World: 'New Cold War': Russia and West vie for influence in Africa

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, waging what some say is the most intense competition for influence on the continent since the Cold War.

FILE - Secretary of State Antony Blinken sits with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the United Nations, as they meet with African ministers at United Nations headquarters, May 18, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Secretary of State Antony Blinken sits with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the United Nations, as they meet with African ministers at United Nations headquarters, May 18, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emanuel Macron are each visiting several African countries this week. Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, went to Kenya and Somalia last week. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will go to Ghana and Uganda next week.

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FILE - Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 24, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File): Russia Ukraine War © Provided by Associated Press Russia Ukraine War

“It's like a new Cold War is playing out in Africa, where the rival sides are trying to gain influence,” said William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, a foundation promoting good governance.

Lavrov, in his travels across the drought- and hunger-stricken continent, has sought to portray the West as the villain, blaming it for rising food prices, while the Western leaders have accused the Kremlin of cynically using food as a weapon and waging an imperial-style war of conquest — words calculated to appeal to listeners in post-colonial Africa.

FILE - In this handout photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Ugandan President Yowerei Museveni walk during their meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, July 26, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this handout photo released by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Ugandan President Yowerei Museveni walk during their meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, July 26, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been working to win support in Africa for several years, reinvigorating friendships that date back a half-century, when the Soviet Union backed many African movements fighting to end colonial rule.

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"Now that campaign has gone into high gear,” Gumede said.

Moscow's influence in Africa was on display in March during the U.N. vote to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. While 28 African nations voted in favor of the resolution, a significant minority of countries on the continent — 25 — either voted to abstain or did not vote at all.

Russia's top diplomat this week visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia, pledging friendship and charging the U.S. and European countries with driving up food prices by pursuing “reckless” environmental policies. He also accused them of hoarding food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The situation in Ukraine did additionally negatively affect food markets, but not due to the Russian special operation, rather due to the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions,” Lavrov said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital.

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Lavrov was warmly received in Uganda by President Yoweri Museveni, who for years has been a U.S. ally but has refused to criticize Russia over the invasion. Museveni even suggested at the outbreak of the war that Putin’s actions might be understandable because Ukraine is in Russia's sphere of influence.

FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center, walks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, left, as they visit the compound of the Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 27, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, center, walks with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen, left, as they visit the compound of the Russian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 27, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo, File)

Lavrov voiced support for reform of the U.N. Security Council to give African countries permanent seats and greater influence.

FILE - Farm employees spread fertilizer on a farm in Gerdau, North West province, South Africa, Nov. 19, 2018. Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File): Russia Ukraine War © Provided by Associated Press Russia Ukraine War

Appearing with Lavrov, the Ugandan leader spoke fondly of old ties with Russia, asking how he could spurn Moscow when he has good relations with countries that participated in slavery.

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Museveni, an opinion leader on the continent who has held power for three decades, is an obvious choice for Russia as someone to strengthen ties with, said Ugandan political analyst Asuman Bisiika.

FILE - Malian women sift wheat in a field near Segou, central Mali, Jan. 22, 2013. In 2022, Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Malian women sift wheat in a field near Segou, central Mali, Jan. 22, 2013. In 2022, Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

“Uganda is the center of gravity in East Africa,” Bisiika said.

Museveni, 77, has been strictly wearing a mask in public since the COVID-19 outbreak. But he did not have one on when greeting Lavrov in front of photographers, apparently wanting to show warmth to the Russian. Museveni had a mask back on in his next public appearance a day later.

Russia is also courting African public opinion through its state television network, RT, formerly known as Russia Today. RT has announced that it will open a new bureau in Johannesburg.

FILE - A woman walks past sacks of wheat flour piled high in the Hamar-Weyne market in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, May 26, 2022. Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A woman walks past sacks of wheat flour piled high in the Hamar-Weyne market in the capital Mogadishu, Somalia, May 26, 2022. Families across Africa are paying about 45% more for wheat flour as Russia's war in Ukraine blocks exports from the Black Sea. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh, File)

RT was abruptly removed from Africa's biggest pay-TV platform in Africa, Johannesburg-based Multichoice, in March after the European Union and Britain imposed sanctions against Russia. It is not clear whether establishing the new bureau will enable RT to resume broadcasts to Africa through Multichoice, which claims nearly 22 million subscribers on the continent.

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FILE - Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), right, visits a clinic in Kachoda, Turkana area, northern Kenya, July 23, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Desmond Tiro, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Samantha Power, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), right, visits a clinic in Kachoda, Turkana area, northern Kenya, July 23, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa Wednesday, July 27, 2022, to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Desmond Tiro, File)

“For Russia, it is the battle to be heard in Africa. It is not important for the actual war effort but for their long-term political influence," Anton Harber, professor of journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. “They see it as fertile ground to cultivate their influence, and, of course, votes in the U.N. are important."

On his tour of Africa, France's Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to spread propaganda in support of the war. And he charged the Kremlin with blackmailing the world by thwarting the export of grain from Ukraine.

"They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked cereals in Ukraine. They are the ones who regulate their cereals,” he said in Benin. His itinerary also included Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau.

Macron appealed to Africans to side against Russia.

“I’m telling you here in Africa, a continent that has suffered from colonial imperialism: Russia is one of the last colonial, imperial powers. She decides to invade a neighboring country to defend her interests,” he said. “That’s the reality.”

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Power, the top U.S. AID official, was in East Africa to pledge aid to help the region's fight against hunger amid a devastating multi-year drought. She did not hold back in criticizing Russia.

“By blockading Ukraine’s grain exports and restricting the trade of Russia’s own fertilizer, Putin’s actions have had the consequence of inflicting pain on the people of Kenya and on other countries throughout the world," Power said in Nairobi. “He is hurting the people of Kenya in order to benefit his own situation.”

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AP journalist Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed.

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