THE world order is changing and the African Continent has become the new epicentre of the emerging global dynamics. The US and western hegemony over the region is eroded away while Russian and Chinese influence over the continent is growing day by day. Historically, the United States had the most influence in Africa as it had military engagements with the countries of the region and had also built economic ties. More recently, there has been an entrenchment by the US in the black continent due to which African nations look towards China and Russia to fill the void.
Russia has signed numerous diplomatic and economic initiatives, military cooperation and resource-related interests with many African countries. Moreover, there has been an increase in high level bilateral visits and deepening economic integration. Such a visit occurred in 2021 when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Niger (now a hot flashpoint for the world). Russia has been very vocal against the enemy of the African Continent, mainly the western countries. Moreover, in order to further increase its influence it has stressed upon security cooperation between African nations and Russia. Since 2015, Russia has signed more than 20 bilateral military agreements with the African nations.
A report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that 30% of all arms exported to sub-Saharan Africa came from Russia between 2016 and 2020. Even in the recently concluded Africa-Russia summit, President Putin announced that Russia will supply military equipment to 40 more African nations that have signed military technology cooperation agreements with Russia and the activity of the Russian Wagner Group has also increased, especially in Central Africa. This shows the level of cooperation that exists between Russia and Africa and how integrated African countries are upon Russia for their defence against western aggression and threats.
During the second Russia-Africa summit, Russia attempted to make new alliances with the African nations ensuring them her support and cooperation. President Putin announced to give 25000-50000 tons of free grain to six African nations after the Black Sea deal collapsed. Moreover, Putin also waved around $23bn worth of debt of the African nations. Despite the western media reports trying to portray the summit as a fiasco, it was a great success. The gathering was described as “the highest-profile and largest-scale event in Russia-Africa relations” which explains the enormity of the event. The leaders of African nations were grateful to Putin and expressed hope for continued cooperation. Moscow achieved its aims from this summit by setting the stage for the creation of a multipolar world order and by taking steps to further isolate the US and the West in the region by announcing to help Africa fight “neo-colonialism”.
Now, Niger has become the latest flashpoint and is seen as the battlefield for dominance over the African Continent which is being contested by all major powers. The assumption of power by the junta has set off alarm bells in the western world. While the Russian President has spoken against the coup, it does provide Russia with an opportunity to further increase its influence in Africa. The country was a western holdout in the African coup belt, but since the coup, the junta has disbanded its military agreements with France and also ordered the French troops to withdraw from Niger. This deprives the western world of a key ally in the region. Moreover, the number of troops of the Wagner Group has been increasing significantly after the coup leader of Niger asked them for help against the threat of ECOWAS.
The anti-West sentiment, which is profound in the region, provides an opportunity for Russia to extend its influence across the continent. If the junta survives in Niger, it will align itself with the Kremlin and not with the West. It would provide Russia with a chance to get the biggest ally of the West in the African coup belt in its court. To conclude, Russia-Ukraine war has spawned global political transformation and has called for the establishment of a new world order with the epicentre being the Global South. This has resulted in intensification in competition and rise in international conflicts between the great powers for maintaining and increasing their influence in the Global South.
For Russia, the Wagner Group is their main tool to stay in the great power competition, this is why Putin did not disband the group after the June mutiny. Russia by supporting the junta in Niger through their mercenary group will get a long-term benefit as it would allow Russia to have an active presence of a proxy military force in the region. Thus, allowing Russia to maintain an almost full west-to-east African presence and thus challenging the US-EU strategic interests in Africa, Russia’s close alliance with the junta government in Africa and strong anti-western sentiment which is on the rise in Africa shows that Russia is in the driving seat to achieve its goal of becoming the most influential power in the region and breaking the western hegemony.
—The writer is Youth Ambassador, the Centre for South Asia & International Studies (CSAIS) Islamabad.