Tracking cookies

To make our website even easier and more personal, we use cookies (and similar techniques). With these cookies we and third parties can collect information about you and monitor your internet behavior within (and possibly also outside) our website. If you agree with this, we will place these tracking cookies.

Yes, I give permissionNo thanks
{aantal_resultaten} Resultaten

"We've never seen in our lives that others are given what Ukrainians are given." We explain why the peoples of Africa support Putin

When you live in Europe, you see Ukrainian flags everywhere, and watch the European media, it seems that the whole world supports Ukraine in fighting against the Russian invasion. However, if you listen to people in Abidjan or Kinshasa, or even in a suburb of Paris, where mostly African immigrants live, there is a very different attitude and feeling.

Since Soviet times, Africa has been a strategically important area of Russian influence. In 2019, Vladimir Putin confirmed this by organizing a Russia-Africa summit attended by the leaders of 43 African states. Since then, Russia has become the largest arms exporter to Africa (DW), and continues to develop military cooperation with many countries on the continent.

On March the 2nd, 2022, the UN General Assembly voted on a resolution condemning Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Nearly half of the African states did not support the resolution: 25 abstained or were absent. Eritrea was one of only five countries to vote against it at all.

Anne Roche spoke with Theophile Kouamouo, a French journalist of Cameroonian origin and former correspondent of Le Monde in Côte d'Ivoire, about the reasons for Vladimir Putin's massive support in Africa.

Theophile Kouamouo

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

The African position on Russia's invasion of Ukraine is radically different from that of the West. If you listen to my wife and I's family and friends or read social networks, the feeling is that Vladimir Putin could have been elected president of the African Union.

First of all, this is due to the fact that a strong dislike of the West prevails in Africa. If we talk about Francophone Africa, there is a trending revolt of young people in most countries: they openly resent the influence of France in the region. So, when people see on TV that France and the United States are actively supporting Ukraine, they automatically side with Russia.

Poster caption: Putin - the road to the future
Photo: AP/Scanpix

In fact, this has been the case in other conflicts as well: in the war in Cote d'Ivoire, in Libya, and in Syria.

As such, some Africans support any state that opposes the West. Indeed, given that Russia is the most serious opponent of the West, Africa can be seen to favour Russia in the war and other geo-political matters.

To Conservatism

This is the most superficial level of analysis. If you dig deeper, you'll see something more complicated, namely a crisis of values. We can call it a clash of civilizations. The conservatism of Russian society is close to that of many African nations. What are commonly called "progressive views" are difficult for us to talk about, even with our relatives. This is primarily all about LGBTQ+ rights, but also, for example, surrogacy and any topics that are considered to be the "flavour of the West''.

Africans, like Russians, largely condemn pro-LGBTQ+ activism, and often homosexuality itself. In general, conservatism, particularly religious conservatism, is on the rise in Africa, among Muslims and Christians alike.

People feel that the West wants to impose its values and way of life on them. Platforms such as Netflix show Western societies becoming more and more progressive. Western embassies in Africa talk about protecting LGBTQ+ rights. In response, we are seeing an increasingly aggressive response.

Photo: Getty Images

An understandable language of force

When I moved to Côte d'Ivoire in 2000, people were conservative, but they essentially didn't care. These issues were not the subject of political debate. Now, they have become one.  I am afraid that we will find ourselves in a situation where dialogue will not be possible at all. Against the backdrop of growing backlash, Vladimir Putin appears as a figure defending traditional and family values.

I think that this is also because Putin is seen as the embodiment of a strong leader. It's an image that humiliated people like to see. I remember when I was a student, everyone in the West loved Yeltsin, but he seemed absolutely worthless to me. Yeltsin was generally despised in Africa.

A strong leader, even a dictator, is attractive. Africans think it's better than their own dictators, who are weak and unable to defend their interests on the international stage.

The USSR liberated the colonies

It is also necessary to consider the historical aspect. Russia, or rather the USSR, was a partner in the decolonization of Africa. Historically, the most powerful states in the world were the European states, which colonised the whole world. But World Wars I and II exhausted Europe and then the U.S. and USSR used the opportunity to become the new leaders. That is, both were interested in weakening Europe and thus freeing the colonies.

Initially, the U.S. also supported liberation movements in Africa, but once the Cold War began, it sided with the racist regimes.

Then the USSR, in fact, became the only strong ally of the decolonization fighters and remained so until the end. At the time of my childhood, only a few countries remained under the rule of the colonisers. The British, French, and Belgians had already left Africa, and the Portuguese refused to leave Angola and Mozambique. South Africa still had an apartheid system. There was a lot of talk about the "Total Emancipation of the Continent. They talked about it on the radio, sang songs about it... And the Soviet Union helped in the struggle for this liberation.

Photo: AP

The Russians not only supplied arms, but also brought in instructors and doctors. Because of this, although in general there are few Russians in Africa, there are still natives of the USSR in the ruling class. For example, Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president of Angola, who for a long time was the richest woman in Africa, is half Russian. There were many Russians in what were then called "progressive" countries - the meaning of the word has changed a lot. I went to school with the children of high-ranking officials and there were many mestizo Russians there. However, the children of the French studied in French schools.

Isabel dos Santos
Photo: Getty Images

Support for Emigrants

Africans consider Russia a friend who has supported them in difficult times, so many countries are not ready to condemn Russia's actions. The Central African Republic decided to make bitcoin the second currency. Perhaps in order to help Russian oligarchs take money out of the country.

Africans know that there is racism in Russia. However, they have a kind of schizophrenia about Russia. Africans who go there to study experience racism for themselves. Nevertheless, when they return home, they continue to love Russia.

Once in Côte d'Ivoire, I did a report in a community of those who had studied in Russian universities. They continue to live nearby and communicate closely. There are many mestizos in this community, as many Africans return with Russian wives. My uncle and aunt both studied in Russia. They speak good Russian and named their children Vladimir and Dmitri.

They speak of Russians with respect: "They can be harsh, but they are fair."

African immigrants in France, on the contrary, are often hardened against France. It is difficult for me to explain this. Perhaps it is because Russia is a poor country compared to the West. To be more precise, it is a rich country, but there are a lot of poor people there. Maybe Russians are evaluated less critically because they feel a kind of solidarity with them.

Putin at a meeting with African leaders in Sochi, 2019
Photo: Sergei Chirikov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Competition among refugees

Most African immigrants in France also support Russia in the conflict with Ukraine. Even people with educated, left-wing views who consider themselves supporters of progressive ideas. First, they are annoyed by the strong pro-Ukrainian propaganda in the French media. There is also the question of competition between migrants.

There is no limit to the space available in the refugee centres. Those who come from other countries are kicked out or are not accepted because they want to accommodate Ukrainians.

This concerns not only Africans. My friend from Afghanistan works for an organisation helping refugees in France Terre d'Asile. He is not against Ukrainians, but he is embittered by the situation. He has the impression that no one "cares" about Afghans, while Ukrainians are welcomed with open arms.

Another acquaintance of mine, who lived in a refugee centre, said: "We have never seen in our lives that others are given what Ukrainians are given. These are little things: clean linen, food... But these little things are important to people. Even Africans who lived in Ukraine for 10-15 years are not given refugee status and the same rights as Ukrainians. That is why there is a sense of resentment and exasperation.

Among the most qualified migrants - doctors, engineers - sentiments are similar.

They say: "Despite all our talents and efforts, they still see us only as 'blacks,' while Ukrainians are treated with great respect."

Furthermore, this is taking into account the fact that a Frenchman and a Ukrainian cannot even talk to each other, while natives of Francophone Africa and the French have a common language and Francophone culture.

People conclude that this is because Ukrainians are white and that they are a tool of the West against Russia.

There has been a lot of talk on social media about cases of racism in Ukraine during evacuations: how Africans had to wait for days at the border because Ukrainians were allowed to go ahead, etc. So Africans will prove to you that Ukrainians are Nazis and racists. But they won't say that about Russians.

"Ukraine is a colony"

If you tell an African that it is bad to attack another country, he will answer that Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union anyway. Despite the colonial history of our countries. After all, France is our Russia.

The USSR was essentially Russia with colonies around it. Only not everyone understands this, because these countries are next to each other.

Just as Russia tried to maintain its influence in the former Soviet Union after its collapse, France kept control over its former colonies. The French overthrew presidents who did not please them, bombed Cote d'Ivoire and Libya, and interfered in the internal affairs of African countries. When it suited them, they supported the rebels, just as Putin did in the Donbass.

Photo: Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times

To Africans, France's behaviour seems less legitimate than Russia's policy of dominating its neighbours, because African countries are far away from France and people have a different skin colour.

When I tell my acquaintances, "Putin is doing in Ukraine what France did in ours!" they don't care at all.”

Recorded and translated from French by: Anna Rosch


"An asylum seeker from Russia is more helpless than a refugee from Somalia. A Somali will have a working bank card open in their country."

News/the Netherlands

"Exterminate the cockroaches" The trial of the chief propagandist of the Rouen genocide is underway in The Hague. He helped slaughter a million people in 100 days with the help of his radio station.