When a powerful bully state is invading a militarily weaker sovereign state it is not the best time to advertise one’s Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) badge; in the face of another country’s territorial integrity being violated, you cannot adopt a neutral stance and enjoy a good night sleep without shelving all moral responsibility to the human race. Relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Africa’s position of neutrality is morally bereft, that position is inhuman and counterproductive; there are internationally recognised laws about the respect for territorial integrity and against its violation.
Benefits of NAM are becoming more difficult to imagine; this is an unwieldy movement that is by design no longer beneficial to Africa and Africans; its framing accents the importance of building a tidier non-confrontational global system, but seeks to achieve that by incapacitating the world’s largest continent through pushing it into a dark silent corner of neutrality in all matters global. NAM pushes the social and culturally different African states, Asia and Latin America to take a more uniform political stance within a socialisation agenda “aligned” with the interests of the powerful West and East nexus.
What NAM has achieved over the years is excluding African nations from essential global political matters. Africa may not be playing a greater and/ or direct role in shaping global policy yet at the end of the day it is forced to choose sides and/ or accept the West/ East consensus. While NAM ensures our non-participation in the West/ East dichotomy, it does not protect us from the far-reaching impact of the decisions of the West and the East. Why then should we remain neutral?
To expect to play a pivotal role in global politics by effectively withholding participation in it is to lack a sense of responsibility, and we cannot participate in world politics by paying a blind eye and withdrawing our right to take concrete positions and make decisions and judgement in times of moral crisis.
Ignoring atrocities in Palestine, Yemen, Libya, etc. has not resolved the problems in those territories but encouraged more atrocities, and we do not expect any different in Ukraine. To ignore and wish away the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the height of moral depravity.
Whatever political differences Russia has with Ukraine, to forcibly appropriate chunks of land from a sovereign state’s authority because one can is inexcusable behaviour and can never be justified. If Putin is successful, or even vaguely so, in his Ukrainian mission, the fear is that somebody somewhere will pull the same strategy on someone before the end of this decade, and before the end of this century vulnerable and militarily weaker African and Asian states will be facing a new wave of attacks and invasions with impunity, direct or by proxy, from militarily superior alliances.
Today it is Ukraine, tomorrow it would be someone else. To protect ourselves from potential violations of our territorial integrity, we need to start acting like people who believe in the fundamentals of territorial integrity, and this calls for taking bold steps and condemning any violations. Non-alignment sends a wrong message where wrong is out in the open staring us in the face, and it will not strengthen the African hand internationally.
Strengthening the African hand in global matters will require leaders who stand for something. Africa and Africans are not a subsidiary of the world and the human race but an integral part of both; we need our leaders to start showing a willingness to push and shape international politics so that it is a genuine reflection of the international community.
The framing of African foreign policy needs swift changes; this is the time for a strategic shift in Africa so that the continent will move away from uncertainty and standing for everything and nothing; African leaders must abandon the self-imposed international isolation sold in the form of the pre-determined non-alignment posture and call out wrong whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head; they must seek to always adopt a position of principle, though this may at times mean standing alone, and we will cherish the sweetest reflection that our stance in global matters is never in vain.
Russia is wrong in its invasion of a sovereign Ukraine today just as it was wrong in 2014 when it annexed Crimea and just as its actions in Chechnya and Georgia were wrong and just as other powerful nations have been wrong in their execution of identical antics of hostility and aggression in other sovereign states. We must be clear that it has been wrong in the past that we have ignored violations of international law and chose neutrality instead.
For how long will Africa stand by and look away well into space when everything is happening before her? The sovereignty of an independent state is being attacked; the very existence of Ukraine is threatened by Russia. Adopting neutrality undermines the principle of sovereignty. We must raise our voice; our leaders must be driven by the fundamentals of African morality, Ubuntu and strongly condemn the Russian action that undermines the territorial integrity of another nation. The invasion of Ukraine and the destruction of infrastructure including buildings of cultural significance is a disproportionate and unjustifiable intervention. All excuses Russia has given to date to justify its actions in Ukraine lack credibility.