Shortly before my first group was to kayak up to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska’s Russsel Fjord there was concern that the glacier was growing so fast that it would seal the fjord.
Not only might the seal break unleashing an ocean over us kayakers, but a Hubbard calving would be catastrophic. We’d no longer be able to point our tips towards the 40-foot wave and ride it like a single hill as it diminished into the ocean. It’d bounce back and forth churning our kayaks like pine nuts thrown into mix master making pea soup. This is exactly what’s happening to global politics, evident today in Africa.
Think of global politics in our modern world as a multi-edge sea, with inlets and giant estuaries and massive rivers, all linked together. One tsunami might flood Hawaii but it won’t even be felt in Southampton.
Now erect a super wall through the Pacific. The tsunami races over Hawaii and hits the wall then races back and Japan is inundated.
The continuing is-it-endless Ukrainian war is the wall emerging from the sea. It’s gone on for long enough, now, with enough global miseries and precursors that Russia is bringing in the heavy equipment.
The Russian foreign minister is making rounds in Africa, today.
In the places with the most economical and political power, Russia won’t have it easy. “Russia is sacrificing its economy and military for Putin’s dream of empire,” is the lead editorial today in South Africa’ Daily Maverick.
Nevertheless remember that South Africa refused to join the majority in the UN general assembly that condemned Russia’s invasion.
That decision by the South African government was borne of the west’s total neglect of the country during Covid even after it provided the first good data and science about the disease. Shortly after that neglect South Africa reinvigorated its participation in BRICS, a massive financial alternative to the World Bank composed of Brazil, India, China and… Russia.
Ethiopia also refused to condemn the invasion and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is there today arguing that world inflation and commodity difficulties are a direct result of American sanctions on Russia, not the war. He is expected to offer new military assistance to a regime that has a love/hate relationship with the U.S. and with which Russia last year signed a defense agreement.
Having relied forever on American fighter jets, Algeria today welcomed Russian arms dealers anxious to sell weapons for cash. Algeria, too, refuses to call Russia’s military action an “invasion.”
Lavrov’s trip began in Egypt where his biggest challenge seems less imposing today, as America sides with Israel over the AlJazeera reporter killing. The speed and diplomatic deft with which Russia is tearing Africa apart resembles the Cold War.
Remember autocracy’s great advantage over democratic regimes: they require no social or political approval to do something. As Russia consolidates its hold on Ukraine there is a global moment in which its power has value.
But does it matter if African countries assist Russia dividing the world even more than it already is? Might it not just be an indication of Russian failure in sustaining its empire building mission?
Well, if you believe as so many do that Africa is basically a collection of underdeveloped societies, and look only at GDP numbers then you might rightfully argue this “best that Russia can do” is hardly more than a fantasy.
But if the war in Ukraine is endless, or at least the beginning of numerous such wars, and titanium, uranium, coltan and other high-tech minerals start flowing unimpeded east to Moscow, and global call centers and financial hubs that have been moving from Hong Kong and Britain south are diverted east ….
Well, then, it could be another matter.
Westerners have long underestimated Africa, particularly South Africa. Today we do so at our peril.