By Michael Oluwagbemi
The ongoing face-off the world’s two between superpowers – Russia and United States – over the fate of the people of Crimea (60% ethnic Russian, 20% Tartars, 20% Ukrainian/Others) could easily pass to an average African as another global ego tussle between two masters of the universe. However, the outcome of this tussle will have certain implications for many countries on our continent, including Nigeria.
In the arcane world of global politics, it will quite naïve to view skirmishes between nations, just like the one playing out between Russia and the West on Ukraine, through the lenses of right or wrong; good or evil. Otherwise, how would one explain the lectures coming from the serial invader (USA) about obeying “International Law”? Even Obama went on to defend a war (in Iraq) he opposed, in typical establishment talk. But then again, this is US of A.
Guess if Putin bombed 200,000 Ukrainians, and then organizes an election that install a favorable government the next year it will be far more tolerable to Washington that did the same in Iraq than what is going on in Crimea, leaving 1 million dead behind! Of course, combing through 2004 archives, one can remember quite correctly it was the invading neo-czar (Putin) that was lecturing George Bush about respecting international law and cutting back the invasions. How times change! Hypocrisy fits well on both arms.
Whereas Africa, and indeed her sleeping giant – Nigeria, might be mere spectators in the emerging war games between Russia and the West, led by the United States – it will be completely presumptive to conclude the mess being created won’t have an impact on us; fact is, they will! It is an inter-connected world; and much as Iraq and Kosovo, some twenty years ago, is underlining Putin’s actions today- so will it impact future action in Africa or by Africans.
First, the obvious pawn on the chessboard that is African in this dangerous game of chess between world powers is our energy resources. Nigeria sits on the eight largest gas reserves in the world. It is often said that Nigeria is actually “a gas province, with a little bit of oil in it”. But you won’t know if you look at the money. Our extremely wasteful “kleptocrats” have perennially ensured that this resources are frittered away literally by burning them; about thirty percent of total production as at 2013. This may change as a result of the crisis in Russia’s doorsteps.
Just like Nigeria, Russia is a massive gas producer (the world’s largest) and one with the added advantage of thinking leadership that have since ensured their European buyers are hooked to the product. Europe is so comfortable buying Russian gas that they’ve lost the will to exploit their own shale gas resources that might be on the door steps of Eastern Europe. This has also ensured that their hands have been tied as the tiger in Putin arose. There is no doubt that Europe will begin to eye the Trans-Sahara Pipeline System that promises to deliver gas from the Bight of Guinea and Algeria to European markets to have better options next time. For Nigeria, it might bring renewed attention to the Niger Delta, and the insurgent lands of Boko Haram that now seats at the nexus of such pipeline. Only the future can tell what it holds.
Beyond gas, there are nukes. The Russian invasion of Crimea aside it being a checkmate against a growing western influence on its neighbors was also a promise broken to the Ukrainians who gave up their nukes in the 90s with the promise of “no invasion”. Well, now I’m sure the world (and Ukraine) knows better. Indeed, at the rate stronger powers are invading weak ones, and avoiding anyone with even one rumored nuclear weapon (check North Korea, check Israel) – every country may soon begin a mini-arms race that may well mean Africa is in for a rude surprise.
The world as it is today is not only thoroughly unequal for Africans- it is a world where the black race exists singularly as the only global geopolitical region or race with a nuke to guard their existentiality. A future where the very existence of nations will be determined by the ownership or ability to manufacture nuclear weapons does not bode very well for Africa; with her tattered infrastructures, banishment to perpetual subsistence level of survival and utter lack of disciplined leadership or group cohesion. Indeed, while Africa remain a huge source of those yellow cakes (uranium) with which we’re naturally blessed, we remain exporters of this basic material which the world may now use to arm itself to the teeth and in turn invade us – taking yes, our women and children with them.
But if any area will feel the direct impact of this “Putinic tussle”, it may well be the very foundations of Africa’s future: self-determination by ethnic minorities, and the rights of natives. As this crisis progressed, the United States and her allies are now updating International Law to insist that self-determination by an oppressed group must be approved by the majority. Where? When? In Kosovo, or in South Sudan? The sheer hypocrisy of this rule change should naturally mean that every self-thinking African (not the elites) should support Crimea as it determined which country it will side with. But then again, would we want our continent Balkanized by gun/nuke totting invaders in the name of preserving minority rights? See, International Politics truly is about interests: not friends, not enemies.
These areas are what naturally we should expect Africa’s leaders to be constantly analyzing and responding to on behalf of their continent. But typically, we expect them to be sleeping at the wheels. Hence the byline, “from Crimea, with love”; because very soon, Crimea may well be all of us in Africa: pawns in the game of our grandmasters!
Michael Oluwagbemi is on linkedIn