Russian, French and American leaders are criss-crossing Africa to win support for their positions in the Ukraine war, making what some say is the most intense competition for influence on the continent since the Cold War.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron are visiting each of the African countries this week.
Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development, went to Kenya and Somalia last week.
The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will go to Ghana and Uganda next week.
“It’s like a new Cold War is unfolding in Africa, where rival sides are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, a foundation that promotes good governance.
Mr Lavrov, in his travels across the drought- and famine-stricken continent, has sought to portray the West as the villain, blaming it for rising food prices, while Western leaders have accused the Kremlin of using cynically food as a weapon and to fight. an imperial-style war of conquest: words calculated to appeal to listeners in post-colonial Africa.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been working to win support in Africa for several years, reviving friendships dating back half a century, when the Soviet Union supported many African movements fighting to end colonial rule .
“This campaign has now been launched,” Gumede said.
Moscow’s influence in Africa was on display in March during the UN vote to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While 28 African nations voted in favor of the resolution, a significant minority of countries on the continent, 25, voted to abstain or did not vote at all.
Russia’s top diplomat visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia this week, pledging friendship and accusing the United States and European countries of driving up food prices through “reckless” environmental policies.
He also accused them of hoarding food during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The situation in Ukraine also negatively affected food markets, but not because of the Russian special operation, but because of the absolutely inappropriate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions,” Lavrov said in Addis Ababa, the capital of ‘Ethiopia.
Lavrov was warmly welcomed in Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni, who has long been a US ally but has refused to criticize Russia for the invasion.
Museveni even suggested at the outbreak of war that Putin’s actions might be understandable because Ukraine is in Russia’s sphere of influence.
Lavrov expressed his support for reforming the UN Security Council to give African countries permanent seats and greater influence.
Appearing with Mr Lavrov, the Ugandan leader spoke fondly of former ties with Russia, asking how Moscow could look down on it when it has good relations with countries that participated in slavery.
Museveni, the continent’s opinion leader who has held power for three decades, is an obvious choice for Russia as someone to strengthen ties with, Ugandan political analyst Asuman Bisiika said.
“Uganda is the center of gravity in East Africa,” Bisiika said.
Museveni, 77, has strictly worn a mask in public since the outbreak of Covid-19.
But he was having none of it as he greeted Mr Lavrov in front of photographers, apparently wanting to show warmth to the Russian.
Mr Museveni wore a mask again at his next public appearance a day later.
Russia also woos African public opinion through its state television channel RT, formerly known as Russia Today.
RT has announced that it will open a new office in Johannesburg.
RT was abruptly pulled from Africa’s biggest pay-TV platform, Johannesburg-based Multichoice, in March after the European Union and Britain imposed sanctions against Russia.
It is unclear whether the establishment of the new office will allow RT to resume broadcasting in Africa through Multichoice, which claims almost 22 million subscribers on the continent.
“For Russia, it’s the battle being heard in Africa. It’s not important for the actual war effort, but for its long-term political influence,” said Anton Harber, a professor of journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
“They see them as fertile ground to cultivate their influence, and of course votes in the UN are important.”
On his tour of Africa, Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to spread propaganda in support of the war.
And he accused the Kremlin of blackmailing the world by thwarting Ukraine’s grain export.
“They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked the grain in Ukraine. They are the ones who regulate their cereals”, he said in Benin.
His itinerary also included Cameroon and Guinea Bissau.
Macron called on Africans to side with Russia.
“I am telling you here in Africa, a continent that has suffered colonial imperialism: Russia is one of the last colonial and imperial powers. She decides to invade a neighboring country to defend her interests,” he said.
“This is the reality.”
Ms Power was in East Africa to pledge aid to help the region fight hunger amid a devastating multi-year drought.
He did not hold back in criticizing Russia.
“By blocking Ukraine’s grain exports and restricting trade in Russia’s own fertiliser, Putin’s actions have had the effect of inflicting pain on the people of Kenya and other countries around the world,” Ms Power told Nairobi.
“He is hurting the people of Kenya to benefit his own situation.”