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.
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.
Je remercie le Président @ZelenskyyUa pour son adresse conviviale de ce jour à la réunion virtuelle du Bureau élargi de l’@_AfricanUnion. L’Afrique reste attachée au respect des règles du droit international, à la résolution pacifique des conflits et à la liberté du commerce. pic.twitter.com/63jZCvamix— Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) June 20, 2022
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