The Russian incursion into Ukraine and Putin’s irredentism harken back to ethnic-based hostilities which lead to refugee flight. A large share of refugee movements in the past 100 years have as their origin the breakdown of empires – imperial, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman.
The Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, at the U.N. Security Council, February 21, 2022 explains how people across Africa understand Ukraine, and what the Kremlin’s acts of aggression mean in our post-colonial world.
Kenya and almost every African country were birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant metropolises of London, Paris and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations.
Today across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural and linguistic bonds. Had we after independence chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic racial or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later. Instead, we agreed that we would settle with the borders that we inherited. We looked to economic and legal integration rather than to nations which look backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia. We chose to look forward to a greatness, to follow the rules of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations charter, not because our border satisfied us but because we wanted something greater forged in peace.
We believe that all states formed from empires that have collapsed or retreated have many people in them yearning for integration with peoples in neighboring states. This is normal and understandable. After all, who does not want to be joined to the common purpose with them?
However, Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression. We rejected irredentism and expansionism on any basis including racial or cultural factors. We reject it today.