At the Russia-Africa Summit which took place in St.Petersburg last week, African leaders advocated for peace between Russia and Ukraine.
The African leaders who did attend the Russia-Africa summit (who weren't in scores of numbers either), with only 20 leaders of the 54 African states showing up to the event - used the time to raise their concerns around the termination of the Grain deal by Russia, which impacts the flow of grain to Africa by way of Ukraine.
The war time deal initially was an agreement that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries such in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In Africa particularly, the continent has been hit with a food cost hike, which has seen millions more people into poverty than ever before, with a hunger crises that's now off the scale. For the United Nations, the termination of this deal by Russia is the end of a breakthrough which enabled food to leave the Black Sea Region, with Ukraine exporting grain to African countries. The Black Sea Grain deal was an initiative that ensured that ships entering and leaving Ukrainian ports, won't be attacked - it has since been called off by Russia, a year and half into it's invasion of Ukraine.
Hours after Russia terminated the deal, Moscow Ambassador, Dmitry Maksimychev, in a statement to two of the largest newspapers in Kenya, he blamed the United States and the European Union for the deal’s collapse, asserting they had “used every trick” to keep Russian grain and fertiliser from the global markets" (Anna, 2023). In an appeal to the African country that could be most impacted by the rising food costs, he said the following:“now, my dear Kenyan friends, you know the whole truth about who is weaponizing food".
Following the Russia-Africa summit, Putin addressed the grain concern in a press conference where he stated that the termination of the grain deal caused a rise in price that benefits Russian companies and in a quest for ally-ship, Putin promised that Moscow would split this new found revenue with the "poorest nations". Putin then followed with a promise to ship between 25,000-50,000 tonnes of grain free of charge, to 6 African nations. These include: Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and Central African Republic. This amount is barely even 1/10th of what is sent to Africa by the U.N. World Food Program, under the grain deal.
Among the African leaders, the Egyptian and South African presidents were the most outspoken about their dissatisfaction with disruptions to the grain deal. South-African president, Cyril Ramaphosa stated in response to Putin's suggestion to ship grain to Africa directly from Moscow:
"We would like the Black Sea initiative to be implemented and that the Black Sea should be open... we are not here to plead for donations for the African continent.”
Putin responded and said Russia would consider the proposal of African leaders for Ukraine, but as a parting note, he pleaded with the continent leaders: "why do you ask us to pause fire? We can’t pause fire while we’re being attacked"...
One can argue that Russia's approach with the African continent is rather contradictory, as they've condemned the U.S and U.N. for "weaponsing food". With many Russian publications maintaining that the lack of turnout by African leaders to the summit was a result of "outrageous western pressure for discouraging some African countries from showing up" (Anna, 2023). Russia believes that the western world is encouraging African countries to condemn the war in Ukraine, so as to protect the interests of the U.S. and United Nations. However, the terminating of the Black Sea Grain deal can be viewed as a way of Russia hard-bargaining for Africa's allyship. And rightly so was Cyril Ramaphosa... why is it that when European or Western governments meet with African leaders, they find themselves edging to discuss charitable donations to their respective countries, in promises or pledges that seemingly remain unfulfilled. Why is the only conversation with African nations focused on charity and not key trade discussions that will have lasting and upwardly economic and social impact. When the attention of the summit was diverted to trade, Putin turned it into a charitable cause again, stating he'd share revenues with poor nations, and ship grain for free but only to 6 African nations. Too many conditions, not to mention the impact of a war that will continue to affect people worldwide if African leaders surrender to Putin's attempts of blocking Ukraine out of any trade paths with the continent.
African nations make up the largest portion of the U.N. voting bloc (Anna, 2023). Failure for Putin to connect with African leaders after this Russia-Africa summit could see them distancing themselves from the nation, and this would be detrimental for Vladimir Putin’s government as the pressure to show it's commitment to 1.3 billion people in a continent that is growing in assertiveness on the global stage. The summit and Putin's responses raise important questions from both Africans and us diasporans who are onlookers worldwide: is the push to team up with African countries centred in helping the less fortunate, or is it rooted in the grim act of war?...
Anna, C. (2023) 'Russia wants allies, so it’s hosting an Africa summit. Food security and Wagner group top the agenda' - Available at [here]
Photo of African leaders at the Africa summit - available at [here]
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