The African Union chief met with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on Friday and urged him to release much-needed grain stocks stuck in Ukraine, as many countries in Africa and the Middle East face rising levels. alarming hunger and starvation.
Macky Sall, president of Senegal and current president of the regional organization of 54 African countries, said Russia’s grain blockade threatens food insecurity on the continent. Speaking at a press conference alongside Mr Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Mr Sall also said Western sanctions against Russia had worsened Africa’s lack of access to cereals.
“Our countries, although they are far from the theatre”, declared Mr. Sall, “are victims of this crisis on the economic level”.
The meeting between Mr. Sall and Mr. Putin comes as tens of millions of people in Africa are on the brink of severe hunger and even starvation. On Friday, Chad, a landlocked country of 17 million people, declared a food emergency and the United Nations warned that nearly a third of the country’s population would need humanitarian aid this year.
African countries are extremely dependent on cereals from Russia and Ukraine, which account for more than 40% of the continent’s wheat imports. Countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal depend on the two countries for more than 60% of these imports. In Egypt, this figure is 80%, while Benin and Somalia are entirely dependent on Russia and Ukraine for the supply of wheat.
African countries also depend on fertilizers from Ukraine, and shortages will affect this year’s planting season and will be felt throughout next year, the UN development agency has warned.
Given that pressure from Western leaders to free Ukraine’s grain exports has not worked, there were hopes that a more neutral voice such as Mr. Sall’s might reach Mr. Putin.
“For Putin, it’s nicer to have Africa in front of him than Europe or the United States,” said Ousmane Sene, director of the West African Research Center, a think tank in Dakar. However, Mr. Sène added: “It’s a bit like David going to Goliath.
Mr Putin has told European leaders he is ready to release grain blocked in Ukraine provided some Western sanctions against Russia are lifted. Russia has also claimed that mines laid by Ukraine are impeding wheat shipments.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Mr Putin planned to give Mr Sall a detailed explanation from Russia’s point of view and explain “what needs to be done to allow the flow of grain to resume”.
Pauline Bax, deputy director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group, said that while the European Union has called Russia the “bad guy” responsible for the ongoing food crisis, some members of the African Union have argued that EU sanctions were at fault.
That assertion was embraced by some of Russia’s key allies like South Africa, and on Friday Mr Sall also argued that sanctions against Russia have only worsened grain access problems. for African countries.
Mr Sall, who addressed a European Union summit this week, said at the press conference with Mr Putin that he had reminded European leaders of the food crisis, saying “Yes, there is war, crisis, but there are also sanctions. We have to work on both fronts.”