This week, leaders from 17 African countries will be guests of Vladimir Putin. Alongside Russia, all the major powers are vying for influence and raw materials on the continent. The conditions are increasingly dictated by the Africans themselves, with the West often coming away empty-handed.
African leaders don’t often travel by train. But in mid-June, four heads of government from Africa boarded a train in Poland headed for Ukraine. In a group photo, the travelers look a bit lost in the imposing compartment, with only the leader of the mission, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, offering a contented smile.
The delegation traveling with Ramaphosa wanted to achieve what many large and middle powers had thus far failed to accomplish: to end the war between Russia and Ukraine. The Africans met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv and later with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The African initiative didn’t produce a breakthrough, but from the perspective of Ramaphosa and his colleagues from Senegal, Uganda and Congo, among others, it was a success, if only because of the images it produced.
Their message: We Africans no longer just look on helplessly, we get involved. Heads of state from the global north used to come to Africa to mediate crises and conflicts, but now it’s the other way around. The trip is an example the continent’s growing self-confidence and desire to decisively get rid of its reputation as a passive recipient of development aid.