DAKAR: President of Senegal and Chairman of the African Union (AU) Macky Sall shakes hands with smiling Vladimir Putin before sitting down to discuss the war in Ukraine with him.
The scene, Friday in Sochi on the 100th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, marks a significant step in Sall’s efforts to improve Africa’s global political standing.
“Most of humanity is very concerned about what is happening” in Ukraine, said Macky Sall, referring to the need to free up grain and fertilizer stocks.
“I came to see you to ask you to realize that our country, although far from the theater (of war), is a victim of this economic crisis,” he said.
Four months into his one-year tenure as AU chairman, this diplomatic mission is just one of the ambitious initiatives the Senegalese leader has launched on the international stage.
He also called for two permanent African seats on the UN Security Council, advocated for the AU to join the G20 and demanded OECD reforms to extend the term of loans to African countries.
Sall exercises “good leadership in ensuring that the African continent’s voice is heard”, said Alioune Tine, founder of the think-tank Afrikajom Center in Dakar.
Mr Sall’s mission in Europe is “unprecedented”, he said. “Usually it’s the Europeans who get involved in the African wars. Now, if the Africans intervene, that’s a great thing.”
A dozen African countries, including Senegal, depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least half of their wheat imports, according to FAO.
Several African countries are feeling the combined effects of delayed grain exports and rising fuel prices.
At a recent press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Sall said African countries were “deeply divided” over the Ukraine conflict. He repeated calls for a ceasefire.
“We want peace even though we condemn the (Russian) invasion,” he said, though he himself was reluctant to explicitly condemn Russian aggression.
Senegal abstained on March 2 in a UN General Assembly vote demanding “that Russia immediately cease the use of force against Ukraine”.
The country then voted for a second resolution on March 24 demanding that Russia end the war immediately.
Nearly half of African countries abstained or did not vote in both votes.
Russia has made inroads in Africa through military alliances and arms deals.
In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted dozens of African leaders in Sochi in a bid to reassert Russia’s influence on the continent.
Mr Sall, who had been invited by Russia on Friday, also spoke by telephone with Mr Putin on March 9. On April 11, he had a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The AU will arrange a video speech with Mr Zelensky after the Sall-Putin meeting.
“Do everything at the same time”
Saturday, Mr Sall had to participate in the ECOWAS summit in Accra.
He was also invited to the upcoming G7 summit in Germany.
“President Sall’s goals are quite ambitious … but he cannot reform the UN, G20 and OECD in six months,” said Ibrahim Nyei, a researcher based in Liberia.
In a recent speech to young African leaders, Sall said he wanted two permanent African seats on the Security Council – or reform of the rules so that one country cannot veto decisions. He estimates that the African issue accounts for 70% of the Council’s business.
Africa, which has “over a billion” people, “must have a voice”, said Mbaye Babacar Diop, a Dakar-based consultant.
Maintaining close ties with France and the United States, as well as ties with China, Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Senegal maintains one of the most dynamic diplomats in Africa.
But Senegal has experienced an internal crisis in the four months since taking control of the AU.
Last week, a fire at a hospital in the city of Tivaouane killed 11 newborns, forcing Sall to cut short his attendance at an African summit to return home.
His opponents fear he will exploit constitutional changes approved in 2016 to argue that the two-term presidential limit does not apply and run for a third term in 2024.
That fear contributed to the anger expressed during the protests in March 2021, the worst in years. Mr Sall said he would announce his decision after the July legislative election.
Macky Sall “can’t ignore the Senegal issue, he can’t ignore the African issue, he can’t ignore the global issue, he has to do everything at the same time,” Diop said.
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