Lavrov shows his diplomatic influence in Africa

A handout photo made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press service shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Jean-Claude Gakosso, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Congo (R) attending a joint press conference in the town of Oyo, Congo, July 25, 2022

While Russia is isolated in the West for waging war in Ukraine, the red carpet was rolled out for Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during his tour of four African countries.

Lavrov’s visit showed that Russia still has the diplomatic muscle to challenge the West for the hearts and minds of African governments, as he visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Congo -Brazzaville.

Most African nations – including Nigeria and Kenya, the economic powerhouses of West Africa and East Africa respectively – voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution in Marchcondemning Russian “aggression” and demanding its withdrawal from Ukraine.

However, nearly half of all abstentions – 17 – were from Africa.

Countries on that list included South Africa – which feels indebted to Moscow for its support in the fight against the white minority regime – and Uganda, which is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement, a global body formed during the Cold War. by countries that wanted to avoid being caught up in the rivalry between the Western powers and the communist bloc.

During a press conference with Mr. Lavrov, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni reiterated his position of neutrality on the conflict in Ukraine.

“We don’t believe in being enemies of someone’s enemy,” he said.

For Lavrov, the visit was important to counter claims that Russia is “exporting hunger” to Africa. He blamed sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries for soaring grain prices.

A farmer carries a bundle of wheat after harvesting it in a field in Al Qalyubia governorate, Egypt, May 19, 2022

Many families struggle to survive as food prices rise

It offered no assistance to African states to cushion the effects of the cost of living crisis.

Contrast that with US announcements pledging African states $1.3bn (£1bn) to fight hunger or the Food and Agriculture Resilience Mission (FARM) initiative ) led by France to help African agriculture.

French President Emmanuelle Macron is on her own tour of Africa this week, visiting Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.

In Cameroon, he said: “We are blamed by some who say that European sanctions are the cause of the global food crisis, including in Africa. It is totally false. Food, like energy, have become Russian weapons of war.

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the opening of a hybrid art exhibition in Cotonou, Benin, on June 27, 2022, during Macron's official visit to the Republic of Benin

French President Emmanuel Macron tries to strengthen relations with former colonies in Africa

Against this view, Mr Lavrov said the food crisis started with the Covid pandemic, but acknowledged that “the situation in Ukraine has also affected the food market”.

In Egypt, Mr. Lavrov assured that Russian grain exporters would respect their “commitments”.

Egypt’s economy is more dependent on Russia than that of many other African states. About 80% of its wheat imports come from Russia and Ukraine, and a third of its foreign tourists are Russians.

Russia has also laid the foundation for a $26 billion nuclear power plant in Egypt.

Traditionally, Moscow’s trade with Africa has focused on defense – from the sale of automatic rifles to fighter jets. More recently, Russian mercenaries have been deployed in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR) to help government forces quell insurgencies.

During his tour, Lavrov also focused on the Russia-Africa summit to be held in Ethiopia in October, where trade and defense agreements could be signed to strengthen relations.

Hot on his heels, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer is also visiting Egypt and Ethiopia, while US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield will visit next week. next in Uganda and Ghana.

The West is keen to make its own impression and perhaps remind African countries that it offers much more in terms of trade and aid.

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Christi C. Elwood