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

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)

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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, 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

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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel 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.

“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 continent where many countries are suffering drought and hunger, 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.

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.

"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.

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.

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

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.

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.

“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.

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.

“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.”

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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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)

Credit: Michael Sohn

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)

Credit: Michael Sohn

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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)

Credit: Michael Sohn

Credit: Michael Sohn

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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)

Credit: Uncredited

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)

Credit: Uncredited

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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)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

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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)

Credit: Uncredited

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)

Credit: Uncredited

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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)

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

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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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

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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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

Credit: Jerome Delay

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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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

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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)

Credit: Jerome Delay

Credit: Jerome Delay

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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)

Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh

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)

Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh

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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)

Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh

Credit: Farah Abdi Warsameh

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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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

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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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

Credit: Desmond Tiro

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FILE - Locals residents carry a boxes and sacks of food distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

FILE - Locals residents carry a boxes and sacks of food distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

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FILE - Locals residents carry a boxes and sacks of food distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), 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)

Credit: Desmond Tiro

Credit: Desmond Tiro

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FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2013, photo, employees of the "Russia Today" television channel prepare for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Russia Today's new headquarters in Moscow, Russia. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish in July 2022 a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Yuri Kochetkov

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2013, photo, employees of the "Russia Today" television channel prepare for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Russia Today's new headquarters in Moscow, Russia. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish in July 2022 a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Yuri Kochetkov

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FILE - In this Tuesday, June 11, 2013, photo, employees of the "Russia Today" television channel prepare for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Russia Today's new headquarters in Moscow, Russia. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish in July 2022 a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (Yuri Kochetkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Yuri Kochetkov

Credit: Yuri Kochetkov

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FILE - The mixing and editing desk at RT France is pictured in Paris, Jan. 9, 2018. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Credit: Francois Mori

FILE - The mixing and editing desk at RT France is pictured in Paris, Jan. 9, 2018. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Credit: Francois Mori

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FILE - The mixing and editing desk at RT France is pictured in Paris, Jan. 9, 2018. Russia-backed RT television network's move to establish a news bureau in South Africa has been described as part of that government's long-term attempts to grow its influence in Africa. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Credit: Francois Mori

Credit: Francois Mori

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FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to the camera, talk during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Maxim Shipenkov

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to the camera, talk during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Maxim Shipenkov

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FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to the camera, talk during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, April 26, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (Maxim Shipenkov/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Credit: Maxim Shipenkov

Credit: Maxim Shipenkov

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FILE - A mother helps her malnourished son stand after he collapsed near their hut in the village of Lomoputh in northern Kenya, May 12, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa in July 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/Brian Inganga, File)

Credit: Brian Inganga

FILE - A mother helps her malnourished son stand after he collapsed near their hut in the village of Lomoputh in northern Kenya, May 12, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa in July 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/Brian Inganga, File)

Credit: Brian Inganga

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FILE - A mother helps her malnourished son stand after he collapsed near their hut in the village of Lomoputh in northern Kenya, May 12, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa in July 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/Brian Inganga, File)

Credit: Brian Inganga

Credit: Brian Inganga

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FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Benin President Patrice Talon at the presidency in Cotonou, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/David Gnaha, File)

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FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Benin President Patrice Talon at the presidency in Cotonou, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/David Gnaha, File)

Credit: David Gnaha

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FILE - French President Emmanuel Macron, left, is welcomed by Benin President Patrice Talon at the presidency in Cotonou, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Russian, French and American leaders are crisscrossing Africa to win support for their positions on the war in Ukraine in July 2022, an intense competition for influence the continent has not seen since the Cold War. (AP Photo/David Gnaha, File)

Credit: David Gnaha

Credit: David Gnaha