By Paul Goble
When the Patriarch of Alexandria, whose canonical territory includes all of Africa, recognized the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine at the end of 2019, Moscow responded by announcing it would ignore Alexandria’s claim and both seek to poach congregants from existing Orthodox churches in Africa and set up its own.
The Moscow action infuriated not only the Alexandrian patriarchate but the entire Orthodox world which has a long tradition of respecting the canonical territories of each of the recognized patriarchates, but it was welcomed by Russian officials and especially by the FSB which saw it as a way of expanding intelligence operations in Africa.
(On these developments and the formation of an ROC MP exarchate for Africa, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/moscow-patriarchate-mulls-setting-up.html,windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/11/alexandria-patriarchate-follows-greek.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/12/moscow-patriarchate-threatens-to-set-up.html.)
In the months since, the Russian church has won over 200 priests, often by providing them with generous subsidies, intensifying anger at Moscow among the Orthodox world and further isolating the ROC MP from other leaders of that religious denomination (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/07/russian-orthodox-presence-in-africa.html).
But with Russian government support, the Russian Orthodox exarchate has taken the next step forming an administrative center in Kampala, Uganda, and claiming that it now has parishes in 19 African countries (stoletie.ru/lenta/v_stolice_ugandy_postrojat_duhovno-administrativnyj_centr_rpc_625.htm, ria.ru/20221227/rpts-1841733567.html and gazeta.ru/social/news/2022/12/27/19368805.shtml?updated).
If true, the ROC MP has emerged as a genuine competitor of Alexandria in Africa; but even if it isn’t that – and as the Russian exarch admits, there is bad blood between the two churches – this expansion means that the Russian church may be providing cover for Moscow’s intelligence and subversive activities on the continent.