Wyomissing, the small town in eastern Pennsylvania where I live, has many wooded areas. During my daytime walks in and around the township’s many parks, I see a lot of deer. At times they stand inches from the pathways and just look at me walk by. They are usually so close that I could pet them. And at night they are everywhere in the residential areas. I have seen as many as a dozen deer walking leisurely on my front lawn, just a couple of yards away from my living room couch where I sit to read.

I always juxtapose the lackadaisical attitude of deer in Wyomissing with that of their cousins in Ghana, where I grew up. Deer in Ghana are not seen out in the open anywhere. They hide in their habitats deep inside forests and venture out mostly at night when humans are asleep. Their extreme caution is warranted. Ghanaians love venison, so any deer they come into contact with would be killed instantly and eaten. The deer in Wyomissing have no such fear because they are protected by hunting regulations. American deer can only be killed for food during hunting season, and only in designated places that are far away from human-populated areas. And, Americans have plenty of meat choices anyway so few people here have use for deer.

Pork is not popular in Ghana. Because of this aversion, I’ve always had the feeling that if there were lots of pigs in Ghana, which is not the case, they would most likely be as trusting of humans as the Wyomissing deer are. In any given place, how animals interact with the humans who sit above them in the food chain depends heavily on the culinary tastes of the people.

This reality of the association between animals and humans equally applies to human-to-human relationships. Every person on this planet has some grievance against someone. Nations have them against other countries. At national levels, current grievances tend to bubble up from injustices that occurred decades or even centuries ago.

Historical grievances drive much of what happens in geopolitics today. Who did what to whom and when seem to be the primary considerations that many nations use to make their foreign policy choices. That is leading to a confusing array of alliances.

Africans are increasingly becoming infatuated with Russia and China. That affinity mostly stems from the fact that those two countries never colonized any nations in Africa. But do Russia and China really deserve that reverence? Their saintly appearance could very well be because they didn’t like the offerings on the menu in Africa when the European powers were plundering the continent’s resources centuries ago. Perhaps they were not strong enough then to compete with the European powers, or, it might be due to the simple fact that Africa was too distant for them.

The best way to learn about someone’s true character is to talk to the people closest to them—relatives and neighbors. The image doesn’t look so bright when that test is applied to both Russia and China. Citizens of many of the former Soviet republics that Russia forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union harbor grievances against the emperors in Moscow to this day. Even after they regained their independence three decades ago, Russia has tried to use various forms of coercive tactics to maintain control over their lives. In some places—Georgia and Ukraine notably—Russia has gone on a murderous rampage in furtherance of that goal.

China hasn’t gone around shooting its neighbors. But its relations with regional powers Japan, India, and Australia have been quite tense for decades. It has increasingly asserted control over the South China Sea, and has used belligerent tactics to limit access of weaker neighboring nations to those waters. The Philippines just summoned a senior official at the Chinese mission in Manila to protest against “aggressive actions” by Chinese naval forces towards Filipino troops in the South China Sea. The Taiwanese of course know better than anyone what a bully China can be.

Navigating this exceedingly complex world requires clear eyes. It takes skillful management of grievances to acquire that vision. Given the legacies of slavery and colonialism, Africans naturally have many complaints against the West. But in forming their present-day relationships, African countries should be careful not to alienate some of the very nations whose help might be vital for the long-term well-being of the continent.