African leaders shun Ukraine's Zelensky
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.
Ukrainian president @ZelenskyyUa addressed the @_AfricanUnion Assembly today. We reiterated the AU position of the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict to allow peace to return to the Region and to restore global stability. pic.twitter.com/1RaIIp2UbC— Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) June 20, 2022
“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.
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.