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Standing with Ukraine: An African perspective

By Irene Fowler
18 May 2022   |   3:48 am
Russian President Vladimir Putin has crossed the Rubicon with his illegal, predatory and brutal invasion of Ukraine. His vicious war is based partly on ill-conceived, debunked and short-lived lies about the victimization of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

People walk past a building with a collapsed facade at the Vizar company military-industrial complex, after the site was hit by overnight Russian strikes, in the town of Vyshneve, southwestern suburbs of Kyiv, on April 15, 2022. – A Ukrainian military factory outside Kyiv that produced missiles allegedly used to hit Russia’s Moskva warship was partly destroyed by overnight Russian strikes, an AFP journalist at the scene saw on April 15. A workshop and an administrative building at the Vizar plant were seriously damaged. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has crossed the Rubicon with his illegal, predatory and brutal invasion of Ukraine. His vicious war is based partly on ill-conceived, debunked and short-lived lies about the victimization of Russian speakers in Ukraine. The question is how many other aspiring little tin-pot dictators and soulless despots will now feel emboldened to emerge from the shadows and follow Putin’s example of achieving a netherworld level of mendacity and devastation.

Alas, Putin’s new and bizarre benchmark for evil would be nowhere more consequential and unwelcome than in Africa.  Most, if not all, of our democracies, were cynically cobbled together to serve European imperial interests. As a result, they are fragile and comprise a hodgepodge of disparate tribal and ethnic entities, making us ultimately unable to co-exist and thrive as homogenous nation-states.

In his much-vaunted address to the United Nations Security Council on Feb.22, 2022, Kenyan UN ambassador Martin Kimani said, “At independence, Africa inherited arbitrary borders drawn by colonial powers. Rather than seeking to redraw them in pursuit of ethnically homogenous countries, which would have condemned Africa to still be waging bloody wars these many decades later, the continent chose to follow the rules of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations Charter, not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater forged in peace.”

The savage execution of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine is being played out, minute by minute, before the eyes of the world. And we have seen this before. Similar grotesque leaps into moral darkness have taken place in several African countries. And the continent can ill afford to sustain the emergence of another tyrannical ruler who would try and impose his personal brand of megalomania while terrorizing wide swathes of the populace and further retarding progress and development. It behooves us to heed the words of British Science Fiction writer Charles Stross: “Where would dictators be without our compliant amnesia? Make the collective lose its memory, and you can conceal anything.”

In an emergency session on March 2, 2022, the United Nations voted on a resolution to condemn Putin’s war on Ukraine. Although the resolution garnered widespread support, only 28 of the 54 African countries represented in the U.N. voted in favor.  In my estimation, the reticence of those other 26 African countries to champion the inalienable rights of a sovereign democratic nation is a sorely missed opportunity to stand unequivocally for the international order and to forge deeper bonds with other democracies based on shared values.

I would counsel African leaders to be mindful of our tortured history under the foot of imperialism and its deleterious fallout, the effects of which still haunt us and hold us back to this day.

Speaking of the land of his birth, South Africa, the global icon extraordinaire and celebrated lodestar Nelson Mandela said, “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.” I can boldly state without fear of contradiction that Mandela’s passionate emotions and irrepressible drive would have found a common cause with Ukraine today.

Seared in humanity’s collective consciousness are certain hellish episodes that will live in infamy and forever characterize Man’s inhumanity to Man. These memories serve as silent sentinels of the depravity we are capable of as a species.  Such an episode in the Second World War (1939-1945), the origins of which can be traced to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany.

Hitler’s Machiavellian tactics included vilifying and dehumanizing certain populations.  A striking parallel can be drawn between Hitler’s demagoguery and Putin’s anti-Ukraine rhetoric. Equally sinister is the through-line between Kremlin propaganda and the countless ongoing atrocities being committed against Ukraine and its people by Putin’s invading forces.

On the African continent, we have witnessed episodes of genocidal terror in the name of ethnic cleansing. The situation is especially fraught, as it is estimated that Africa is home to about 3000 different tribes. Tribalism continues to remain a challenge to our fragile democracies, with omnipresent tribal tensions percolating incessantly below the surface. It only takes an unconscionable public figure, surrounded by a corrupt cabal of enablers and enforcers propping him up, for hell on earth to be unleashed.

Putin’s slash and burn model of exercising deadly power could have dastardly ripple effects across the world at large if not checked and eliminated.  To stand by idly would be interpreted as a green light for more of the same.  The scene would thus be set for the igniting of countless other conflagrations around the globe. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the heroic, intrepid man of the moment, has demonstrated repeatedly that he is in a battle for the soul of the world.

The future of a rules-based international order is dependent on functional and effective universal democratic governance. Democracy has proven thus far to be the most equitable form of governance and the best guarantee of individual rights and freedoms. Although it is far from perfect, it is underpinned by the rule of law.

The tragic events unfolding in Ukraine are a direct result of Putin’s tyrannical, autocratic leadership, evincing his criminal inclinations and total contempt for the rule of law. He must be held accountable for his unlawful prosecution of an unjust war against Ukraine. He must also be held responsible for the many crimes against humanity taking place in Ukraine. Only then will democracy be able to ensure its viability, by simultaneously employing both defensive and offensive measures to ward off full-on death blows against its continued existence.

I urge the gatekeepers of all democratic nations to draw inspiration and resolve from the brave actions of Ukrainian leaders, and from those admirable, salt-of-the-earth Ukrainians who are in a David and Goliath fight for survival.
The successful outcome of their principled and righteous cause will redound to the long-term benefit of a rules-based international order, and by necessary implication, enhance the stability and advancements of individual nations and global regional blocs.

Fowler is a Nigerian international lawyer (Ll.M Harvard), human rights advocate, essayist, and poet based in Lagos, Nigeria.