Ukraine and Africa in Emerging Multipolar World

Russia’s ‘special military operation’ and the emerging multipolar world seem to be pushing Ukrainian President Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to prioritize Africa. Ukraine, during this critical time, is optimizing its diplomatic relations with the continent, that was never previously. Records however show that its agricultural goods, especially fertilizers, wheat and grains, are exported to a number of African countries.

At the height of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought to speak to the African Union (AU), the 55-member pan-African organization, about some aspects including the geopolitical complexities, implications and possible solutions to the existing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leader called for a virtual meeting with African heads of state, but the event failed completely. Almost all African leaders declined to participate, hampering President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s plans to make the meeting a pro-Kyiv propaganda stage. Meanwhile, the Russian government’s popularity is growing in Africa, where citizens with Russian flags take the streets and further ask for Russia’s help in combating extremism and terrorism.

On June 20, the Ukrainian president met with representatives of the African Union in order to discuss matters concerning the current conflict situation in Eastern Europe and the role of Africa on the world arena. Of the fifty-five heads of state invited to the meeting, only four attended. The other countries sent only diplomats or ministers, with the heads of state and government not willing to attend, even with the meeting being virtual.

On February 24, Russia invaded its neighbour, Ukraine and this action has sent prices of food, especially cereals and fuel higher in the markets, and the worst is the cause for the current global instability. The African Union has on several occasions waded into the crisis between Russia and Ukraine with a view to finding a lasting solution and averting the looming food shortage that hit the importing African countries.

The Chairman of the African Union and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, together with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, visited Moscow and Kyiv in an attempt to mediate the conflict, but without any result in sight. “We do not want to be aligned on this conflict, very clearly, we want peace. Even though we condemn the invasion, we’re working for a de-escalation, we’re working for a ceasefire, for dialogue … that is the African position,” Senegalese Macky Sall said far back in May.

In early March, Senegal abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution – overwhelmingly adopted – that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. According to reports, 17 African countries abstained from voting on the resolution at the United Nations. Eritrea is the only African country that voted against the UN resolution.

Almost half the continent has raised distinctive voted for the resolution. The African Union, Regional Economic organizations have officially called for the adoption of diplomacy mechanisms and negotiations through which to end the seemly endless crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, Ukraine still considers Africa as an important geopolitical region to establish officially diplomatic relations. In addition to the geopolitics, it fixes eyes on establishing economic relations and possibly widening trade with Africa.

The African Continental Free Trade Area will make Africa the largest free trade zone in the world in terms of number of countries participating, with an estimated GDP size of $3.3 trillion. The fact is that Africa has the highest population of youth in the world, to account for 42% of the global youth by 2030, making it the ripe place globally for innovation and entrepreneurship, and the outsourcing for skills for industries and services.

Arriving back to Kyiv after his visit to Washington this December, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a video address announced that Ukraine would open 10 new embassies in African countries. “We are rebooting relationships with dozens of countries in Africa. Next year, we must strengthen this. We have already determined ten countries where new Ukrainian embassies in Africa will be opened,” he said.

That Ukraine has also developed a concept of Ukraine-Africa trading house. Its representative offices will open in the capitals of the most ascendant countries on the African continent. “In addition to the existing representation of Ukraine in ten African countries, along with new embassies and trading houses, we must achieve representation in thirty countries on the African continent,” he underlined.

In June, Zelenskyy first announced his intention to expand the country’s relations with the countries of the African Union and to appoint a special representative of Ukraine in Africa. According to his explanation, Ukraine could take advantage of “colossal economic potential” and other mutual economic benefits, particularly in Africa and in the Global South. “There is colossal economic potential and considerable diplomatic avenues,” he said, and singled out votes in support of Ukraine from developing countries at the United Nations General Assembly as it fights off Russia’s 10-month-old invasion.

In August, after the unblocking of food exports as a part of the UN World Food Programme, the first grain ship with Ukrainian produce arrived to a number of African countries, since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Late December, Ukrainian media reported citing Verkhovna Rada Taras Melnichuk that government decided to increase the amount of humanitarian aid for a number of countries of Africa. The shipment, this time, to Sudan, Kenya, and Nigeria. It earlier also made deliveries to Algeria and Egypt in North Africa, and to the Horn and East Africa.

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian agricultural exports through the Black Sea sparked global grain and fertilizer shortages this year, endangering millions before a U.N.-brokered deal partially eased it in July. “We are overhauling relations with dozens of African countries,” Zelenskiy explained. “Next year, we need to strengthen this.”

Considering the future perspectives, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, was on an African tour last October, but had to interrupt due to Russia’s massive strikes across Ukraine. “I urge Africa not to stay neutral. Neutrality will only encourage Russia to continue its aggression and malign activities across the world, including in Africa. Moscow must hear your message that this war is unacceptable and must stop,” was the minister message at that time, and further called on all African nations to stand by international law, territorial integrity and peace, and condemn Russia’s deliberate attacks on Ukraine.

In the context of global turbulence, Ukraine is moving ahead to establish diplomatic footprints, and possibly to pursue new economic opportunities with its foreign policy, and at least be an integral part of the the world community. It considers Africa as a unique and dynamically developing continent with whom to have relations. In addition, that the African states are steadily gaining political weight and achieving significant economic successes, it therefore becomes necessary to look for more new partners eventually targeting 30 African countries. Welcome Ukraine to Africa.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.