The African Union (AU) warned on Thursday 25 May that Africa must not once again become a field of “geostrategic battle”, as warring Russia and Ukraine vie to increase their respective influence on the continent. The head of Ukrainian diplomacy, Dmytro Kouleba, currently on tour in several African countries, called on the continent to support kyiv against Moscow and spoke on Thursday of the adoption of a “first African strategy”.
“In this international context of confrontation, divergent geopolitical interests, the will of each other threatens to transform Africa into a geostrategic battleground, thereby recreating a new version of the Cold War”warned the chairman of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat. “In this zero-sum game, where the gains of others translate into losses for Africa, we must resist all forms of instrumentalization of our Member States”he continued.
Moussa Faki Mahamat was speaking at the African Union podium in Addis Ababa, on the occasion of the 60e anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded on May 25, 1963 in the Ethiopian capital and which became the AU in 2002.
Africa is at the heart of international struggles for influence which have intensified since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Many African countries are very dependent for their food on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine. An agreement allowing the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, sponsored by the UN and Turkey and concluded in 2022, was renewed last week for two months.
A “first Ukraine-Africa summit”
Hit by heavy Western sanctions, Moscow is seeking support in Asia and Africa, where many states have not openly condemned the Russian military intervention. Russia has multiplied initiatives on the continent in recent years, aimed at posing as an alternative to the former colonial powers. A Russia-Africa summit, the second of its kind, is scheduled for the end of July in Saint Petersburg. At the beginning of the year, the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov also visited several African countries, including Mali, Eritrea and Sudan.
For his part, his Ukrainian counterpart is making his second African tour in less than a year. “We recently adopted our first African strategy and intensified our political dialogue with many countries on the continent”said Thursday Mr. Kouleba, in a statement published on the occasion of the 60e anniversary of the OAU. He announced the opening this year of new Ukrainian embassies in Africa and the organization of the “first Ukraine-Africa summit”.
Mr. Kouleba was Thursday in Rwanda, after Morocco and Ethiopia. On Wednesday, in Addis Ababa, he called on certain African countries to give up the “neutrality” they display in the conflict and to support kyiv against Moscow. In February, 22 of the 54 AU member states abstained or did not vote on the latest UN General Assembly resolution calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. Two states – Eritrea and Mali – voted against. Countries like Senegal and South Africa abstained.
At the same time, an African mission led by six African leaders to discuss a settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, and whose announcement was made by Pretoria, must go to Ukraine and Russia. According to Mr. Lavrov, this mission which will include in addition to South Africa, Senegal, Zambia, Congo, Uganda and Egypt, is expected in Russia in June or July.
At the AU podium on Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for his part called for strengthening the unity of Africa. “Today, our continent (…) quickly becoming a strong voice in the global arena”he rejoiced.