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Russia Seeks African Ties, Triggering Western Fears

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Overview

A top US general’s paternalistic comments cautioning Congress about Russia ‘s growing ties in Africa have ignited indignation across the continent. African leaders swiftly denounced the remarks as neo-colonial interference aimed at limiting their sovereignty.

The general claimed several African nations risked “falling” under Russian influence. But Africans instantly recognized the tone of purported protectors who always see foreign manipulation, never African agency.

Moscow’s overtures may be calculating, but do not insult us with talk of seduction, Africa retorted defiantly. The continent is rising fast, forging its destiny through new pan-African bonds.

Though its pragmatic engagement with Russia remains modest, Africa’s confident pursuit of diverse partners reveals a strategic savvy that defies outdated paternalism. The general’s rhetoric exposed Western anxiety over fading primacy more than naivete by newly assertive Africa.

So let nervous Western voices fret about waning influence. Africa’s leaders care more that its people prosper. They see Russian ties as useful leverage, aware that great powers play their own games. This new realism riles former colonial masters, but shows Africa relies on itself now.

Warnings Of Russia

Recent comments by the head of US Africa Command, General Michael Langley, warning Congress about Russia’s expanding influence across Africa have highlighted growing Western anxiety over Moscow’s inroads on the continent. 

Langley sounded the alarm about several African countries being on the “tipping point” of falling under Russian sway. He accused Russia of stoking instability and spreading disinformation narratives to undermine Western interests.

However, this narrative betrays the West’s lingering colonial mentality, viewing Africa as its backyard, while denying African nations the agency to pursue independent foreign policies. 

Western fears over Africa “defecting” to rival powers like Russia and China reveal anxieties over losing control as the continent increasingly charts its own course. Nowhere is this clearer than in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, which Western critics accuse of growing dangerously close to Moscow.

Yet these criticisms ignore Nigeria’s fiercely independent spirit and strategy of profiting from cooperation with multiple partners without being dominated by any. 

Russia

As other African nations similarly seek new allies to end dependence on the West, an attempt to limit their sovereignty is bound to backfire. The continent’s newfound confidence stems from recognition that Africa’s future lies in its own hands, not those of former colonial masters.

General Langley’s rhetoric at the Senate Armed Services Committee reprised familiar Western tropes depicting Russia and China as predatory powers exploiting Africa. He highlighted Russian mercenary outfit Wagner Group’s activities while warning of Moscow’s arms sales and energy deals granting access to natural resources. But this conveniently omits the West’s own long history of destructive interference in Africa.

From the brutal slave trade to imperialist conquest and support for apartheid regimes, Western predation on Africa dwarfs anything Russia has done. 

The U.S. Lectures Africa

Yet patronizing attitudes persist in lectures about the dangers of cooperation with Russia, which African states dismiss as hypocritical given the West’s poor record. Russia’s burgeoning ties with African governments are based on mutual interest, not coercion.

According to Langley, the US has been “drowned out” by Russian disinformation in Africa. He lamented Moscow’s success in falsely painting itself as a partner to African nations in order to gain influence. 

But this simplistic narrative ignores that African states are pragmatic actors pursuing constructive engagement on their own terms. They recognize Moscow offers an alternative source of trade, investment and security assistance minus strings attached.

Nowhere is Africa’s defiant confidence stronger than in its giant, Nigeria. Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov was recently welcomed in its capital amid pledges to strengthen ties. 

Lavrov made clear Russia considers Nigeria a priority African partner, especially for energy, defense, mining, infrastructure and agriculture projects. He emphasized Moscow’s support for building up Nigerian and regional security capabilities to counter persistent terrorist threats. Western critics framed this as proof of Russia enabling destabilizing forces.

But Nigerian leaders argue broader defense partnerships enhance their ability to combat security challenges themselves rather than depending on Western military interventions. Nigeria has bitter experience of canvassing Western help against Boko Haram terrorists, only to be rebuffed until the violence threatened regional stability.

Russia

More broadly, engagement with Russia is seen in Nigeria as an overdue correction after decades of tilted relations with the West. There is strong appetite to expand trade and economic ties with Moscow given Russia never fully capitalized on Soviet-era ties to develop Nigeria’s economy. Western fixation on Russian arms sales ignores Nigeria’s greater interest in Russia’s non-military expertise and technology.

The West Has No Favor Left With Africa

The West squandered much goodwill in Nigeria through its selective engagement and double standards. While investing heavily in the oil industry, Western firms did little to support industrialization or build transport and power infrastructure. Western governments turned a blind eye to corruption under military dictators they propped up until democracy was restored.

The West’s fair-weather friendship contrasts with Russia’s reliable ties during Nigeria’s years of authoritarian rule. Soviet backing was crucial to achieving independence and countering Western interference. 

Russia’s long-term status as an ally makes its renewed courtship appealing compared to fickle Western powers. The Ukraine war has reinforced perceptions that the West applies international law selectively, violating African sovereignty at will.

Africa’s Stance On the Russia – Ukraine War

Neutrality over Ukraine aligns with Africa’s own history as an object of great power proxy wars. With that experience, African states now refuse to be corralled into the Western camp against Russia. The patronizing idea that they should eschew Russian partnership to avoid “falling into its orbit” is thus seen as neo-colonial arrogance. Their outreach to Moscow is pragmatic, not ideological.

Yet Western fears persist that newly assertive African nations are slipping from their sphere of control. General Langley’s warnings echo long-running US anxiety about losing influence to rival powers it deems threatening. Under its Global Fragility Act, passed soon after former President Trump unveiled plans to combat Chinese and Russian influence worldwide, Africa became a key target for this expanded geostrategic competition.

The general’s insistence on countering Russian “false narratives” reflects this growing Western information war on the continent. But academic research shows most Africans are skeptical of foreign narratives and adept at navigating geopolitical jostling to maximize benefits for themselves. Their leaders understand great powers have their own interests rather than Africa’s advancement as priority.

Nigeria’s enhanced engagement with Russia typifies this African agency steering an independent course between competing powers. Western fears of Russian sway miss that Nigeria is exploiting rather than being seduced by Kremlin overtures. 

The West struggles to accept that African states now hold the cards in this new multipolar landscape where their allegiance cannot be taken for granted. Having shaken off authoritarian rule, military coups and debilitating debt burdens, their ties with external powers are increasingly transactional. No longer naive about great power motives after harsh lessons from the Cold War, African nations now play powers against each other.

Lessons For The West

The wider lesson is that Africa’s people and leaders have become the masters of their own destinies. Anchored by the African Union, the continent’s future will be determined by its own actions and agency rather than deference to foreign powers. African states will judge external partners by the development benefits on offer. Given past Western advantages that were squandered, Russia and China’s offerings find receptive ears.

African governments are too pragmatic to become wholly dependent on any external actor again. Their embrace of diverse partnerships reveals sophisticated rather than naive diplomacy. 

Rather than alleging African nations are naive prey for Russian machinations, Western critics should ask why their own relations have stagnated. Their fixation on Moscow highlights strategic blindness. 

Russia’s modest investments in Africa remain dwarfed by the US, Europe, China and now even India’s role. Its arms sales barely crack the continent’s top five suppliers. But for sanctions-hit Russia, even small gains make for useful propaganda.

The greater threat to Western interests comes from its own missteps and attitudes. Crying wolf about Russian imperialism smacks of the same patronizing thinking that led the West to miss Africa’s previous rise. Its fixation on military threats overlooks that countries like Nigeria now seek investment partners, not protectors. Development is their priority, not geopolitical games.

Unless the West abandons hoary assumptions and treats African states as the equals they have become, it will lose further ground. Rather than discouraging African engagement with Russia, the West must make its own partnership offers more appealing. That requires overcoming its domineering Cold War reflexes, even as Africa asserts its sovereignty.

Africa’s leaders know the continent’s development lies first and foremost in their hands, not with external saviors. They calculate expanded ties with Russia can provide useful leverage to aid this progress. But their expectant gaze remains fixed firmly on the future, not the past. Any foreign partners unable or unwilling to assist Africa’s march to prosperity will find themselves left behind as the continent’s fortunes rise.

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