Africa poses as arbiter between Russia and Ukraine

Taking advantage of the strong abstention of African countries during the adoption of the resolution condemning the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the Senegalese presidency of the African Union poses as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine. A risky bet for Macky Sall

A column by Francis Sahel

Regardless of the result, the approach has already produced its impact: by taking the initiative of phoning Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday March 9, his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall, current President of the African Union, created the surprise of totally unexpected African mediation in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

Putin’s diplomatic breakthrough

Along with sixteen other African countries, Senegal, though reputed to be a faithful ally of France, abstained on 9 bitters from condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine before the United Nations General Assembly. Looking closely at the vote of the African states, it is not only Moscow’s historic allies in Africa (Algeria, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville) that abstained. As a sign of the evolution of Russia’s return to Africa, other states on the continent such as Uganda, Tanzania and even South Africa have chosen to abstain. And that’s not all: 21 other countries on the continent, including many French-speaking countries such as Cameroon, Togo and Mali, have chosen to play absentee subscribers by deliberately refusing to take part in the vote.

Between very strong abstentions and boycott of the vote, the position taken by African countries at the United Nations reflects the clear diplomatic, economic and even military breakthrough of Russia in Africa in recent years. In 2018, economic exchanges between Russia and Africa were already around 20 billion dollars. When he received his African counterparts in Sochi the following year, President Putin undertook to double the volume of trade between his country and the African continent. In addition to the economic lever, the Russian breakthrough in Africa is reflected in military matters both in terms of the sale of equipment, the sending of instructors as well as the presence of the private security company Wagner in the Central African Republic, in Mali, in Mozambique. Russia has just concluded a bilateral agreement with Sudan for the installation of a military base in this African country.

The revolutionary accents of Macky Sall

Behind Macky Sall’s offer of mediation, appears the desire of the Senegalese head of state to leave his mark on his presidency of the African Union. Promoted to the head of the pan-African organization in early February, President Sall took advantage of the 6th African Union/European Union summit to indicate that he did not intend to settle for a purely ceremonial role. He had openly criticized the nature of the Euro-African partnership and pleaded for equal relations between Africa and Europe.

With « revolutionary » accents, Macky Sall went so far as to denounce the hypocrisy of Europe, which is today asking Africa not to use fossil fuels even though it has used them abundantly for its development in the past. Before going to Brussels, the Senegalese Head of State stopped in Paris where he attended alongside the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo the announcement by President Macron of the withdrawal of Barkhane from Mali. To everyone’s surprise, and so as not to offend a large part of African opinion, Macky Sall refrained from publicly supporting France’s decision to withdraw Barkhane and the European Takuba force from Mali.

“We understand the French decision,” soberly declared the Senegalese president.

The Senegalese domestic agenda

The other highlight of this beginning of the Senegalese presidency of the African Union is the promptness with which the African Union reacted to the allegations of ill-treatment inflicted on African nationals who try to flee from the Ukraine. Less than three days after the start of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, the Pan-African organization reacted with a speed and a tone that contrasted with its usual nonchalance. A sort of Macky Sall effect that the Senegalese president intends to impose for his 12 months as president of the African Union.

If Macky Sall is keen to take advantage of the springboard of the presidency of the African Union to establish his international stature, it is also to draw political dividends from it at the domestic level. Macky Sall is also seeking to take advantage of a favorable national situation. The euphoria of the historic victory (the first for the country) of the Lions of Senegal at the African Cup of Nations (CAN) football has not yet faded. Riding the wave, Macky Sall took the unexpected decision to give the name of his predecessor Abdoulaye Wade to the largest football stadium in the country which has just been built in Diamnadio near Dakar by the Turks. The challenge for the Senegalese president is to maintain this favorable momentum until the next legislative elections scheduled for July 2022. A ballot that is all the more uncertain for the presidential camp as the government has lost several major cities (Dakar, Thiès, Ziguinchor) during of the last elections organized in January 2022.

For the Senegalese president, the most important issue remains the presidential election of 2024. The election poses all the dangers for Senegal in West Africa, recently the scene of 4 military coups (Mali 1 and 2 , Guinea, Burkina Faso).

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