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Africans Divided on Russia's Leadership Before Ukraine War

Africans Divided on Russia's Leadership Before Ukraine War

by Zach Bikus

Story Highlights

  • Africans more approving of Russia's leadership than the rest of the world is
  • West Africans more likely to approve of Russia than those in the East and South
  • Most sub-Saharan Africans at risk of food shocks because of the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While most Western countries have strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the rest of the world hasn't reacted in the same way.

Responses in Africa, for example, have ranged from solidly supporting Ukraine to condemning NATO's response. Gallup surveys in Africa show these actions largely follow a general divide in support for Russia's leadership across the continent before the Ukraine crisis.

African Approval of Russia Remains Low, but Higher Than Global Average

Overall, median approval of Russia's leadership stood at 42% across Africa in 2021, which is lower than the approval ratings of the leadership of the U.S. (60%), China (52%) and Germany (49%).

However, approval of Russia's leadership remains consistently higher in Africa than the global median of 33%. Africans have held a more positive view of Russia for some time, reaching a peak of 57% approval in 2011, before opinions started declining over the past decade.


Line graph. Trend line showing median approval ratings of Russia's leadership across Africa and worldwide, from 2007 to 2021. In 2021, a median of 42% of Africans approved of Russia's leadership, versus 33% approval worldwide.

Russian Leadership Most Popular in West Africa

Support for Russian leadership is most strongly concentrated in West Africa, particularly in Mali, where 84% of residents approve. Although Mali has recently received renewed Russian interest, including the arrival of Russian mercenaries to replace outgoing French forces at the behest of the Malian government, Malian support of Russia has been among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade.

Substantial majorities in fellow West African nations, including Ivory Coast, Guinea and Gabon, also express support for Russia.

Approval of Russian Leadership Is Highest in West and Central Africa, 2021
Approve Disapprove Don't know/Refused Change, 2020-2021
% % % pct. pts.
Mali 84 8 8 +25
Ivory Coast 71 20 9 +17
Guinea 67 11 21 -5
Gabon 64 21 15 +13
Togo 61 12 27 *
Cameroon 60 21 19 -1
Republic of the Congo 54 25 21 +1
Nigeria 53 13 35 +13
Burkina Faso 50 15 35 -3
Sierra Leone 50 9 41 *
Ghana 49 12 39 +10
Benin 38 21 41 +2
Senegal 36 14 50 +5
* Not asked in 2020

However, residents of Eastern and Southern African nations are more restrained. While a higher percentage of their populations express support for Russian leadership compared with the global average, this opinion is held by a minority of residents living in the East and South. Large proportions of the population in these nations are also unsure about their views on Russia, particularly in Zambia, where 66% of residents didn't know if they approved or disapproved of Russian leadership in 2021.

Approval of Russian Leadership Is Lower in East and Southern Africa
Approve Disapprove Don't know/Refused Change, 2020-2021
% % % pct. pts.
Kenya 45 37 19 0
Mauritius 43 35 22 -4
Malawi 42 33 25 *
Mozambique 41 27 32 *
Namibia 40 46 14 +5
Zimbabwe 39 35 26 +8
Uganda 37 39 24 +1
Tanzania 32 34 34 -1
South Africa 30 26 44 -4
Zambia 22 12 66 -20
* Not asked in 2020

While reasons for this support vary, much of it may be tied to recent Russian economic and diplomatic outreaches to the continent. Russian trade has become increasingly enmeshed in Africa over the past two decades, not only in terms of natural resources like wheat, oil and gas, but in military equipment and support as well.

Russia is the largest provider of military arms to sub-Saharan Africa, with exports increasing 23% over the past four years. Some of this has come in the form of direct action as well, with Russian private military contractors deploying to 19 African nations since 2014.

Long-standing Russian history in the region may also play a role in the complex relationships that exist today. The former Soviet Union was a large supporter of anticolonial movements during the Cold War, including anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. This has led to a dichotomy whereby South African President Cyril Ramaphosa blames NATO for the war in Ukraine, yet just 30% of South Africans approve of Russia's leadership.

Most Severe Impacts Are Likely to Come

While the initial fallout from economic sanctions and disruptions in supply chains have already been felt around the world, more substantial effects are likely to emerge in the coming months. Even though the conflict in Ukraine is a world away, sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is vulnerable to disruptions in food supplies, with a large proportion of the population experiencing food insecurity.

Russia and Ukraine account for 30% of global wheat supplies, with many nations in Africa importing a significant amount from the two countries. Substantial majorities in many African countries report not having enough money to buy food in the past 12 months. The Southern African nations of Zimbabwe and Zambia face an acute risk, with close to four in five residents having difficulty affording food in 2021.

Most Africans Remain Susceptible to Food Shocks
Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?
Yes No
% %
Zimbabwe 80 20
Zambia 79 21
Sierra Leone 77 22
Gabon 76 24
Benin 74 26
Cameroon 74 26
Malawi 73 27
Nigeria 71 28
Republic of the Congo 69 29
Kenya 69 31
Guinea 68 31
Namibia 66 34
Uganda 66 34
Ivory Coast 65 35
Togo 63 37
Ghana 61 39
Mozambique 60 37
Mali 57 42
Senegal 54 44
Tanzania 54 45
Burkina Faso 53 47
South Africa 48 51
Mauritius 31 69
Gallup, 2021


The ongoing conflict in Europe has already produced economic and diplomatic shocks that are being felt worldwide. After these initial disruptions, the full effect of sanctions and diminished exports from both Ukraine and Russia will begin to impact many nations globally, especially those in Africa. Under these additional strains, it remains to be seen what effect the ongoing crisis will have on Africans' views of Russia's leadership.

Read Gallup's latest Rating World Leaders report to see how the leadership of Russia, the U.S., Germany and China compare worldwide.

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For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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