The Case for Neutrality: Understanding African Stances on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict


  • Olayinka Ajala Leeds Beckett University


In March 2021, Russian armed forces began deploying thousands of military personnel and equipment near Russia’s borders with Ukraine, with another contingent deployed in Crimea which was annexed by Russia in 2014. The scale of this military build-up, which represented the largest force mobilisation by Russia since its annexation of Crimea in 2014, came as a surprise to Ukraine and a source of concern to other European countries and the United States. The unexpected stance of neutrality held by many influential African countries coupled with notable abstentions in several UN resolutions have rattled their Western allies. one of the biggest surprises for the West has been the reaction and stance of several notable African countries. Having enjoyed political patronage and goodwill from most countries in Africa for several decades, the United States and its Western allies expected a robust and strong castigation of Russia by their allies from the continent but were shocked by the response of some key African countries. While many such countries were quick to condemn the invasion and toed the line of the US and other Western allies, some notable countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Senegal refused to condemn the attack with some blaming the West and NATO for the war. This article explains why African countries are taking their current stance and the implications this might have on the international balance of power at the end of the Russian-Ukraine conflict. The reasons are linked to political, economic, and strategic considerations as well as contemporary grievances relating to the recent Covid pandemic and the treatment of Africans in Ukraine at the onset of the war.


Author Biography

Olayinka Ajala, Leeds Beckett University

Olayinka Ajala is an associate Professor in Politics at Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom. Olayinka’s research areas include conflict resolution, terrorism, and the formation of insurgent groups, and he has published on conflicts and inter-organisational cooperation in West Africa and the Sahel.  






Special Issue: War in Ukraine