With African students engaged in Ukraine fighting for Russia, priest warns Africa is becoming new ‘cold war battleground’

By Ngala Killian Chimtom | OSV News

YAOUNDE, Cameroon (OSV News) — The Ukrainian war, now in its second year, is affecting the world globally — including African countries. Students from Africa who are studying in Russia are being recruited to fight in Ukraine.

The Russian mercenary group known as Wagner claimed recently that those students fighting are doing so because they chose to “repay (Africa’s) debts.” Achurch expert, however, is strongly opposing that claim, and he is warning that Africa is becoming a new “cold war battleground.”

Father Chris Chatteris of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa told OSV News that “for Africans to be fighting against the Ukrainians doesn’t make much sense.”

“Certainly, there is an understandable sense of historical debt to Russia because of its support during the process of decolonization,” Father Chatteris said, “but that was a long time ago, and the Ukrainians would argue that they, too, went through a process of decolonization which the Russians are now trying to reverse.”

The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, recently claimed that Nathan Nyirenda, a young Zambian student killed in Ukraine, like other Africans, chose to fight for Russia to “repay (Africa’s) debts” to Russia, and that he “died a hero.” Nyirenda was shot in Ukraine and was buried Jan. 25 in his home country.

Prigozhin claimed that Russia helped Africa in its anti-colonial struggle, and therefore it was time for Africa to help Russia in Ukraine.

“Russian support for Africa’s independence struggle wasn’t entirely selfless,” Father Chatteris said, explaining that it was “meant to counter the influence of Western countries on the African continent as Africa had become a battleground for cold war politics.”

Therefore, for Father Chatteris it is critical to listen to the Poles, the Baltic states, “and all those who were colonized by the Soviet Union.”

A United Nations peacekeeper patrols the streets in Bangui, Central African Republic, Dec. 26, 2020. The Ukraine war now in its second year is affecting the world globally — including the African countries. (CNS photo/Antonie Rolland, Reuters)

In a conversation with OSV News, Father Chatteris questioned the morality of Russia’s war against Ukraine, and wondered if Africa should “support her friends and allies” even if they indulge in clearly immoral behavior.

“Putin and his regime stand accused of very serious crimes. Take a look at what happened in the city of Mariupol. Can we even remain neutral when such things happen? I don’t think so,” he told OSV News, referring to the eastern-Ukraine city now almost entirely destroyed and deserted.

On Feb. 19, Ukraine’s General Staff claimed 142,000 Russian troops have been killed since the invasion, with hundreds dying daily, although military casualties on both sides remain unverified.

Meanwhile, the U.N.’s human rights office said March 5 it had recorded 8,173 civilian deaths in Ukraine and 13,620 injuries, but warned the actual figures could be much higher.

Father Chatteris also expressed worry over the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Africa and noted that the continent was gradually becoming a new cold war battleground between Western- and Russian-linked armies.

The pro-Kremlin Wagner Group has been expanding its presence across the continent. Thousands of Wagner mercenaries operate in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali, to name a few.

According to Foreign Policy magazine, “From human rights abuses to a rapacious approach to natural resource extraction, stabilizing countries where it operates … has never been the Wagner Group’s objective.” Instead, Colin P. Clarke writes, “the Kremlin’s mercenaries are deployed abroad in a transactional manner, tasked with providing security to kleptocratic regimes in return for access to valuable commodities, including gold, diamonds, uranium and other precious resources.”

“I do believe that there is a danger that Africa could once again become a place where there are proxy wars between superpowers, especially given the natural resources which we possess on this continent,” Father Chatteris told OSV News.

He said while Nyirenda, a Zambian student, died fighting for Russia in Ukraine, there were already signs that the U.S. was cultivating military ties with Zambia.

He said there is a real danger for Africa if mercenaries and foreign armies once again make the continent “their battlefield,” Father Chatteris stressed.

“I definitely think there is a danger of a new scramble for Africa, in fact, I think it is already happening,” he said. “The places to pay attention to are those where there is energy and minerals.”

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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