NAIROBI, Kenya — ‘Africa is effectively being held hostage’ in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine amid catastrophic rise in food prices, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the African Union continental body during a closed-door speech on Monday.
It took weeks of demands for Zelenskyy to reach out to African nations, many of which retain close ties to Russia and did not support a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the invasion earlier this year .
Ukraine and the West are hoping to weaken those ties by pointing out that Russia’s actions are to blame for the dramatic shortages of wheat and edible oils and soaring food and fuel prices on the African continent from 1 .3 billion people. The Russian blockade of Ukrainian exports is a “war crime”, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday.
“They are trying to use you and the suffering of the people to put pressure on the democracies that 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 partly to blame for the food security crisis. They called on other countries to ensure that grain and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine are not blocked.
Millions of people in the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia and Somalia, are now struggling to find food or even humanitarian food aid amid a historic drought. The Associated Press was the first to report hundreds of deaths this year in Somalia alone.
“We know for a fact that there will be an increase in deaths…until 2023,” USAID Ethiopia Mission Director Sean Jones told the AP last week.
The official reaction to Zelenskyy’s speech was muted. African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, one of those who met Putin, tweeted that African nations “reiterated the AU’s position on the urgent need for dialogue to put end to the conflict”. Current AU Chairperson and Senegalese President Macky Sall tweeted that Africa respects “peaceful resolution of disputes and freedom of trade”.
Russia is the largest arms exporter to sub-Saharan Africa, and Moscow emphasizes its longstanding ties to African nations dating back to the Soviet Union. Some African leaders, meanwhile, are exasperated by efforts by world powers to choose one side or another.
Ukraine will press its case again later this week when its foreign minister addresses Africa-based journalists at a U.S. government-hosted briefing on how “the invasion in scale of Ukraine by the Russian Federation affects food security on the African continent”.
The EU’s top diplomat said he had written to all African foreign ministers to explain that the bloc’s sanctions against Russia were not to blame for the looming global food crisis, and pledged to find ways for food and fertilizer exports to reach their continent.
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