By Udo Jude Ilo

The world has continued to demonstrate an outpouring of solidarity for the people of Ukraine and its leaders since Russia launched its illegal full-scale invasion on the country in February 2022. This overwhelming support has demonstrated what the world can do when countries and communities rally behind a cause.

While nearly all countries from the Global North rallied behind Ukraine, many countries in the Global South  perceived the Ukraine problem to be a Western problem. This was reinforced by what many described as ‘double standards’ applied to crises and conflicts depending on whom is affected and where. The anger on the lack of equity in global response to the COVID-19 vaccine or the perceived injustice in climate change conversations are just few of the examples of perceived double standards.

In fact, the language of solidarity by the West has been one that conveys, perhaps unintentionally, that the concerns of the West should drive solidarity. This solidarity is perceived to be built on a defective value system that that counts the Global South second.

Illustrative of Western concerns and priorities, this year’s Munich Security Conference (MSC) focused primarily on the war in Ukraine. While the situation in Ukraine deserves the utmost attention, other wars and crises deserved similar attention in the past, and many still do currently.

In Munich, leaders like President Macron, President Zelensky, Chancellor Scholz, Vice President Kamala Harris, and a host of other world leaders made compelling cases against Russia’s invasion and the need for global solidarity. However, there was an obvious discomfort that the Global South has not shown sufficient support to Ukraine. This reality requires some honest conversations to understand better how to bridge this divide.

The West needs to self-introspect if it intends to gain support of countries that have felt neglected for so many decades. As a matter of fact, while the MSC was taking place, African Leaders were gathered in Addis Ababa for the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union. This is telling of the misalignment in priorities and partnership between African countries and most European and North American countries. At the minimum, there should be some level of coordination with the timing of the MSC and the AU leaders’ summit. The optics of a clash of dates between the AU summit and the MSC is not helpful.

The MSC may mostly be about the Atlantic alliance and Western governments, but the interconnectedness of our vulnerability to insecurity and other crises anywhere in the world makes our borders and alliances ineffectual if we do not work collectively for our common protection along shared values. The readout from the conference recognizes that “Strengthening the rules-based order requires intensified and sustained dialogue with representatives of the “Global South”, partnerships on equal terms, as well as increased resources for their concerns”. This is a very honest and pragmatic admission. Our world has changed remarkably. Great power conflict is now a possibility. Unlike before, armed conflict threatens the borders of Europe in a way that seemed unthinkable in recent times. The MSC statement makes it clear that a global cooperation and a sustained dialogue are necessary prerequisites to ensure a global alignment on security priorities. These realities call for a more nuanced and inclusive approach to global cooperation and solidarity. Solidarity is no longer a token to the Global South, but rather an existential requirement for the West as well.

It is important that Western countries not only rethink their approach, but diligently work to reverse the prevailing narrative whereby the West, in an effort to protect a specific world order, has rarely prioritized the interests of the Global South, especially Africa. We need to break with a global order of double standards where the interests of the West determine global priorities. Global solidarity must be redefined to include those who have been kept on the margins for too long. It should be built on shared values, common interests, and equality of voices.

The protection of civilians is one such shared value that all countries could recognize as a global priority and propel solidarity. Regardless of where conflict occurs, civilians must be protected. History has shown that armed conflicts know no borders. One day it’s Yemen, and the next, it’s Ukraine. Protecting civilians in conflict is not only a legal obligation: it is a moral obligation.

Selective compassion and solidarity risks further dehumanizing certain conflict-affected communities and depriving the most vulnerable of a peaceful future.

Similar attention and resources should be invested in places like Yemen, where the UN estimates that the war had killed 377,000 people by the end of 2021, through direct and indirect causes. In Tigray, over 600,000 people may have been killed as a result of a brutal two-year conflict. Twelve years after the start of civil war in Syria, airstrikes continue to hit parts of northern Syria. And in Cameroon, the deadly conflict in the Anglophone regions has gone unresolved resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians. It appears that the response to these other conflicts, or rather the lack thereof, sends a mixed message about the solidarity and the value of lives in conflicts other than Ukraine. The response to the war in Ukraine shows what the world can do when we are determined to support each other. Solidarity shown for Ukraine should be the standard for every armed conflict across the world. While bringing relief to all those in need, it may offer an opportunity for most countries in the Global North to reset a relationship that has thrived on the flawed principles of inequality. To be clear, Ukraine deserves the attention it is getting. It has now set a gold standard on how the world needs to demonstrate support going forward, especially communities in conflict. Adopting this standard for every conflict will send a clear message that in conflicts everywhere, protecting civilians is a priority and countries have no right to put a price tag on civilians’ lives.

Udo Jude Ilo is the Senior Director of Advocacy at CIVIC. Twitter: @udoilo

Image courtesy of NATO
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