War in Ukraine: Behind closed doors with Zelenskyy and the African Union

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Tuesday, 21 June 2022 14:04

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Asia Security Summit, live from Kyiv, 11 June 2022. ©Ukrainian Presidential Press Off/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press/REA
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Asia Security Summit, live from Kyiv, 11 June 2022. ©Ukrainian Presidential Press Off/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press/REA

On Monday, 20 June, the Ukrainian head of state addressed the pan-African organisation during a virtual meeting in which only four heads of state from the continent took part.

Nearly four months after the start of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the African Union (AU) by video conference on 20 June.

The early afternoon virtual meeting took place behind closed doors and was led by Senegal’s Macky Sall, current AU chair, in the presence of Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission.

Africa’s support

According to an internal source, all the heads of state of the continent were invited but, aside from Macky Sall, only three of them participated from their respective presidential offices: Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire, Mohammed el-Menfi, President of the Libyan Council, and Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo.

Their other counterparts from the continent were represented by foreign ministers or ambassadors. The other African heads of state were attending a meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC), which is preparing the AU heads of state and government summit scheduled for 17 July in Lusaka, Zambia.

In his speech, which was not made public, Zelenskyy denounced the Russian aggression, asking for the support of the African continent in the face of this attack on his country’s sovereignty. He also expressed his willingness to strengthen ties with Africa once the war is over.

After speaking before the European Parliament in March and the UN Security Council in April, Zelenskyy talked to the Senegalese president by telephone. It was on this occasion that he asked Sall if he could address the AU heads of state conference.

Resisting Russian blackmail

Within the AU, Zelenskyy’s wish was met with reluctance by several member states, foremost among them South Africa. Between abstention or even support for Moscow, some twenty African countries, including Rwanda, Mali and Kenya, refused to condemn the Russian aggression during a vote at the United Nations, preferring to remain neutral.

Moreover, on 3 June, Macky Sall made a high-profile trip to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin. He pleaded the cause of Africa, threatened by an unprecedented food crisis. The continent is facing soaring prices for basic foodstuffs caused by rising oil prices in addition to difficulties in supplying agricultural inputs and certain cereal products, particularly wheat. Thirty percent of this grain consumed on the continent comes from Russia and Ukraine.

On this point, the Ukrainian president was reassuring, urging the African leaders not to give in to blackmail over the wheat shortage. He also announced that land transit routes were being considered for wheat exports.

For his part, Macky Sall called for a de-escalation of the conflict. “Africa remains committed to respecting the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the freedom of trade,” he tweeted.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options