Russia’s Putin keeps his word on the free supply of grain to Africa

President Vladimir Putin made a surprise announcement of a free supply of grain to at least six poverty-stricken countries in Africa. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/EPA

President Vladimir Putin made a surprise announcement of a free supply of grain to at least six poverty-stricken countries in Africa. Picture: Alexander Zemlianichenko/EPA

Published Dec 10, 2023


DURING the Russia-Africa Summit 2023 that was held in July in the majestic city of St Petersburg – named after the major historical Russian figure Alexander the Great, President Vladimir Putin made a surprise announcement of a free supply of grain to at least six poverty-stricken countries in Africa.

The significance of the announcement was not merely on the extent of Russia’s generosity to the African continent. Putin made the announcement in the wake of a barrage of unprecedented economic sanctions imposed by the West on his country following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

I still count myself extremely fortunate to have been able to attend the Summit in person, thanks to the invitation from the Russian state oil and gas company, Gazprom.

So, I was present inside the plenary hall, where more than 40 African heads of state were mingling in bilateral and multilateral talks on the side-lines of the Summit.

The Russia-Africa 2023 also attracted great global media attention and curiosity had heightened, particularly across the West, over the extent of the impact of the US-led NATO sanctions against Russia.

That Africa exhibited unrestrained enthusiasm to show up in person in Russia told another story, which is that Moscow had not been as isolated as the West had wished.

So, when the three-day Summit attended by a plethora of African leaders led by the AU Chair who is also President of the Union of the Comoros, Azali Assoumani, proved a resounding success without any reasonable doubt, the international community stood in both awe and shock at the aura of President Putin and his powerful and unshaken standing in international affairs.

But I return to President Putin’s unexpected promise to help alleviate hunger and starvation in the hardest-hit economies in Africa. He identified them as Zimbabwe, Mali, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Somalia and Eritrea.

Truth be told, President Putin appeared to be a man of his word, making true his promise to supply free grain to the continent.

At the beginning of last month, a Russian ship with 25 000 tons of wheat “for humanitarian aid to Africa left the Russian city of Novorossiysk”, according to confirmation from the Federal Customs Service of Russia.

The 25 000 tons of the Russian humanitarian wheat left in two ships, and was en route to Somalia and Burkina Faso, the other two selected struggling economies selected by President Putin as among the early beneficiaries.

The destinations were confirmed by the Minister of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Patrushev.

He added that “Russia will deliver to Africa up to 200 000 tons of Russian wheat free of charge by the end of 2023”.

Three weeks ago Turkey, a strategic ally of Russia that played a pivotal role in thrashing out a grain deal with Ukraine and the UN, announced that it will start to mill Russian grain “for African nations in need”.

The announcement was made by Turkish Agriculture and Forestry Minister, Ibrahim Yumakli. He added that Turkey will also organise transportation of the Russian grain to needy countries in Africa through various mechanisms.

Yumakli added: “Earlier, 33 million tons of agricultural products were sent through this region (Turkey) to countries in need, which helped save the world from the food crisis. Our President (Erdogan) said that Russian grain in the form of flour will be sent to African countries. We will turn grain into flour, send it through various mechanisms (to Africa),” he said.

Qatar, alongside Turkey, will also facilitate the processing and delivery of Russia grain to the countries in need that President Putin had identified.

The free grain to Africa as part of Russia’s humanitarian programme also prompted Nelson Mandela’s great-grandson, Mayibuye Melisizwe Mandela to remark as follows: “Russia’s approach to African countries has always been the same. They don’t ask about, ‘oh we did this during the struggle for liberation of South Africa. So what are you doing for us? The say ‘no, we are still here as your friends.”

He further said that the “West’s attempts to isolate Russia and Africa will end with the opposite results”.

Burkinabe activist, Ludovic Tapsoba, who is also the deputy secretary general of the Association of Former Students and Trainees of the Former USSR, said the arrival of the free Russian grain in Somalia was “a needed gesture”.

He explained: “This gesture is urgently needed. It will save thousands of chronically malnourished children from various African countries facing security challenges”. He continued: “This shows that Russia is not indifferent to the problems of African countries facing grain shortages.”

Methinks that is the plain truth about Russia’s genuine affinity with Africa. It dates back to the days of the former Soviet Union, which coincided with rampant Western colonialism throughout Africa.

It remains a fact that Russia never colonised anyone African nation. Instead, from the days of the USSR, Russia became a safe haven for the African freedom fighters, including Mandela, Joshua Nkomo of Zimbabwe, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Samora Machel of Mozambique, Angola’s Agostinho Neto and many more.

Many heroes and heroines of the African struggle studied in Russia for free and were taken great care of by their hosts. Some died in Russian hospitals, such as South Africa’s great warriors Moses Kotane and JB Marks. They were given heroes burials in Moscow where they laid in the heroes’ acre of the cemetery until their remains were exhumed jointly by the Russian and democratic SA officials and reburied on home soil.

This is not a fabricated history. Its truth and essence lies behind the high esteem with which Russia is regarded across the African continent.

No amount of Western pressure can succeed to suppress Africa’s close ties with Russia. The roots of the relationship run too deep.

The powerful nations of the West enslaved Africans through slavery and colonialism. It is a source of deep pain that refuses to heal. But it also serves to explain why, in the midst of a well-orchestrated Western campaign of Russophobia, Africa blatantly refuses to be dragged in a battle that is not Africa's.

The West has attempted through various forms of grants to their former colonies, trying to appear caring. They have used the World Bank and the IMF as trusted international lenders, yet they set out stringent conditions in the form of among others, structural adjustment”, that basically dictated to Africa what form of government and leadership must exist in their countries.

It has been a modern-day slavery and colonialism returning in different forms.

Russia’s honesty about its desire and determination to help Africa’s most distressed economies with free grain in order to push back hunger, starvation and hardship, does not need too much hard-work to sell as an act of compassion and love for the continent.

The rise of BRICS-Plus and the growing unity across the global south ensure that a country such as Russia will continue to be a player of great significance in global affairs.

The hostility of the West against Moscow is a game Africa refuses to join in. It’s a war of the making by the West alone. He who maketh a bed must lie on it.

As for relations between Russia and the continent, there can be no doubt that they will continue to grow, and blossom. Food security is a human right that Russia unconditionally offers Africa, and graciously – the continent receives.

Geopolitics is truly undergoing great changes. The voiceless have rediscovered their voice, and the treachery of the few but powerful states of the global north have been caught out in their agenda to keep Africa under their yoke. Not anymore. Russia proves that a friend in need is a friend indeed.