(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)
I am reading the book Russia in Africa at the hotel in N'Djamena, Chad's capital. It has been a few weeks since the rebellion in neighboring Sudan broke out, and the hotel is full of Turkish and French military personnel. What all the Russians in the hotel are doing here, I can never figure out. The hotel is right next to the airport, and all day long we hear fighter jets taking off. From the swimming pool we see military transport planes circling in the air above us.
One morning the lobby is full of African aid workers who have been evacuated from Darfur during the night. Mercenaries from Wagner fight alongside the leader of one faction i Sudan. In the Central African Republic, Wagner supports a new Chadian rebel militia. Rarely have I felt that the topic of a trade book has been more relevant.
Russia's arms sales to Africa
The political scientist Samuel Ramani defended his dissertation at Oxford University two years ago with a thesis on Russian foreign policy in the Middle East. Now he has already managed to write a 400-page book about it Russias involvement in Africa from 1991 to 2022. Admittedly, the last 100 pages are devoted to 1300 footnotes. They are almost exclusively references to American, European and Russian news reports and policy documents over the past 30 years. And it is symptomatic – the book is more of a news update than an analysis of Russia's involvement in Africa.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's Africa policy went into low gear for a few years. One example Ramani uses to show this is that arms sales from Russia to Africa fell by 700 percent from 1991 to 1995. Towards the end of the 1990s, Russia became more active – advocating the principle of non-intervention in an increasing number of cases. Russia increased arms sales to Africa and in 2000 was the continent's second largest supplier of military equipment. In many cases, such as in the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998–2000), Russia supplied weapons to both sides in a conflict.
Under Putin's two first presidential terms (2000–2008), Africa became even more important. Russia gave debt relief to a number of African countries at the same time as they signed several military-technical agreements, which included e.g. training and arms sales. During the war in Darfur (2003–10), Russia supplied over 80 percent of the weapons to al-Bashir's regime in Sudan. At the same time, they used their right of veto in the UN Security Council to block proposed sanctions against the regime in Sudan.
After the Arab Spring, at the end of Medvedev's presidency (2008–2012), Russia's skepticism towards Western Europe and the United States increased. Russia abstained when the Security Council considered resolution number 1973 to use "all necessary means" to protect the civilian population of Libya. NATO continued bombing in Libya after the African Union and Muammar Gaddafi's regime wanted negotiations. At the same time, the US accused Sudan's president of committing genocide and ethnic cleansing. Russia believed NATO did the same in Libya.
NATO continued bombing in Libya after the African Union and Muammar Gaddafi's regime wanted negotiations.
Mercenaries of the Wagner Company
While the West was busy understanding China's expansion in Africa, Russia was expanding without much attention. Russia was very keen on the principle of non-interference and allowed authoritarian regimes to pursue their own policies without making any political demands to conduct trade or aid. Ramani says that Russia during this period supported a number of African autocracies, often with the help of the very regime-oriented private military company Wagner. In 2017 established Prigozhin, which owns Wagner, two gold and diamond mining companies in the Central African Republic – while Wagner mercenaries were stationed in the country. About a thousand mercenaries from Wagner were also engaged against the Libyan regime, on the side of rebel Khalifa Haftar. In Sudan, Wagner supports Hemedti's Rapid Support Forces, while in Mali they support the newly established military regime of General Goïta. The Russian support was one of the reasons why France withdrew from Mali during 2021-22. Ramani claims that the Kremlin's disinformation is the strongest supporter of the military junta regime in Mali. He refers to a number of media outlets that criticize France for neo-colonialism in the Sahel, and in which the coup maker Goïta is presented as a capable and much-needed national leader.
17 African countries abstained on condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The book is so up-to-date that it has its own sections on how African countries reacted to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In the UN General Assembly (March 2, 2022), Eritrea, as the only African country, voted against condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But 17 African countries abstained. This shows an ambivalent attitude towards Russia in Africa compared to Europe where everyone, except Belarus, condemned the invasion. Many African countries were keen to preserve neutrality in the conflict, they wanted negotiations rather than condemnation, or they understood Ukraine as part of Russia.
Although the book is about the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I miss reflections on the relevance of the Cold War in Africa for Russia's Africa policy today. I also miss more thorough analyzes and source criticism of the facts that are presented. For those short on time, it's actually worth reading the first two and last two pages of each chapter – that's where the author makes analytical summaries. The chapters are otherwise full of names of Russian politicians who travel on official visits and meet African presidents and ministers. They sign a number of military and commercial cooperation agreements. They trade weapons and surveillance technology for gold and diamonds, bauxite and uranium.
Ramani has written an up-to-date, well-sourced and easy-to-read reference book on Russia's involvement in Africa over the past thirty years. Those who want an analytical non-fiction book on Russia in Africa will still have to wait.