Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the African Union (AU) via videoconference. A meeting finally held behind closed doors, from which only a few elements leaked out.
Under pressure from Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz, the incumbent chair of the African Union (AU), Macky Sall, tried to gather as many heads of state from the continent as possible for a meeting with the Ukrainian president. Volodymyr Zelensky.
In the end, only two presidents were interested in what the ex-comedian had to say to Africa. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, along with Macky Sall and his Congolese counterpart Denis Sassou N'Guesso, were the only ones interested in the meeting held on Monday 20 June.
For the AU, organizing the meeting with Zelensky was a way of highlighting the neutrality of the pan-African organization vis-à-vis the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Indeed, before and after his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Senegalese President Macky Sall was urged by his Western counterparts to travel to kyiv to see Zelensky as well.
In the end, Macky Sall simply promised to organize a high-level summit with African heads of state “who wish” to speak with the Ukrainian president.
ukrainian president @ZelenskyyUa addressed the @_AfricanUnion Assembly today. We reiterated the AU position of the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict to allow peace to return to the Region and to restore global stability. pic.twitter.com/1RaIIp2UbC
- Moussa Faki Mahamat (@AUC_MoussaFaki) June 20, 2022
A "High Level Summit" that does not fly high
Things promised, things due. This Monday's meeting brought together Macky Sall, Denis Sassou N'Guesso, Volodymyr Zelensky... And that's it. On the interface of the call, we also see the management, and from the premises of the AU in Addis Ababa, the president of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki.
Some ambassadors and ministers representing Algeria, South Africa, the DRC, Nigeria and Egypt in particular also listened to Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as the head of the Libyan Presidential Council.
The symbolism is overwhelming: the other African presidents have simply boycotted the Ukrainian president. Moreover, the AU decided to hold the meeting behind closed doors at the last minute. A detail that has aroused the annoyance of the Western media, which believe that "African heads of state would like to prevent Zelensky's 'outspokenness' from feeding the press headlines", according to the editorialists of France24.
Two initial declarations emanated from the meeting. First, the Senegalese Head of State and AU Chairperson, Macky Sall, thanked Zelensky “for his friendly address to the virtual meeting of the AU Extended Bureau”.
"Africa remains committed to respect for the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and freedom of trade," says Macky Sall. The AU therefore maintains the same position, with priority for the return of Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertilizer exports. An urgent issue for a majority of African countries.
For his part, Volodymyr Zelensky declared: “Africa is in reality a hostage. He is a hostage of those who started the war against our state”. The Ukrainian president reiterated his accusations for Russia, which he said would block Ukrainian grain exports.
I thank the President @ZelenskyyUa for his friendly address today to the virtual meeting of the Extended Bureau of the@_AfricanUnion. Africa remains committed to respect for the rules of international law, the peaceful resolution of conflicts and freedom of trade. pic.twitter.com/63jZCvamix
- Macky Sall (@Macky_Sall) June 20, 2022
What are the relations between Volodymyr Zelensky's Ukraine and Africa?
Be that as it may, this meeting between the AU and Zelensky is not without context. Since taking office in 2019, diplomacy between Ukraine and African countries has suffered a setback due to the drastic reduction in rights for foreign students in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelensky's desire to subsequently join NATO created a dilemma for the African countries closest to Russia. In this case Algeria, Angola, South Africa and Equatorial Guinea.
But it is especially since the beginning of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia that more and more African diplomats condemn the double standards of treatment of African nationals. Volodymyr Zelensky said in February that any African students who leave Ukraine “will not be welcome there once the war is over”. Not to mention, of course, the scandal of the humanitarian corridors. Africans fleeing the war have come up against the European Union's refusal to welcome them on the same basis as Ukrainian refugees.
Then, at the end of last February, the Ukrainian embassy in Senegal enlisted several dozen Senegalese to fight in Ukraine. An appeal decried by the Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which condemned "this practice which constitutes a violation of the obligation to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State".
So if Volodymyr Zelensky comes today to beg for greater African support, he seems to neglect that the variable geometry emotion that his case provokes in the Western media means almost nothing to Africans. But, also, his statements against Russia are also dull in the eyes of the AU. Maybe by agreeing to relaunch grain trade with African countries from its ports, Zelensky will be able to buy a little goodwill from African diplomats.