Are Morocco and Angola Benefiting from the Ukraine Conflict?
The devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year is self-evident, yet the power dynamics of war dictate that there will, inevitably, be countries that benefit from the conflict.
Funded by a Bowdoin Summer Research Award, rising senior Ainsley Ramsey is delving into the cold calculus of international relations to explore how the war is affecting two African countries in particular—Morocco and Angola. Her project is being supervised by Sarah and James Bowdoin Associate Professor of Government and Legal Studies Barbara Elias.
“In the history of international relations, active conflict and postwar eras have led to major shifts in the balance of power,” said Ramsey, a government and legal studies major and Middle East and North African studies minor. “War gives states the opportunity to advance their own power, even states that are not directly related to the conflict. Conflict reverberates throughout the global economy, presenting new opportunities for certain countries. For instance, due to western sanctions on Russia, both Morocco and Angola have opportunities to become influential in the energy sector.”
African states have also become increasingly important as members of the United Nations General Assembly, which earlier this year passed a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I’m working to show how both Western and pro-Russian countries are attempting to court Angola and Morocco, giving these countries a new strategic importance and allowing them to gain from the support of both sides,” said Ramsey.
Angola has historic ties to Moscow from the Cold War era, with the Soviet Union supporting Angola’s struggle to gain independence from Portugal in the 1970s.
“The current president of Angola, João Lourenço, for example, received his military training and education in Russia,” observed Ramsey. “But since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fading of its monetary support, Angola has cozied up to the United States.”
Ramsey examines how the position of neutrality combined with a careful diplomatic balancing act between the needs of the West and Russia could be beneficial for both Angola and Morocco. “Neutrality in the Global South has been a prominent position since the Cold War, introduced as the Non-Alignment Movement. The purpose was to stay out of Cold War politics and prevent proxy wars in their nations,” she added.
At the latest vote of the United Nations General Assembly to condemn Russia’s action in Ukraine and demand its immediate withdrawal, Angola was among the thirty-two nations who voted to abstain from the resolution, which was carried with the support of 141 nations in favor and seven against.
“Significantly,” explained Ramsey, “Angola has been one of largest exporters of oil in Africa. There are some locations where it is untapped, but for the most part oil leads the economy. Currently, many countries are investing in Angola’s infrastructure to further its oil and gas development, but more investment is needed for Angola to become a large enough producer to replace Russia.”
Angola also has sizeable agricultural resources, many of which are being underused, she said. Indeed, the World Bank is making significant investments in this sector, and earlier this year the country announced a partnership with France in the agri-food sector.
“Furthermore, Angola has notable influence on the political front in Africa,” said Ramsey, “earning international praise for its decision in March to deploy peacekeepers in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. I am demonstrating how this international praise strengthens the hand of Angola’s President João Lourenço when it comes to negotiating the changing power dynamics brought about by the Ukraine war.”
Morocco, meanwhile, is also seeing some geopolitical benefits as a result of its heightened international importance following the outbreak of the Ukraine war.
Morocco has long claimed the territory of Western Sahara, which went unrecognized in the international community for years. Recently, however, the US, along with a few other nations, recognized this territorial claim. By looking at this newfound support for Morocco’s claim, Ramsey asks whether the Ukraine-Russia conflict has pushed the West to be more accommodating toward African countries.
On the energy front, Morocco is investing heavily in green sources of electricity like solar and wind, an initiative that will likely be given added urgency by the Russian oil embargo. “Additionally,” Ramsey added, “Morocco is involved in a multibillion-dollar pipeline project to transport oil from Nigeria to Europe, an appealing prospect for Europeans who have typically relied on Russian oil for much of their energy needs. Importantly,” she adds, “It is from Moroccan territory that the pipeline goes into Europe, making the country an incredibly important geopolitical and geoeconomic location.”
Strategically, Morocco has traditionally remained neutral regarding its relationship with Russia, and the two have long enjoyed close economic ties, with Rabat being one of Moscow’s top trading partners. Indeed, at the recent Russia-African summit in St. Petersburg, the two countries reaffirmed their close relationship. However, in the latest UN vote, Morocco joined the majority in voting to pass a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It is these types of political and diplomatic maneuverings, claims Ramsey, that demonstrate how both Morocco and Angola are using the tactic of neutrality and nonalignment to their own benefit in the altered power dynamics brought about by the Russia-Ukraine war.