and slogans from China and Russia are being greeted with more favor by many. The Chinese State Newspaper Global Times commented on Biden’s journey even before it actually began: “Since the end of World War II, the US has placed Africa at the bottom of its global strategy. Although US diplomacy is now putting more emphasis on Africa, it is only trying to start the Cold War again to Africa and ruin Africa’s development prospects.”
Many of Lavrov’s interlocutors nodded eagerly
It is a similar folklore that the Russian Foreign Minister had already spread during his trip to Africa at the end of July. His country “did not stain itself with the bloody crimes of colonialism” and “sincerely supported the Africans in their struggle for liberation from colonial oppression,” Sergey Lavrov said a few days ago. If the prices for oil and wheat are now rising in many African countries, it is solely the fault of the USA. Many of his interlocutors nodded eagerly, including Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, long a close US ally.
A few days later he also received a high-ranking visit from Washington, from Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, who had flown to the continent like Blinken on a charm offensive. Museveni was not impressed: “We also appeal to the USA that if they really want to help Africa, they should consider freeing us from sanctions in a war in which we are not involved.”
Blinken may encounter similar reservations at his other posts in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And try to win back goodwill there too. With a new strategy for sub-Saharan Africa: less military, but more diplomacy and development aid. Washington observed with disillusionment how the fight against terror in the Sahel region relied primarily on military solutions – and how the situation for the population deteriorated dramatically. Above all, they want to listen, said the top diplomats on the African tour. At the same time, however, the limits of understanding became clear: UN Ambassador Thomas Greenfield threatened those states that came up with the idea of buying oil from Russia with consequences.