Samora Machel speaks to his soldiers in Mozambique. They are all hired by war, but Machel sees a light in the tunnel.
The 40-year-old tells his warriors that order in Portugal is faltering. Perhaps today he will soon be victorious over the white colonists.
Machel has hired guerrilla group Frelimo. In 1974 they fought against the Portuguese dictatorship for ten years. The war had now become so costly for the Portuguese dictatorship that Mozambique might have managed to work its way out of Portugal’s narrow grip.
With the Soviet Union in the back
It was not only Machel and his guerrillas who dreamed of a post-colonial future. The Frelimo was big and strong, and they had the strongest veins in the big world.
The Soviet Union was stronger.
Machel was socialist, and at a time when many countries decided whether they were for or against Russia and the United States, it was only natural that Frelimo had close relations with the Soviets.
And they lit it up a lot themselves, too. Weapons and ammunition, as well as medicine and agricultural equipment, were sent from the communist regime to Mozambique.
Frelimo and the Soviet Union fought their battle from every side. For both, it was good to have support in other quarters. Many countries in Africa found support in the Soviet Union.
Machel and Frelimo reached their goal with the good help of their communist “brothers”. On June 25, 1975, Machel took office as the first black president of Mozambique.
The first thing he did was to create an embassy in the Soviet Union. And in the country’s new flag, Mozambique put a Kalashnikov and a yellow star. The symbolism was heavy, the gangs of the Soviets were powerful.
Little support from the West
At the same time, most people in Mozambique did not know that they received special support from Western countries. As for Portugal, it was a member of NATO, and backed down with the withdrawal when several Western countries said that the Portuguese should withdraw from the colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe and Cape Verde.
In some African countries, there are still governments that have relations with Russia, and the former Soviet Union. In some other countries, our system has changed, and relations with the great power of the East are small.
But when UN member states were due to vote earlier in March on a resolution with widespread criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was clear that there were still many African nations that did not want to criticize Russia too much.
– Pauline Bucks says they want to be careful about African countries.
She lives in South Africa and works as a consultant in the Africa division of the International Crisis Group. One of the countries that received support from the Soviet Union was South Africa, which at the same time abstained from voting on the resolution critical of Russia.
– Some countries in South Africa, such as Angola and Zimbabwe, received support from the Soviet Union, and a friendship has grown that continues to this day. Especially in South Africa and Angola, says Bucks.
In any case, she believes it is important not to focus too much on voting at the United Nations, and that it is more important for African countries to seek cooperation with major powers than to project a position.
– It must be remembered that Ukraine is a city far from most African countries. They see it as a conflict between East and West, Pax says, not between Russia and Ukraine.
Mercenaries and weapons
But both Pax and other analysts are not only referring to the history of Africa when they explain why some countries are not critical of Russia.
There are also countries in modern Africa that are interested in developing good cooperation with Russia.
– Here’s the video I made.
A young man from Mali who wishes to remain anonymous shows his iPhone to France Télévision. It’s January 2022, and the man shows a dark and misty video he took on a warm January evening.
– You can see the Russian flag on the car. I told myself that this is the Russian army. The man says, I am sure these are Russian soldiers.
It is not easy to see any flag on the video, nor can it be sure that the man is actually telling the truth. But as for the French channel, he said that they are Russian soldiers, and that he saw with his own eyes the Russian flag.
Offers weapons against metals
This may be the case. Mostly, reports indicate that Russian mercenaries, not like the Russian army, have been sent to the West African country. Mercenaries belong to the controversial Wagner Group. And while Vladimir Putin is enamored with it, there are many indications that the group has close ties to the Russian president.
The Wagner Group is not only present in Mali.
Under the blazing sun in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, some white men line up behind a row of chairs. It’s 2019, and on the chairs are sitting some of the most powerful men in the country. The white men are armed with Russian weapons.
The poor country has always had problems with armed groups. They have now paid Russian mercenaries to make every day safer. The Russians would probably get a good penny of money and get minerals and other raw materials in return.
– Pauline Bucks says Russia brings something to the table that no one else brings: security measures, meaning Russia sells weapons and offers mercenaries.
In more and more African countries, one can see Russian flags among the protesters, especially in the former French colonies struggling to suppress terrorist groups.
– Demonstrations are not just the desire of the Russians in Africa. Many young people want a more Western and democratic model, but part of the demonstrations are the result of anti-imperialism, and because France has soldiers in the country. So it’s more than just an expression of that, says Bucks.
Russia has positioned itself in Africa
Arms and mercenaries are not the only way Russia is trying to gain influence in Africa. After the country’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, Russia searched for new partners. Then Africa would be a continent where Putin saw it as possible to find friends.
One result of this was a summit in Sochi, where as many as 43 heads of state attended and handed a handshake with Putin. But many experts say that the summit was too symbolic, and that Russia was unable to gain a foothold in Africa.
– Russia does not provide humanitarian aid, and its economic involvement in Africa is small, says Pax.
It points out that Russia ranks lower than a good number of other countries in the list of great powers that engage in Africa. China, the United States and the European Union are big, but Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are also trying to gain influence in African countries.
However, 25 African countries did not want to criticize Russia’s behavior in Ukraine. In fact, Bucks is deeply surprised that no one has chosen to be neutral anymore.
– They want to be friends with Russia when it comes to investment, but at the same time they do not want to break off relations with their most important trading partners.
“Organizer. Social media geek. General communicator. Bacon scholar. Proud pop culture trailblazer.”