Why Ukraine Is Turning To France For Help In Africa — And How That Could Backfire
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba is in Paris seeking help to convince Africa to abandon its wait-and-see attitude, which benefits Russia. It's an extraordinary illustration of how Africa is singularly focused on emancipating itself from its former colonizers.
PARIS — The African continent and its 54 states lie at the heart of the world's current restructuring. Courted for its raw materials, Africa has become one of the main arenas for global power struggles — with votes at the UN scrutinized for what they may say about different countries' alignments.
France has been shaken in its former colonial stomping grounds in French-speaking Africa, with French President Emmanuel Macron speaking firmly Monday in response to the crisis that erupted with the military coup in Niger. But this is just one example of the great geopolitical chess match being played out in Africa.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba is in Paris on Tuesday, as guest of honor at the annual French Ambassadors' Conference. He will be attending an unprecedented meeting with all the French ambassadors to Africa. The aim: to help Ukraine develop its message towards Africa, to convince it to abandon its wait-and-see attitude, which benefits Russia.
It's an extraordinary move, which illustrates the difficulty of dealing with an Africa that wants to emancipate itself from the tutelage of its former colonizers, at the risk of sacrificing state sovereignty in the process.
It's a predicament France knows all too well: in his speech to the French ambassadors gathered in Paris on Monday, Macron denounced "the baroque alliance of pseudo-panafricanists and new imperialists. It's a madhouse!"
It's doubtful that this indignation will help, as France is struggling in its relations with Africa. Since his election in 2017, Macron has been trying to forge a renewed relationship with the continent, "without paternalism or weakness" as he put it yesterday. But he is coming up against the collapse of state structures in the Sahel region of north-central Africa, where nations are turning against the former colonizer. The renewal of Paris' African policy has been thwarted by this turnaround.
Repeated coups d'état in the Sahel have put France on the defensive. By refusing to withdraw the French ambassador in Niamey, whose departure the Niger junta is demanding, the President is upholding a position of principle that clashes with fiercely divergent African opinion.
French ambassador to Niger Sylvain Itté during in the inauguration ceremony of the Gorou Banda solar power plant that France helped finance.
Paris is taking refuge behind the Community of West African States (Ecowas), whose leaders fear this contagion of coups. But it is not certain that Ecowas has the means to restore constitutional order in Niger, and armed intervention would be a catastrophe.
We need to be lucid, without being excessively pessimistic
This impasse, into which rush influence-hungry powers such as Russia, contributes to the deterioration of international order. And, as Macron underlined yesterday, it "runs the risk of weakening the West, and Europe in particular. We need to be lucid, without being excessively pessimistic."
The war in Ukraine is obviously the issue that is shaping the new balance of power. But Africa weighs heavily in this conflict with its global impact. A rupture is not in the interests of France and Europe, nor of Africa, which is in need of allies for its development. Avoiding a definitive break must be a top priority for all.
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