Ukraine Appeals to African Leaders
Moscow has been winning the propaganda war across the continent. Can Kyiv change perceptions?
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Ethiopia’s civil war escalates as peace talks fail, Lesotho’s opposition wins elections, and Egypt calls on the British Museum to return the Rosetta Stone.
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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Cuts Africa Visit Short
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday cut short his tour of the African continent as Russia escalated its bombings of key Ukrainian cities. Kuleba’s visit, which started on Oct. 3 in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, was the first African tour in the history of Ukrainian diplomacy and was part of a charm offensive to get the continent to choose sides in the war.
Seven countries in the Horn and north of Africa are heavily impacted by the ongoing war because their grain supplies come mainly from Russia and Ukraine. Egypt—which accounts for the majority of Africa’s total wheat imports—gets more than 80 percent from Russia and Ukraine. There has been a struggle for hearts and minds on the issue of grain shortages and who is to blame for spiraling food costs. Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to blame sanctions against Russia—which impact its agricultural sector and export capability—as the primary reason for rising food prices.
Meanwhile, Western leaders have accused the Kremlin of using food as a weapon in the war through a blockade of Ukrainian exports. However, Putin has claimed that “almost all” the Ukrainian grain shipped under a U.N.-backed deal to end that blockade and deliver food to poorer nations has gone to countries in the European Union, an accusation that Ukraine denies. The first U.N.-chartered vessel carrying Ukrainian grain docked in Djibouti on Aug. 30 as part of a humanitarian response to the drought gripping the Horn of Africa.
In Senegal, Kuleba promised Kyiv would be sending “boats full of seeds for Africa.” “We will do our best until the last breath to continue exporting Ukrainian grain to Africa and the world for food security,” Kuleba said as he addressed the press alongside Senegalese Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall.
His speech had sought to dispel some of the Kremlin’s rhetoric. Moscow has tried to paint Western actions as a form of neo-imperialism, arguing that the West expects African leaders to automatically back its position and that the reason for the war is Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO.
“I do not come to Africa against anyone,” Kuleba said. “We must strengthen our cooperation. Our future depends on the relationships we build and what happens every day.” He added further: “The Senegalese may be surprised if they listen to Russian propaganda. Russia wanted to make believe that [the war is because] Ukraine wants to be a member of NATO. Finland wants to be a member. And yet Russia did not attack it.”
In the Ivory Coast, Kuleba said the two countries were focused on boosting cooperation in digital transformation, agriculture, and education.
Kuleba’s tour came shortly after his Russian and U.S. counterparts returned from Africa. Many countries in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have also sought a policy of neutrality over the war as they seek to protect their own national interests and avoid being drawn into the war. Nevertheless, pressure on African countries to pick a side is causing further divisions between Africa and the United States and Europe.
In a confidential report circulated among diplomats in Brussels and obtained by Devex in July, European officials suggested: “It is not enough to say that ‘EU sanctions are not responsible for the food crisis’, we need more substance and sharper LTTs [lines to take], including from EU Headquarters. Not only on sanctions, but also on cases where we have been accused of double standards and on the fact that the longer the war takes, the more our resources are going to be stretched.”
The report added: “Many AUMS [AU member states] do not identify an interest in taking sides in what they perceive as an ‘East-West’ conflict.” The Soviet Union aided many African countries in the fight for independence from colonial rule, a historical legacy that Russia has played on to maintain its clout. It is also clear that African countries could become a lifeline in terms of natural resources for an extremely isolated Russia. It doesn’t help that many Africans—based on anecdotal conversations in numerous countries—seem to view Ukrainians as racist, due to reports of mistreatment of Ukraine-based African students fleeing the country in the early days of the war.
Despite the visits, many Africans are not interested in the tussle over regional influence between Moscow and Kyiv. There has been muted coverage of both the Russian and Ukrainian visits in local media. In Nigeria, for example, few channels devoted airtime to the speeches made by the visiting officials.
More importantly, India and China, two of Africa’s top economic partners, on Monday renewed calls for de-escalation and dialogue. Ultimately, the sustained deadly missile strikes across Ukraine could force African leaders to take a bolder stance against Russia’s aggression.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Oct. 12: The IMF and World Bank host annual meetings in Washington.
Thursday, Oct. 13: Kenyan Central Bank Gov. Patrick Njoroge takes part in a discussion on the sidelines of the IMF annual meetings.
Thursday, Oct. 13, to Friday, Oct. 14: A further legal challenge to the U.K.-Rwanda refugee asylum deal will be heard at the High Court in London.
Monday, Oct. 17: The U.N. Security Council discusses its mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
Tuesday, Oct. 18: The Security Council discusses its mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
Thursday, Oct. 20: The 11th anniversary of the capture and killing of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Sunday, Oct. 23: The 11th anniversary of the declaration of Libya’s liberation.
What We’re Watching
Ethiopia talks postponed. Peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan rebels were postponed last Friday, just as countries voted to extend a U.N.-mandated commission in Ethiopia, which found “reasonable grounds to believe” that both warring parties had committed grave human rights violations.
The resolution brought by the Czech Republic on behalf of the European Union passed with 21 votes in favor, 19 against, and seven abstentions. All African members on the U.N. Human Rights Council rejected the resolution.
The failed peace talks recently proposed by the African Union are the latest setback for those seeking an end to a conflict that has left millions of people at risk of severe hunger. The Tigray region has been under a blockade since the beginning of the war, with limited humanitarian aid reaching civilians.
The talks were reportedly postponed for logistical reasons as key participants were not given enough notice. Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was appointed by current Kenyan President William Ruto as one of the mediators, pulled out because of “conflicts” in his schedule.
Is Russia exploiting Africa? The United States has accused Russian mercenaries of exploiting natural resources in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, and elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East to help fund Moscow’s war in Ukraine. “Make no mistake: People across Africa are paying a heavy price for the Wagner Group’s exploitative practices and human rights violations,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told a U.N. Security Council meeting on the financing of armed groups
Russia rejected the remarks as “anti-Russian rage.” Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vassily Nebenzia, said that “this exposes their real plans and aims—what they really need from African countries,” without offering further explanation on what he was referring to. A 2019 study by the Washington-based nonprofit C4ADS, which obtained Russian and Sudanese flight and customs records, revealed the extent of Russian profits from gold smuggled out of Sudan.
But in other countries, these cases do not involve shadowy outfits such as Wagner. A 2018 investigation by Finance Uncovered showed how Burkina Faso reportedly missed out on an estimated $16.5 million in gold mining royalties through low tax guarantees that benefited Russian mining billionaires.
Lesotho elections. A recently founded party led by millionaire diamond magnate Sam Matekane has won Lesotho’s parliamentary elections. The Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party, formed in March, secured at least 56 seats. Matekane formed a coalition government with two other small opposition parties. The party ran on a campaign of strengthening the governance of state institutions.
The outgoing ruling party, All Basotho Convention (ABC), which has been in office since 2017, won only eight of the National Assembly’s 120 seats.
Chad’s president extends term. Chad’s military leader, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, was officially sworn in as president on Monday after a contentious national dialogue organized by the junta he leads ended on Oct. 8. Key opposition groups refused to take part in the dialogue. The resulting resolutions postponed democratic elections for another two years while Déby is in office. Déby is the son of ex-President Idriss Déby and has been in power since his father’s death fighting rebels in April 2021. An 18-month political transition led by Déby was scheduled to end this month, but the outcome of the so-called dialogue allows Déby to run for president in any upcoming election.
This Week in Culture
Return of the Rosetta Stone. Sept. 27 marked the 200th anniversary of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, a fragment of written decrees issued by Egyptian priests during the reign of Ptolemy V (204-180 B.C.). Of the three inscriptions on the stone of the same text, written in two ancient Egyptian scripts—hieroglyphic and Demotic—and ancient Greek, only the Greek has been translated.
It has been housed in London at the British Museum since 1802. Egyptian scholars and archaeologists have renewed their demand for the stone’s return. Their call has garnered some 2,500 signatures on an online petition, as well as some support from British academics.
Before the stone’s shipment to London, Arab scholars from the 10th to 17th century had already made progress on deciphering the hieroglyphs but without credit. “The stone is a symbol of cultural violence. The stone is a symbol of cultural imperialism,” Monica Hanna, the acting dean of the College of Archaeology in the Egyptian city of Aswan and one of the archaeologists campaigning for the Rosetta Stone’s return, told Reuters. “I am sure all these objects eventually are going to be restituted because the ethical code of museums is changing—it’s just a matter of when.”
Egypt says the return of the stone would also significantly boost tourism. “Egyptian antiquities are one of the most important tourism assets that Egypt possesses, which distinguish it from tourist destinations worldwide,” Ahmed Issa, Egypt’s minister of tourism and antiquities, said at an event to mark the anniversary.
Chart of the Week
Nigerian authorities said on Sunday that about 58 illegal tapping points have so far been discovered on oil pipelines running through Delta and Bayelsa states. In September, Nigeria lost its position as Africa’s top oil producer for the third time this year, according to OPEC data. Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari said oil theft was putting the Nigerian economy in a precarious situation. The Nigerian National Petroleum Co. has estimated that crude oil theft costs the country $700 million per month.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• How Far Will Xi Go to Help a Desperate Putin? by Craig Singleton
• Russia’s Army Keeps Collapsing After Falling Back in Kherson by Jack Detsch
• Mobilization Can’t Save Russia’s War by Doug Klain
What We’re Reading
Lesotho’s failed reforms. Last Friday, Lesotho’s citizens voted in legislative elections based on the country’s old constitutional framework rather than the draft reforms that were meant to be enacted before the vote. The proposed changes were passed under a state of emergency but were then vetoed as “unlawful” by the country’s constitutional court. In the Conversation, Hoolo ‘Nyane argues that those in government are not interested in passing the reforms because it would limit their “unfettered powers,” including curtailing nepotism when appointing ambassadors.
Preserving Egyptian languages. In New Lines, Lydia Wilson writes on efforts by some Egyptians to actively speak and write in Coptic, one of the languages of ancient Egyptians that was initially written in hieroglyphs. “Whether it flourishes in this living form is down to a fringe group but one that hopes to spread the word, literally,” she writes.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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