For a long time, African countries and citizens have kept stock of how they have been unjustly treated by the world. When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, there was an initial shower of solidarity. A recognition of oppression and an unjust war seemed to bond many to the plight of the Ukrainians. But then the harrowing pictures and videos of Black people being refused entry into trains and across borders were shared on social media. Many Africans have since withdrawn their solidarity with Ukraine. How could a country at war and its neighbours still have the audacity to show hate and discrimination? The mistreatment of Black people in Ukraine went viral, it was a reminder of how Black people have continued to be seen in the world. The mistreatment made many Africans question their stake in the war and whose war it was. It brought to fore questions around respect and dignity for the Black person.
How the world ignored Rwanda
In April 1994, the world ignored a tiny African country as the most gruesome genocide happened, claiming precious lives within 100 days. Despite requests to the United Nations to send support to stop the genocide, no concrete help was given. According to the United Nations refugee agency 3.27 million have fled Ukraine since the war began, with two million displaced inside the country and 800 civilian lives have been lost. In response, President Joe Biden signed off on an emergency spending package that included US$13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine on March 11, 2022. The White House announced another $200 million in immediate military assistance to Ukraine. Other global powers have offered Ukraine huge humanitarian packages and support.
South Africans remember when America and Britain continued to trade with the apartheid government despite calls for sanctions and America. The U.S. Government even had Nelson Mandela on Terrorist Watch Lists until 2008. Shortly after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela was asked about his relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). He replied, “We identify with the PLO because just like ourselves they are fighting for the right of self-determination. Arafat is a comrade in arms, and we treat him as such.” Who could forget the Newsmaker Interview in 1990, in which the NewsHour anchor Robert MacNeil interviewed the erudite Nelson Mandela, and Madiba vehemently defended the ANC’s strong relationship with Cuba.
The U.S. Government even had Nelson Mandela on Terrorist Watch Lists until 2008
The instances above capture just a fraction of how Africans see the world’s behaviour towards it, particularly Europe and the West — behaviour characterised by unashamed double standards, inconsistencies and blatant dishonesty. Unfortunately for the West, much of its history is on the wrong side. Young Africans have grown up seeing the West support dictatorial regimes, remove democratically elected leaders, as well as unjustified invasion and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But probably what’s topmost in the minds of many Africans is how the West invaded Libya and left the country in a far worse state. Did the world care when these countries were invaded?
Ahistorical commentary of the Ukraine war
The framing of the treatment of refugees in Ukraine along racial lines has further alienated young Africans who have in the past years indefatigably participated in decolonial movements, mostly the Black Lives Matter movement. Precipitated by other movements like RhodesMustFall and questioning imperialism and Whiteness, it’s easy to see why a standoff attitude has been adopted towards the war in Ukraine. Labelling the war as an event not in tandem with European values further angered many at the ahistorical commentary ongoing. Wasn’t Europe the centre of World War I and II? Didn’t millions of Europeans die under Stalin and Hitler? The painting of Africa as the centre of war is consistent with the racist lens through which the continent has been viewed. This has spurred more detachment on what’s happening in Ukraine.
The treatment of Ukrainian refugees has also been a topic of debate when contrasted with both their Black African counterparts and those from the Middle East who were shut from the borders in 2015. The stark difference in reaction to refugee acceptance has only proven that White people will first take care of their own before anyone else.
The question asked over and over has been what did Africa gain when it helped fight in the World Wars? Many of those who fought were never acknowledged for their bravery or deeds. The decolonisation process continues and while Africans recognise this violence on a sovereign country, they mostly recognise the silence that has been given to their own wars.
The question asked over and over has been what did Africa gain when it helped fight in the World Wars?
If anything, the war in Ukraine will affect lives on the continent due to sanctions placed on Russia, Africa has its own wars too and as Africans we should rather be preoccupied with our own problems. Africa always suffers from global problems that it did not create. As Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant puts it, “like climate change, Africa may have done very little – or indeed nothing – to cause the war in Ukraine, but is nonetheless feeling the impact. Fuel, cooking oil and wheat prices have risen rapidly, the latter particularly affecting dry North African countries like Egypt that depend heavily on imports. And rising global inflation has consequences for Africa like everyone else”. While Ukraine is reeling under Russian bombardment, the insecurity, wars and conflicts in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon and other places has been ignored. What is unfortunate about the images we see from Ukraine is that we have seen worse, and the world ignored such incidences. We have seen a migrant child wash up at a beach and the world moved on. Why does the West think the world will stop suddenly because there’s a war between White people?
An intelligence report by Voxcroft Analytics, a company that specialises in OSINT, stated that citizens of Gabon and Kenya strongly criticised NATO’s and the U.S. involvement in Africa and the Middle East. “… Critiques framed Putin as the lesser of two devils and, in some cases, promoted Russian-African partnerships.” America’s moral standing in this war has basically crumbled as Uncle Sam has equally done the same unjust deeds, killed innocent civilians and entered into unjust wars, the same accusations Russia now faces. What this war has done is to stoke a Black consciousness, expose Europe’s vapid values and highlight inconsistencies in the West’s rhetoric and actions on the global arena.