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Why Russia and Ukraine are in competition for African markets

While Africa heavily relies on Ukraine and Russia for its food security, both countries need the African market to sustain themselves in a war that has raged on for the past four months.

Hence, whoever manages to get their grain and fertilizer to Africa would be in a better position to withstand the pressure.

Last week, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, in a telephone interview with South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, spoke about food security and how Russia could resume exports to the country.

“Issues of food security, including supplies of Russian agricultural products and fertilizers to the African continent, in particular to South Africa, were discussed in detail,” reads a statement released by the Russian presidency after the conversation.

Speaking at a media briefing on Thursday, which News24 attended, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, pleaded with African countries not to buy grain offered by Russia because it was allegedly stolen.

“Do not buy stolen Ukrainian grain, and respect the fact that we were always reliable suppliers for you. Help us to solve the existing problem and we will continue trading with you on good terms.

“The Russians steal grain from the temporarily occupied territories in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine. Facts prove that up to 400 000 tons of grain crops have already been stolen as of May,” he said.

He made it clear that, without the African market, Ukraine was doomed.

“We are as badly interested in selling our crops as you [Africa] are in buying them because what is food for you is revenue to our budget for us.

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“And, for Ukraine, this means a lot. This is a big amount of money. And, in times of war, when our economy is shrinking, when we lost a good amount of GDP because of the Russian bombardments and occupation, this money makes a difference for us,” he said.

Ukraine’s biggest wheat markets in Africa are Tunisia (46%), Egypt and Ethiopia (each at around 26%, respectively), followed by Morocco (15%).

Overall, Ukraine provides 10% of the world’s wheat.

Egypt relies on 26% of Ukrainian goods, in its corn imports, while 14% of the world’s corn and 47% of all sunflower oil come from Ukraine.

Kuleba added that Russia could survive the war because of its oil and gas.

“Russia will make its money on selling gas and oil. Russia has enough wheat to feed itself – but, for us, for you, this crisis is unbearable,” he said.

Picking sides

At the beginning of the war, 17 African states abstained from voting for a United Nations resolution which condemned the invasion and called for the immediate withdrawal of Russia’s forces. This was seen as a middle-of-the-road approach, but a subtle siding with Russia.

Since then, Putin has managed to address African Union (AU) leaders, spoken to some separately, and met face-to-face with the AU’s chairperson, Senegal’s Macky Sall.

On the other hand, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky tried twice to address the AU, only succeeding on the third attempt last week.

However, the virtual meeting was only attended by four African leaders.

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With a clear understanding that Africa was more inclined to Russia’s interests, Kuleba pleaded with Africa to understand that Russia was seeking to become a colonial master, something Africa came out of in the last half of the 20th century.

He said: “If Russia succeeds here in Ukraine, this will be a clear message to the entire international community, and to all countries who want to attack their neighbours, that there is no world order that can protect them. There is no international law that can protect them. That the mighty can do whatever it wants to impose its will on the other’s part.”

“They’re not the empire, and we are not their colony anymore. We are two sovereign nations,” he said.

Kuleba said Ukraine now had an African policy in place, from which the country would seek to have embassies and relations with all African member states.

Part of that charm offensive was sharing agricultural technology with African countries.

“We’re very advanced in digitalising our economy. We are happy to build bonds and partnerships with African countries to bring our technologies to your countries, so that you can benefit from them,” he said.

Zelensky will have a face-to-face meeting with Sall at the G7 summit.

The summit will have the war in Ukraine as a major topic.

Russia used to be part of the extended G8 summit, but was suspended in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine.

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