African Union Delegation Plans to Visit Russia and Ukraine

By Kester Kenn Klomegah*

MOSCOW I DAKAR (IDN) — The African Union (AU), a 54-member continental organisation, is planning to wade into the crisis between Russia and Ukraine with a view to finding a lasting solution and averting the looming food shortage that may hit the continent.

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded its neighbour, Ukraine, and this action has sent prices of food, especially cereals and fuel higher in the markets, and the worst is the cause of the current global instability.

On May 18, the AU delegates were supposed to be in Moscow, but the trip was aborted. However, the Chairman of the group and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, confirmed at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, that the visit will happen. He had already received a mandate from the African Union to undertake the trip, for which Russia had extended an invitation.

“As soon as it’s set, I will go of course to Moscow and also to Kyiv. We have also accepted to get together all the heads of state of the African Union who want to (meet) with (Ukrainian) President (Volodymyr) Zelensky, who had expressed the need to communicate with the African heads of state. That too will be done in the coming weeks,” Sall said.

Speaking as African Union chairman, Sall said many African countries did not want to take sides in the war while condemning the invasion. “On our part, I expressed to Chancellor Scholz our serious concern about the impact of the war,” Sall said, requesting international help to lessen the fallout for African countries.

“We do not want to be aligned on this conflict, very clearly, we want peace. Even though we condemn the invasion, we’re working for a de-escalation, we’re working for a ceasefire, for dialogue … that is the African position.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hit African economies hard due to rising cereal prices and fuel shortages, has met with a divided African response. In early March, Senegal abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution—overwhelmingly adopted—that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.

The African Union, and Regional Economic organizations have officially called for the adoption of diplomacy mechanisms and negotiations through which to end the seemly endless crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

Besides the official statements from the AU, Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Economic Community of West African States, at least, half of the African countries from the continent voted to condemn Russia’s action in the neighbouring republic. 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.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also come under fierce criticism over his official stand on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Prior to the unleashing of the Ukraine war on February 24, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interest to broaden cooperation in trade and in the economic sectors in Africa. With an invariable commitment to strengthen and develop relations in a positive and constructive manner, and especially in these challenging circumstances, Moscow is still planning for the second Russia-African summit.

Gerrit Olivier, an Emeritus Professor at Pretoria University and former South African Ambassador in Russia and Kazakhstan, said South Africa, a member of BRICS and an economic powerhouse in Africa, abstained from voting against Russia. This was a controversial decision resulting in a rare local public debate about foreign policy.

What followed was indeed a case study of expedient, if not downright ‘Walter Mitty’ diplomacy. First, President Cyril Ramaphosa rushed to telephone Putin, obviously to bask in the reflected glory and honour of speaking to the ‘great man’. Afterwards, he subserviently thanked “His Excellency President Vladimir Putin” for taking his call. At the same time, our ‘great negotiator’ refused official engagement with the local Ukrainian ambassador as well as with ambassadors of the European Union, our biggest trading partners, wrote Professor Gerrit Olivier.

Scholz’s three-day tour to Senegal, Niger and South Africa kicked off on May 22, seeking to reduce its heavy reliance on Russia for gas following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. As a direct result of the crisis, Europe plans to abandon importing oil and gas from Russia. It has been looking for alternatives in Africa. 

Sall said Senegal would be ready to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the continent seeks to wean itself off Russian energy sources. It could help explore a gas field in Senegal located in West Africa. Along with neighbouring Mauritania, Senegal hopes to exploit gas and oil deposits found in the Atlantic.

Sall has planned LNG production to start in December 2023 and reach 10 million tonnes per year in 2030. The Senegalese leader said he had asked Germany to help Senegal develop future projects. In terms of gas exploration, project financing and other questions, “all that is open, and we are keen to work with Germany in this context,” Sall said.

Scholz said discussions should continue “in an intensive manner” because it was in our mutual interest to achieve progress. Germany has invited both Senegal, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union, and South Africa to attend the G7 summit it is hosting in June as guest countries.

Late February and early March, the current Chair of the African Union and President of the Republic of Senegal, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, have issued an official statement urging both Russia and Ukraine to employ diplomacy as a means to resolve the crisis, and further said they were following closely the developments in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, as a direct result of the “special military operation”, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and a host of other countries.

* Kester Kenn Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to IDN. During his professional career as a researcher specialising in Russia-Africa policy, which spans nearly two decades, he has been detained and questioned several times by federal security services for reporting facts. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted in several reputable foreign media. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 May 2022]

Photo: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) together with Senegal President and African Union chairf Macky Sall. (Source: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

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