The South remembers: Why Africa must revive historical links with Russia
More than 30 years ago, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, the unipolar era limited co-operation with African countries, as Russia sought to increase links to the West. However, recent events, particularly the war in Ukraine, have recast Russia as arch adversary of Western countries, a repeat of the historical position the USSR held during the Cold War.
Two days after Tanzania attained independence on December 9, 1961, Tanzania and the USSR established diplomatic relations, marking the beginning of co-operation not only with Tanzania but with the nascent struggle throughout the African continent against colonialism and white minority rule.
Under the Tanzanian government and the leadership of its founding president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s foreign policy had three pillars: the total liberation of the African continent, African unity, and non-alignment. The first two were also included in the charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) at its inception in Addis Ababa in 1963. In the same year, the OAU set up the Liberation Committee in Tanzania to coordinate assistance in aid of the liberation struggle.
In the early 1960s only 30 African countries had achieved independence. By the time the Liberation Committee was disbanded in 1994, 56 countries in Africa had become independent.
The OAU’s founding fathers envisioned a politically independent Africa, freed from the vestiges of colonialism and minority rule and on the road to continental unity. Guided by the principles of Pan-Africanism, the founders – including Mwalimu Nyerere - recognized that only a unified front of African peoples and peoples of African descent would guarantee political, economic, cultural, and social independence and progress for its peoples.
Tanzania not only became part of the frontline in the struggle but also hosted bases and training camps for guerilla movements from southern Africa, and incurred retaliatory attacks perpetrated by the Portuguese colonial forces in Mozambique.
Arguably, it was no coincidence the former USSR supported the liberation struggle. Having morphed from partners fighting against Nazi Germany in the Second World War, the Soviet Union and its allies became the ideological, economic, and political nemesis of the United States and its allies. The Cold War pushed the Soviet Union into supporting the African liberation struggle.
While some commentators argue that Soviet support for the liberation movements was motivated solely by its objective of countering the pervading Western/NATO influence in Africa, it does negate this fact: when Africans fought for independence, the West sided with the oppressors, while the Soviet Union provided crucial munitions and financial aid in support of the liberation struggle.
And the truth is Africa hasn’t forgotten.
Responding to criticism for defending Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Nelson Mandela famously said:
“One of the mistakes which some political analysts make is to think that their enemies should be our enemies. That we will never do. We have our own struggle which we are conducting. We are grateful to the world for supporting our struggle. But nevertheless, we are an independent organization, with its own policy. Our attitude towards any country is determined by the attitude of that country to our struggle… our attitude is based solely on the fact that they fully support the anti-Apartheid struggle. They do not support it only in rhetoric; they are placing resources at our disposal for us to wage the struggle.”
The prolonged history of Africa’s liberation struggle is a consequence of the continuous political, diplomatic, economic, and military support that was given to the remnants of colonialism and Apartheid by Western countries, motivated both by the protection of their economic interests and by the imperatives of the Cold War.
Writing in the New York Times in 1977, Michael C Jensen estimated that 350 US companies, including General Electric, Coca-Cola, IBM and Mobil had a combined investment in Apartheid South Africa of $1.7 billion (worth $8.6 trillion today), representing 17% of all foreign investment.
Despite the success of the African liberation struggle, political independence did not produce the desired economic, industrial, and social progress that most Africans expected. After Nyerere stepped down as president of Tanzania in 1985, he was appointed to lead the South Commission of the Non-Aligned movement to address the economic problems of the Global South. Specifically, it was the framework of the world economy shutting out two-thirds of the world’s population from the mainstream global economy and the concurrent result, the exacerbation of poverty and underdevelopment.
The founding of the BRICS partnership in 2010 with its initial members Brazil, Russia, India, China, and later South Africa re-ignited the impetus for reform of global economic conditions and the Western-dominated financial institutions, a reform based on equality, fair representation, and non-interference. Currently, more than 40 countries have expressed interest in joining the group. Argentina, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia and two more African states, Ethiopia and Egypt, are to join the organization in 2024. BRICS’ New Development Bank promises greater control over lending and greater autonomy on the progress and course of development. BRICS’ acceptance of member countries trading in their own currencies will remove the dominance of the US dollar in world trade and lift the burden of raising dollars from poor countries.
There is a whiff of a new ‘wind of change,’ similar to the one that ushered independence for many African countries beginning in the 1960s. The future is predictable, but only if African governments acknowledge that reliance on the same global economic structures and practices for the past 60 decades will bind Africans to continued economic servitude and subservience to the developed world. BRICS offers a viable alternative.
The Global South to which Africa belongs can either move with the wind or stand aside and watch. The emerging multipolar world provides the voiceless majority, at the very least, an open, sympathetic window that addresses the global impediments to development.
Just as the African liberation struggle unshackled Africans from the chains of colonialism and minority rule, so should a more equitable order, one that will permit Africans to reap the benefits of the rich resources of their continent.
The emerging paradigm sets the foundation for co-operation on a mutually beneficial basis, avoiding the exploitative foundation of colonial and postcolonial relations between Africa and the developed world.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.