Ukraine looms over US-African Union summit

By Julian Pecquet
Posted on Saturday, 12 March 2022 00:02

Moussa Faki Mahamat (Chad), former Prime Minister from 2003 to 2005, has been Chairperson of the African Union Commission since 2017. © Vincent Fournier/JA

The United States and the African Union (AU) held their first high-level summit since the Covid-19 pandemic this week with the conflicts in Ukraine and Ethiopia looming over the gathering.

With Washington consumed with international diplomacy to halt Russia’s assault on its neighbour, the Joe Biden administration repeatedly pressed AU Chairman Moussa Faki on the issue during his meetings with US officials including US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power. Faki is in town for the 8th high-level dialogue between the African Union Commission and the United States, an annual affair launched in 2013 that last convened in November 2019.

“I was pleased to open the 8th AUC-US #HighLevelDialogue in Washington DC with @SecBlinken today to discuss our strategic partnership in Peace&Sec,Climate Change & Trade,” Faki tweeted Friday 11 March. “We also signed an MoU on @AfricaCDC to advance our already strong collaboration in global health security.”

Sullivan notably applauded Faki and President Macky Sall, the current chairman of the AU, for their “strong statement” on Ukraine, according to a White House readout of Thursday’s meeting with Faki. The 24 February statement calls on Russia to “imperatively respect international law, the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine” while also calling on both countries to establish an “immediate ceasefire” and “open political negotiations without delay” under the auspices of the United Nations.

“Mr. Sullivan also welcomed the strong statement from the Chairperson and African Union chair President of Senegal Macky Sall calling on the Russian Federation to respect international law and the national sovereignty of Ukraine,” the readout says. “Mr. Sullivan also raised areas where the United States and the African Union have an interest in working together to restore democracy in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, support fragile transitions in Sudan and Chad, and work toward peaceful and stable futures for Ethiopia and Somalia. Both agreed to maintain close coordination as President Biden plans to convene leaders from across the African continent for a U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit and host the Global Covid-19 Summit this year.”

Pressure on Africa

The meeting comes as the US and Europe have been pressing Africa to take a stand. Almost half of the 54 African member states of the UN abstained from last week’s General Assembly vote denouncing Russia, including Senegal and Ethiopia, where the AU is headquartered, while Faki’s home country of Chad voted in favor of the resolution.

Ukraine also came up in Faki’s interaction with USAID, the world’s largest aid donor to the continent, according to an agency readout of Thursday’s meeting with Power.

“Administrator Power and Chairperson Faki discussed the far-reaching negative repercussions of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine, on African livelihoods and food security, and the urgent importance of ending the war,” the agency said.

The pair also discussed the military coup in Sudan and the conflict in northern Ethiopia, two where the AU is leading mediation efforts.

“The two also discussed Sudan and expressed concern over the lack of progress in getting the transition to a civilian-led democratically-elected government back on track as well as the importance of close coordination between the AU and other international actors engaged on the issue,” USAID said. “The Administrator shared her deep concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia due to the protracted conflict and the government’s obstruction of humanitarian assistance that has continued for over a year.”

CDC partnership

Beyond geopolitics, much of the visit focused on US contributions to health programmes in Africa, including ongoing support for AU member states through the GlobalVax initiative.

“The United States has shown a longstanding commitment to enhancing global health security via our partnership with the African Union Commission and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC),” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday. “We will underscore our expanding engagement by signing a Memorandum of Cooperation with the African CDC during this Dialogue.”

On Friday, Blinken and Faki signed an updated Memorandum of Cooperation between the US and the Africa CDC, which was elevated to an autonomous health agency of the African Union at last month’s AU Heads of States summit. The Africa CDC has been led since its establishment in 2017 by John Nkengasong, whom President Biden has nominated to lead the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

The new partnership focuses on establishing and strengthening national public health institutes, building Africa’s public health workforce, combating Covid-19, expanding vaccine delivery and enhancing disease surveillance through genomic sequencing technologies.

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