In his first significant official move since becoming the Chairperson of the African Union, H.E. Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, paid a visit to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
The head of the African Union used the opportunity to inform the Russian president of the adverse effects of the Russian-Ukraine war on Africans.
You will recall that President Macky Sall was elected as the new Chairperson of the African Union on Saturday, 5 February 2020. He took over the mantle from H.E. Felix Tshisekedi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president.
The presidents met to discuss Russian grain supplies, global sanctions, and the effects of the conflicts on African countries.
During the meeting, the head of the African Union told Vladimir Putin that African countries are innocent victims of the war in Ukraine, and Russia should help ease their suffering.
Many critics have commended the move, saying it is the first time in many years that the African Union has acted in its capacity to act in the interest of the continent.
After talks in Sochi, Macky Sall said the Russian leader had promised to ease the export of cereals and fertilizer, but he gave no further details of the discussion.
However, President Putin denied Moscow was preventing Ukrainian ports from exporting grains.
Over 40% of wheat consumed in Africa usually comes from Russia and Ukraine. The ongoing dispute threatens the grain supply in no small way. Ukraine’s ports in the Black Sea have been blocked mainly for exports since the conflict began.
Kyiv and its allies blamed Moscow for blockading the ports, which Ukraine has mined to prevent a Russian amphibious assault.
“Failure to open those ports will result in famine,” the U.N.’s crisis coordinator Amin Awad said in Geneva earlier this month. He said grain shortage could affect 1.4 billion people and trigger mass migration.
Food prices have shot up across the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine more than three months ago, pushing huge numbers towards hunger.
The head of the World Food Programme, Mike Dunford, said more than 80 million people were acutely food insecure and acutely hungry in Africa - up from about 50 million people last year.
Chad has declared a national food emergency. A third of the population needs food aid, according to the U.N., and the government has appealed for international assistance.
President Sall told Mr. Putin he should be “aware that our countries, even if they are far from the theatre [of action], are victims of this economic crisis.”
He said he was also pleading on behalf of other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
In his response, President Putin said Russia was ready to guarantee the safe export of Ukrainian grain via ports on the Azov and Black seas it controls. He said the best solution would be to lift sanctions on Belarus, a close Russian ally, so that the grain could be shipped that way.
Some analysts argue that Russia hopes a looming food crisis will put political pressure on the West by provoking new refugee flows toward Europe from food-insecure countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Like many African countries, Senegal has avoided taking sides in the conflict, and the Senegalese leader said food supplies should be “outside” the West’s sanctions on Russia. He also said he had made this point clear when he spoke to the European Council earlier in the week.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden dismissed the idea that the West bore responsibility for the global price rises.
“This is a Putin price hike. Putin’s war has raised the price of food because Ukraine and Russia are two of the world’s major bread baskets for wheat and corn, the basic product for so many foods around the world,” he said.
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