Will Biden envoys reverse Putin’s latest Africa inroads?

Alex Masereka Joel

What you need to know:

It is unlikely that much will change as the continent has largely ignored western overtures for support on the war in Ukraine

In June, the African Union boss, Macky Sall, visited Moscow and held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The talks centred around easing the transportation of grain from Ukraine whose passage had been blocked by Russia’s military operations in the former and was affecting Africa.

A day after their meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Macky Sall to reportedly discuss the global crises around food and fuel.

It was a form of a veiled, subtle message to the continent “We are watching what you are doing and won’t let it pass.”

Putin followed this meeting by dispatching his veteran Foreign Affairs minister, Sergey Lavrov who visited five African countries, including Uganda. While the details of the visit have been flagged as discussions on “bilateral relations,” the Russians have been looking to get guarantees for UN votes from their African allies.

Playing second fiddle again, US President Joe Biden has sent out two of his top diplomats to Africa. US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Antony Blinken.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, who has spent the last couple of months presenting statements condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine is visiting Uganda and Ghana while Blinken’s tour will be in countries like South Africa, Rwanda and DR Congo.

The choice of a high-level diplomat like Linda Thomas-Greenfield is an indication that Biden wants to fail Russian attempts for massive African support at the UN when votes on the Ukraine issue come up.

Her visit was flagged as one to “discuss the US and global response to the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on global food security, as well as other regional and bilateral priorities.” However, limiting Russia’s influence is the fulcrum of the visit.

How African nations vote at the UN when the Russia-Ukraine issue comes up, will determine how far the two powers have gone in persuading Africa. The United Nations General Assembly happens next month.

It is unlikely that much will change as the continent has largely ignored western overtures for support on the war in Ukraine.

It is also an indication that Uganda holds a key place in the geopolitics of the continent vis-a-vis the global powers.

Uganda will chair the non-aligned movement next year. The movement includes a group of nations that literally challenge the global dominance of western countries led by the US. This also explains why they are courting Kampala. All the countries in the movement will be looking up to Uganda to provide leadership and inspiration as they seek further decolonisation.

The second Africa-Russia Summit is set to be held in Addis Ababa in October-November as Russia seeks to strengthen ties with Africa and seek new investment avenues in the face of western sanctions that have sought to isolate Moscow. It’s a summit that will happen a month before Biden hosts African leaders in Washington.

In Blinken’s visit, the US seeks to try and play mediator between Kigali and Kinshasa. The two neighbours have had strained relations in the recent past, exacerbated by the activities of the M23 rebels.

However, his visit also comes on the heels of efforts by regional leaders to diffuse tensions between the two countries. East African Community leaders have recently met in Kenya’s capital Nairobi to de-escalate the situation with President Uhuru Kenyatta now named as mediator for the talks. It shows Africa is capable of taking charge of its affairs. Blinken will only be doing Uncle Sam’s usual, “capitalizing on situations to take all credit”.

For a long time, African nations have been singing the song of “African solutions to African problems.”

 Increased interest from global powers is a chance to walk the talk as it is reminiscent of colonial days where they sought to manipulate and subdue the continent.

Alex Masereka Joel is a Pan Africanist, media practitioner and member of the Uganda-Cuba Solidarity Movement