Earlier this week, the Ukrainian President invited the African Union (AU) to a virtual diplomatic meeting. But most heads of state showed no interest in Zelenskyy’s speech and sent diplomats or ministers. This is not surprising given that the Russian government’s popularity in Africa is increasing rather than decreasing.
On June 20, Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for a video conference. The 55 heads of state in Africa were invited, the current conflict situation in Eastern Europe and the role of Africa on the world stage should be discussed. Ultimately, however, apart from AU Chairman Macky Sall, whose presence was essential, only AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat and his Congolese counterpart Denis Sassou N’Guesso attended – some Sources also name Alassane Ouattara, the President of the Ivory Coast, as a participant. Other ministers and ambassadors from Algeria, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Egypt as well as the chairman of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohammed el-Menfi, were also present.
First and foremost, by agreeing to this meeting, the AU was able to demonstrate its neutrality towards the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, as Macky Sall had previously also met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Since the meeting took place behind closed doors, not many details were released either. Macky Sall tweeted after the conference: “Africa remains committed to respect for the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and freedom of trade.”
So Zelenskyy failed miserably in his attempt to gain the support of the Africans. While most heads of state have already set an example by not appearing, the Ukrainian President was unable to convince even the few participants with a pro-Kyiv speech and the presentation that Ukraine is the victim of unjustified aggression. Even his statements regarding the current food crisis in Africa, which he attributes to the effects of the conflict on the grain market, did not change anything.
“Africa is really a hostage. It is hostage to those who started the war against our state,” Zelenskyy said. So he accuses Russia of blocking Ukrainian grain supplies. For Africa, of course, returning Ukrainian and Russian grain and fertilizer exports is a top priority.
Zelenskyy’s arguments fail to convince Africans, as it is obvious that the food crisis is the main problem by Western sanctions caused against Russia. A lifting of the sanctions would therefore of course be welcome. Also there is reportsthat Kyiv is supplying grain to the US and Europe in exchange for arms, which is totally unacceptable to the AU.
In several African countries – especially in regions affected by terrorism – there is support for the Russian operation in Ukraine quite big. The Africans hope Russian support in terms of defense and security policy, since they have been left in the lurch by the West in this regard – even if mainstream media are outraged by Russia’s influence. In this country, the almost non-existent interest of African heads of state in Volodymyr Zelenskyj’s speech was not even reported.
Ultimately, in international relations, it is above all the advantages that are decisive. At the moment, Ukraine has nothing to offer the African Union, but Russia could be a pillar of both African food security and the fight against terrorism. So why shouldn’t the Africans expand their cooperation with Russia and take advantage of the opportunities it would offer? Ukraine must be looking for other allies: obviously not all heads of state fall for Zelenskyy’s attempts at manipulation and fulfill his demands…