By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
As the current Chairman of the African Union and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, has hinted that he would soon travel to Russia and Ukraine. He had already received a mandate from the African Union to undertake the trip, for which Russia had extended an invitation.
The trip had been due to take place on May 18 but did not go ahead due to scheduling issues and new dates have been put forward, Sall said at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“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 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.
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, 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.
Beside 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 neighbouring republic. According to reports, 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 criticisms over official stand on Russia-Ukraine crisis. Prior to the February 24 crisis unfolded in Ukraine, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interests 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. There have been many conflicting reports about South Africa’s position on Russia-Ukraine crisis. For many, both inside and outside the country, this was a controversial decision resulting in a rare local public debate about the 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 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.
As a direct result of the crisis, Europe has abandoned 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. Along with neighbouring Mauritania, Senegal hopes to exploit gas and oil deposits found in the Atlantic in recent years.
Sall has estimated LNG production starting in December 2023 and reaching 10 million tonnes per year in 2030. The Senegalese leader said he had asked Germany to help Senegal develop future projects. Scholz said discussions should continue “in an intensive manner” because it was in our mutual interest to achieve progress.
Late February and early March, the current Chair of the African Union and President of the Republic of Senegal, H.E. Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, have issued official statement urging both Russia and Ukraine to employ diplomacy means to solve the crisis, and further said they were following closely the developments in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.
In the meanwhile, as a direct result of the “special military operation” launched on February 24, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and a host of other countries.