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RUSSIAN-UKRAINE WAR: A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR AFRICANS?
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RUSSIAN-UKRAINE WAR: A WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR AFRICANS?

It’s been more than a month since Russia invaded its eastern European neighbour, Ukraine. As the war rages on, Ukraine has called for volunteers to help defend its land. And as Nigerian correspondent Bryan Obaji points out, it is possible that some of that help could be coming from supporters thousands of miles away in Africa. But is their willingness to assist in the war altruistic or something else?

On February 24, the world woke up to the sad reality of an invasion of Ukraine on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. For some, it had been just a matter of time, as signs of imminent war on Ukraine seemed only to await an approval.

For others, it was a shock. Although there had been warnings, many did not imagine there would actually be an attack. The sound of gunshots, explosions and blaring sirens had awoken the consciousness of people that the almost eight-year-long disagreement between Russia and Ukraine was not a mere bluff by Mr Putin but an outright declaration of war on his eastern European counterpart. But even as this crisis unfolds, could it birth a new opportunity for Africans? 

The United Nations has reported that more than four million people have already fled Ukraine – a country with a population of more than forty million people. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for foreign volunteers to help fight against the Russian invasion, but who will be willing to relocate to a country that is currently at war?

Of course, there could be people who genuinely feel led to fight for what they believe is a noble cause. But could the call also appeal to those who feel let down by their own government and impoverished by a failed system? The latter has been the case for many Africans who have expressed a willingness to join the exodus to Europe. 

The lack of trust in their government has led some Africans to see Ukraine’s call as an opportunity to a better livelihood, regardless of the implications of such actions. For many, signing up to join the war has little or nothing to do with fighting for a just cause but is instead an avenue to either be rewarded financially or granted citizenship by the Ukrainian government. In many cases, migrants opt to go through horrifying and life-threatening means of transportation all in the hopes of reaching the Europe of their dreams.

Russia is not a colonial empire but it does have an overwhelming influence on the African continent. Their interest has seen them become the biggest exporter of weapons to sub-Saharan Africa. This, coupled with Russia’s other political and business ventures in the region, has influenced the decision by some African countries to refrain from condemning them openly for the invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, some African countries have given strict warnings to the Ukrainian embassy not to involve its citizens as mercenaries in the war.

While Africans in their hundreds have indicated an interest in assisting the Ukrainian government to fight against the Russians, states like Nigeria, Senegal and Algeria are unwilling to allow their citizens to participate in that fight. Of course, this move could be aimed at safeguarding the existing relationship they have with the Russian government, but some argue that it is borne out of the fear of losing their people to Europe under the guise of assisting Ukraine.

In February, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari at an EU-AFRICA summit in Brussels lamented the increasing number of migrants to Europe, arguing that it “drains Africa’s talent pool, while provoking political crises in the EU”. Statistics from the Nigerian Medical Association show that no fewer than 2,000 doctors leave the country yearly and at least 5,407 Nigerian doctors are in the United Kingdom under the employ of the British National Health Services. 

As African countries struggle to strengthen their institutions, their people will continue to seek out ways to leave, regardless of the mission or the risk involved. As long as Africans continue to feel impoverished and, in some cases, exploited by the greed and insensitivity of their leaders, any Europe bound aircraft will be filled with those seeking to chart a new course for themselves and their families.

In spite of the war in Ukraine, the call to fight might just be the means which thousands of Africans are willing to explore in order to flee from their challenging conditions to a so-called better life. This should be an indication to African leaders that it is time to rise to the occasion and create opportunities that will develop the continent and retain its people. 

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Photo Credit: Canva

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About the writer: Jetem Bryan Obaji is a Nigerian-based correspondent for YourCommonwealth, a youth initiative of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. He has reported on politics, society and development and was named correspondent of the month of April 2017. Follow him on Twitter @Bryanobaji

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles

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