“Africa is actually taken hostage” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid catastrophically rising food prices, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the African Union continental body during a closed-door address on Monday.
Zelenskyy was unable to reach African nations despite numerous requests. Many of these countries have close ties with Russia and did not support the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning this invasion earlier in the year.
The West and Ukraine hope to strengthen their ties by emphasizing Russia’s role in the dramatic shortages of wheat, edible oils, and skyrocketing fuel and food prices on the African continent with 1.3 billion inhabitants.
Josep Borrell (the top diplomat of the European Union) said Monday that Russia’s blocking of Ukrainian exports was a “war crime”.
“They are trying to use you and the suffering of the people to put pressure on the democracies that have imposed sanctions on Russia,” Zelenskyy told the AU, whose leaders recently met in Russia with President Vladimir Putin and echoed Moscow’s assertion that Western sanctions are in part to blame for the food security crisis.
They appealed to other countries to ensure that fertilizer and grain exports from Russia or Ukraine don’t get blocked.
Millions of people living in the Horn of Africa (including Somalia and Ethiopia) are struggling to find food and humanitarian aid during a severe drought.
USAID Ethiopia mission director Sean Jones said that “We know for a certainty there will be more deaths… well into 2023.”
Official reactions to Zelenskyy’s speech were muted. Moussa Faki Mahmat, chair of the African Union Commission, was one of those who met Putin. He tweeted that African nations had “reiterated” the AU’s position that there is an urgent need for dialogue. Senegalese President Macky Sall, current AU chair, said that Africa supports “the peaceful resolutions of conflicts and freedom of commerce.”
Russia is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest weapon exporter, and Moscow stresses its longstanding ties to African nations that date back to the Soviet Union. Global powers’ attempts to pick one side or the other are frustrating some African leaders.
Later this week, Ukraine will make a new push for its case when its foreign minister addresses Africa-based journalists in a briefing on “The Russian Federation”‘s invasion of Ukraine.
The EU’s top diplomat stated that he had written to African foreign ministers explaining to them that Russia’s sanctions against the bloc are not responsible for the global food crisis. He also pledged to find ways to allow food and fertilizers to reach Africa.