Development, freedom and independence remain elusive to the African continent because its citizens have set aside the principle of Ubuntu. We want to be everything else but ourselves. The very idea of African independence was not only an acknowledgement that colonialism was vile and inhuman but also a recognition that Africans and Africa’s needs were different and could only be addressed by the continent itself. It is therefore important for the continent to stand for itself even if that means having no global audience than to stand for a global audience and have no self.
In the Russian invasion of Ukraine I will not reserve judgement, this is a matter of everything I am opposed to versus everything I stand for. What I object to is colonialism, dictatorship, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. What I stand for is respect for territorial integrity, democracy, individual liberties, human rights and the defence of free expression. I am totally against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
For people who have suffered illegal invasion of their lands, humiliation and degradation of their culture and way of life; for people who continue to endure hardship under autocratic regimes; for people who have lost lives, limbs and dignity fighting for democracy, Africans’ unwavering support for Putin is a bewildering lack of principles.
Greed and cowardice are the vices that will leave Africans sheltering behind the neutrality veil to make up for their lack of principle. We despise local dictators and approach the West for support to be rid of them but open our arms to welcome Putin a dictator from Europe who supports the same dictators we want rid of.
To excuse the violation of Ukrainian territory because of its ‘betrayal of Russia’ by aligning with the West defies logic. Africa fought so it could freely choose its international partnerships; that is exactly the right Russia is trying to deny Ukraine.
Africans’ alleged objection to the West due to its colonial past and their declared allegiance to Russia because it ‘freed Africa’ are positions of convenience not principle. A point of correction, it was the USSR (of which Ukraine was a member, a fact we conveniently forget today) that supported liberation movements’ efforts against colonialism, but let us not ignore the effect of sweeping Western political and economic sanctions against the racist Rhodesia and South Africa’s apartheid regime.
We have Ubuntu to guide our principles, and celebrating the invasion of one sovereign country by another, justifying the humiliation of a people by another does not fit in with our broader responsibilities to humanity, our objectives of global civility and solidarity will remain an illusion.
How do we even begin to justify Putin’s invasion of an independent Ukraine and depriving people there of their freedom of association? Russia of today is doing what the West of yesteryear was doing to Africa and Africans. If we only object to colonialism some of the time, we do not in reality object to it at all but just hate being victims of it.
If colonialism was wrong and unjustifiable in the 19th Century, it is wrong and unjustifiable in the 21st Century, and there is no virtue in defending it. Just as we fought it in the past, Ukraine has every right to fight it today. We must guard against allowing our temperament, than our principles, to shape our character.
The notion that Russia freed Africa from colonialism deliberately ignores the wave of change in moral values across the Western world that made the repugnant colonialism morally, politically and economically unstainable. Now back to USSR’s support, while I appreciate it, I will not be fooled into thinking it was out of love for Africans more than it was for the country’s own desires for global influence like most of Europe. For its ‘love’ of Africa, Russia has not invested a lot to support an inclusive independent Africa but has persistently supported dictators who marginalise citizens in the continent, no wonder many young Africans continue to lose their lives each year trying to reach the West, NOT Russia.
Africa knows the right principles but does not seem to love them. The reality we must face is that the principles we live by are the drivers of happiness, or otherwise, in our society. We need to be wary, upon attaining happiness, not to lose the virtues of Ubuntu which have produced it.
Respect of sovereign borders is a non-negotiable principle; Africa cannot look at itself with pride when it chooses to look away where violation of another nation’s rights is clear to see. Russia’s significant role in helping Africa resist colonialism does not supersede its responsibility to the rest of the civil world to respect the sovereignty of other states. Its behaviour today must be denounced. Ukraine does not owe Russia allegiance, it can choose its alliances in response to its current and future needs, and without the expectation or need to seek approval from any other nation; its principles are its master.