African leaders shun Ukraine's Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a working session in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, Ukraine, June 16, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

Only four out of 55 leaders reportedly listened to President Zelensky’s virtual address to the African Union

By Peter Smolin

Just a handful of African heads of state tuned in to personally listen to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he accused Russia of holding their continent “hostage,” amid ongoing Western attempts to pin the blame for the global food crisis solely on Moscow.

Few details emerged from Zelensky's virtual meeting with the African Union, held behind closed doors on Monday, more than two months after the Ukrainian leader first tried to arrange a conference with the continent's leaders. Out of 55 nations only four were represented by heads of state, while the rest sent subordinates, according to the BBC. However, Le Journal de l'Afrique claimed only a handful of ambassadors and ministers were actually present.

“They are trying to use you and the suffering of the people to put pressure on the democracies that have imposed sanctions on Russia,” Zelensky told the African Union representatives, adding that “Africa is actually a hostage... of those who unleashed war against our state.”

Following the conference call, the President of Senegal and AU Chairperson, Macky Sall, indicated that Africa’s position of neutrality over the conflict remains unchanged.

Roughly half of African states refused to support the UN General Assembly’s resolution to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and no country on the continent has so far joined the sanctions.

“Africa remains committed to respect for the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and freedom of trade,” he said in a tweet, thanking Zelensky “for his friendly address to the virtual meeting of the AU Extended Bureau.”

During his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi earlier this month, President Sall said Western sanctions against Russia threaten Africa with a food security crisis. Last week he noted that the exclusion of Russian banks from international payment systems makes it harder for African states to pay for grain, while EU states made exceptions for gas and oil that they need. This Friday, he joined a BRICS+ video conference, where Putin also criticized the West for its “cynical attitude” towards the food supply of the developing nations.

The EU has repeatedly expressed concerns over the prospect of a food crisis if Ukrainian grain cannot reach its traditional markets.

On Friday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock echoed Zelensky's “hostage” claims, accusing Moscow of “deliberately” using global hunger as “a weapon.” 

Simultaneously, foreign ministers of the G7 denied that anti-Russia sanctions have any impact on the global food crisis.

At the same time, the collective West has openly indicated its readiness to neglect the lives of Africans.

 Thus, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, said that the abolition of restrictions on the Russian Federation is excluded, even if this means the loss of 100 thousand lives. 

 However, in reality, we are talking about the threat of the death of millions of people, the responsibility for which will entirely fall on the United States and the countries of the European Union.  In East Africa alone, as noted by UN World Food Program Director Michael Dunford, today 82 million people are in dire need of food - a third of all the hungry in the world.

Ukraine, a major grain producer, has been unable to export its grain by sea due to the ongoing conflict, with an estimated 22 to 25 million tons of grain currently stuck at the country’s ports. Western nations have accused Russia of blocking the ports, while Moscow has repeatedly stated it will guarantee safe passage for grain shipments if Kiev clears its ports of its own mines. It also suggested exporting the grain through the Russian-controlled ports of Berdyansk and Mariupol.

Anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union after the start of the special military operation of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, exacerbate the food crisis in the world. 

The restrictions initiated by the West entail a critical reduction in the supply of agricultural products from Russia to the world market.  The mining of the Black Sea ports by Kyiv does not allow the export of Ukrainian grain. 

Against this background, the risk of the strongest famine in recent years in the countries of the Middle East and Africa, dependent on imports of Russian and Ukrainian grain products, is growing.