When Vladimir Putin sent his armies into Ukraine exactly 300 days ago, it was not immediately clear to the residents of the global south why a war between two white, largely Slavic countries was of concern to them. Moreover, many on the anti-imperialist left in the U.S. began gravitating toward the Russian side simply because Russia was America’s old foe and, to them, it was America, rather than Russia, that was the seat of imperialist evil.
Enter Martin Kimani, Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations, where Kenya holds a rotating seat on the Security Council. Just a couple of days before the Russian tanks started rolling, Kimani made a coolly impassioned speech from the Security Council, framing the brewing conflict as an anti-colonial, anti-imperial struggle—by Ukraine against Russia. Coming from the representative of a former British colony that had fought hard for its independence, the message resonated, especially among progressives who had felt torn. Wasn’t the West at fault for pushing Russia to the brink? This was a clear moral argument to the contrary, in terms the Western left could easily understand. In the days after the invasion, the speech went viral.
I first met Kimani earlier this year at the Aspen Security Forum, where he was on a fascinating—and occasionally spicy—panel about how the rest of the world sees not only the war in Ukraine but America’s competition with China. Kimani made some points that day that I still think about: While the U.S. warns African countries of the long-term risk of becoming indebted to Chinese firms, America still can’t get its act together to move faster to fill what is an acute need for infrastructure in Africa. (Though, apparently, the ambassador hadn’t heard how slowly the U.S. moves on its own acute infrastructure needs.)