Senegalese President and African Union Chairman Macky Sall arrived in the south-western Russian city of Sochi with skylined aims of offsetting Africa’s impending food crisis largely due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis that began late February after it was approved as “Special Military Operation” by both the State Duma and the Federation Council. The State Duma and the Federation Council, the Lower House and the Upper House of the legislative structure of the Russian Federation.
The Special Military Operation targeting “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine, now in its fourth month, has shattered the global economy, sent prices skyrocketing and generating deep-seated social discontent among the population worldwide due to raft of unprecedented sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and host of other countries.
Nearly all African countries are struggling to contain the impact of the crisis, two years after the coronavirus pandemic had locked them up behind borders and unprecedented climate change compounding difficulties facing the continent. Acknowledging frankly, however, that it is about time to address the lapses in attaining economic independence, African leaders complained bitterly that they become direct victims of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Russia has consistently brushed aside this accusation and rather blamed Western and European sanctions for the precarious situation that has equally engulfed Africa.
On the historic June 3, the African Union Chairman and Senegalese President Macky Sall, most possibly after several weeks of preparations, agreed with Kremlin administration for a negotiated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. His explicit message in the portfolio, carried on behalf of the African leaders and from the African Union headquaters, was for Russia-Ukraine crisis be resolved peacefully through diplomatic dialogue, freezing up stocks of fuel, cereals and fertilizers, the blockage of which particularly affects African countries, and simultaneously use the golden opportunity to review Russia-Senegalese bilateral ties and that of Russia-African relations.
Experts warm-heartedly praised him for the mighty efforts, Sall forgot to leave behind the continental bowl. Africa as a continent has remained a fertile ground for boosting investment in agriculture and industry but depends very much on its food imports. Resultantly and with no suitable alternative paths to Africa’s food security, Sall has to complain: “Anti-Russia sanctions have made this situation worse and now we do not have access to grain from Russia, primarily to wheat. And, most importantly, we do not have access to fertiliser. The situation was bad and now it has become worse, creating a threat to food security in Africa.”
Beyond that it all seems, Africans have no other way to reverse their addiction for food imports (in terms of Basic Economics for Beginners, turnabout settling for import substitution products), despite the huge arable land. The irreversible fact is that both Ukraine and Russia are major suppliers of wheat and other cereals to Africa, while Russia is a key producer of fertiliser, and it has become necessary, as soon as possible, to find appropriate solutions. Reports say Russia’s blockade of Odessa has harmed Ukrainian food exports.
“As you know, a number of countries voted for resolutions at the United Nations. The position of Africa is very heterogeneous but despite heavy pressure, many countries still did not denounce Russia’s position,” Sall explained, and added that “It is also possible to look at Asia, the Middle East and Latin America – we see that the world is closely following the developments, and that the countries that are so far away from the hotbed of the conflict are still experiencing its consequences.”
According to reports, 17 African countries abstained from voting on the resolution at the United Nations. Some policy experts say this Africans’ voting scenario at the UN opens a theme for a complete geopolitical study and analysis. There are so many interpretations and geopolitical implications though. Nevertheless, the African Union, Regional Economic organizations and the African governments are still and distinctively, divided over the Russia-Ukraine crisis due to divergent views and worse, afraid of contradictions and confrontations posed by the crisis and its effects on future relations.
During the Sochi meeting, Macky Sall has at least explained all these and the economic implications, while stressing the important role of Russia in the history of the African continent and expressed hope for expansion of profound cooperation with President Vladimir Putin. “Sanctions against Russia worsened the situation with grain and fertilizer supplies to African countries. We have no access to them. This entails consequences from the standpoint of the continent’s food security,” Sall said. Senegal “supports the release of grain and fertilizers from anti-Russian sanctions,” the President added.
On his part, President Putin unreservedly underscored Africa’s role is growing, and that Russia will continue developing various aspects of the relations with African countries. “Africa’s political role in the international arena, in general, is growing. We believe that Africa as a whole and its individual states, with which we traditionally have very good, without any exaggeration, friendly relations, have great prospects, and on this basis we intend to further develop our relations with Africa as a whole and with its individual states,” the Russian leader said.
“We are at a new stage of development and attach great importance to our relations with African countries,” Putin noted. According to him, the development of relations between Russia and Africa has shown glaring positive results. In particular, the trade turnover is steadily increasing. “In the first months of this year it grew by 34%. We are striving to develop humanitarian ties with African countries and we will do everything that depends on us to make this process gain momentum,” he specified, adding that Russia has always taken a great interest in African culture too.
He mentioned the Africa Day (May 25) that took place recently and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Senegal. In this connection, Russia has always been on Africa’s side, has always supported Africa in its fight against colonialism. It is attempting to fight rapidly growing neocolonial tendencies, but for now, only with rhetoric. Putin also recalled that the 2019 Russia-Africa summit was held precisely in Sochi.
Putin hosted dozens of African leaders in Sochi in a bid to reassert Russia’s influence on the continent. Though never a colonial power in Africa, Moscow was a crucial player on the continent in the Soviet era, backing independence movements and training a generation of African leaders. Russia’s ties with Africa unexpectedly declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and China has emerged as a key foreign power, investing in many sectors, on the continent. While Russia’s economic footprints are still invisible, the fact still remains that the United States, European Union and a number of Gulf States are also investing significantly in Africa.
The local Russian media, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that talks about the starvation threat in Africa has been going on for a while. Agricultural shipments via Black Sea routes are stalled, particularly because Kiev has mined the waters around Odessa for fear of Russia trying to seize the port. In fact, Africa seeks to overcome the shocks due to the coronavirus pandemic, the economic situation on the continent left much to be desired even before the launch of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. Although Russia and Ukraine produce only a third of global wheat and barley exports, much of those are focused on Africa rather than on wealthier countries. This is why logistics and sanctions issues trigger a genuine famine.
“The visit of the African Union’s delegation is actually nothing extraordinary because the parties exchange delegations a couple of times a year. It is during the pandemic that food price issues started to emerge. Besides, complications with foreign currency payments and Russia being prevented from making full use of maritime transport are creating additional difficulties. In particular, even if some companies agree to insure Russian vessels, their high rates inevitably affect prices for final customers,” Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for African Studies Leonid Fituni pointed out.
Summarizing, President Putin’s meeting with the Chairperson of the African Union, President of Senegal Macky Sall with the participation of Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat was very significant within the context of Russia-African relations. This high-level meeting shows Russia’s interaction has entered a new stage of development with the African Union, including expanding political dialogue, and possibly bolstering more practical economic cooperation as well as re-identifying cultural exchanges with African countries.
Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.