WITH their traditional multiplicity bright colours, a host of African heads of state swamped Russia’s mega-business city of St Petersburg, their massive presence giving impetus to the growing debate around the extent to which the international world order is being reconfigured.
More than 20 African leaders led by the African Union (AU) Chair Azali Assoumani this week attended the second round of the Russia-Africa summit dubbed “economic and humanitarian forum”.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the prominent heads of state to grace the event. He was accompanied by the Minister of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor.
The significance of this year’s round of the Russia-Africa summit was accentuated by the strenuous attempts by the US, EU and Nato to isolate Russia on the international stage following the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict nearly 18 months ago.
A barrage of unprecedented western sanctions have thus far failed to collapse the Russian economy, instead creating new alternatives that include increased trade in gas and oil, among others, across the global south.
Majority of African nations have flatly refused to cut their co-operation with the Russian Federation despite intense pressure from the West. It is a rare expression of independence of thought on the part of Africa, a continent that is oftentimes a diplomatic playground of the wealthier Western nations that tie their geopolitical strategy to donations.
This time, majority of Africa has declared their non-aligned stance and continue with their business as usual with Russia.
All in all, some 49 African countries took part in the Russia-Africa summit, the exception being only five nations that include Niger, where a military coup this week marked the country’s political instability.
Also absent, too, was Ghana, once Africa’s bread basket that has now turned into a basket case that struggles to service its foreign debt and lately pay civil servants irregularly.
Delivering his keynote address at the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Western powers of hypocrisy and uncompromising commitment to the US-led hegemony that is characterised by a divisive unipolar world order.
President Putin said the Western powers peddled lies about the persistent global food insecurity. Russia has all but pulled out of the just over 1-year-old Turkey and UN-brokered grain deal from the Black Sea to the international markets.
The deal was thrashed out with the expressed intent to alleviate the rising shortage of fertilizer, wheat and unbearable food prices, particularly in the developing economies.
However, President Putin said that Ukrainian grain that Russia’s naval security allowed to depart the Black Sea reached the intended poorer countries in very small quantities.
The bulk of it, up to almost 80%, went to the “high-end economies” in Europe and across the West. This has irked the Kremlin a great deal, and President Putin has signalled Russia’s plan not to renew the deal.
AU Chair Assoumani, who is also the President of the Comoros, highlighted the adverse global implications should Russia withdraw from the grain-shipping deal.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day summit, President Assoumani explicitly spelt out the continent’s fears about the protracted continuation of the Ukraine war.
He recently led a delegation of African Statesmen on an initiative better-known as the African Peace Mission to both Kyiv and Moscow in a bold effort to broker a peace deal to end the costly conflict.
The appeal for an end of hostilities continued to feature as Assoumani’s main theme in St Petersburg this week. He said: “I have no choice but to notice today that with the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the future of this partnership will be under threat should the crisis persist. Therefore, we need to find a resolution to the crisis in order to try to save the thousands of people who depend on these imports.”
He further added that ending the conflict would practically lead to the saving of lives in Africa and the rest of the global south.
The continent’s economic food security has been severely endangered by the conflict-related interruption of supplies. Russian fertilizers have barely made it to their planned destinations, a nagging factor not lost to the Kremlin.
As a consequence, President Putin announced, to loud applause during his opening address, that Russia planned free delivery of grain to at least six of the economically struggling African countries.
The shipments should be ready within a space of four months. The benefiting countries are Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Mali, Somali, the Central African Republic and Eritrea. The half-a-dozen countries will each receive 25 000 to 50 000 tons of grain, President Putin announced. All costs of shipments will be covered by the Russian government.
At the end of day two of the summit, presidents Putin and Assoumani both returned to address the media, outlining some of the adopted resolutions at the packed event.
There was a St Petersburg Declaration adopted by the summit, President Putin announced, and referred to it as a living proof of enduring commitment to building a new multipolar world where all countries – irrespective of economic size and geographic location – would be treated fairly.
The St Petersburg Declaration is a 74-point document that outlines the vast areas of co-operation between Russia and Africa. These include education, sport, arts, culture, energy, cyber security, health and human capital development, among others.
Said President Putin: “The declaration shows the commitment of all our states to the formation of a just and democratic multipolar world order based on the universally recognised principles of international law and the UN Charter.”
For his part in his closing remarks, President Assoumani said that Africa’s greatest wish was to see the Ukraine war ended with a ceasefire. He said President Putin had expressed his desire and readiness to enter into the negotiations aimed at ending the war.
He said the African leaders would re-double their efforts in engaging with the Western countries that are funding Ukraine and doing the public war-talk in an endeavour to pursue them to end the war.
It was a week in which Russia demonstrated that it is not as internationally isolated. Scores of people who attended the summit also gave credence to claims that Moscow still enjoy enormous amount of support across the global south.
As President Assoumani pointed out, Russia has always been a friend of Africa and it is time to take the friendship to a new level.