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Poor turnout of African leaders expected at Putin’s summit

Poor turnout of African leaders expected at Putin’s summit
President Cyril Ramaphosa and International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor arrive at Pulkovo International Airport in St Petersburg, Russia on 26 July 2023, where they will participate in the second Russia-Africa Summit. (Photo: Twitter / DIRCO)

One of the big questions about the summit is whether any African leaders will urge Putin to rescind his decision of last week to pull out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had hoped for a record turnout of African leaders at his second Russia-Africa Summit, which begins in St Petersburg on Thursday. But it seems only 17 African leaders will attend — less than half the number that turned up for his first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in 2019.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s top foreign policy adviser, gave Russian news agency Interfax the figure of 17 leaders on Wednesday. It will be a huge blow to Putin as he was hoping for a large show of support from Africa to prove to the world that he is not isolated, despite extensive Western sanctions. 

Ushakov blamed Western governments for applying pressure on African leaders not to attend, but it seems many African leaders have been put off by his war against Ukraine and for pulling out of a deal which allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported through the Black Sea.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Russia-Africa summit will be largely a West-bashing exercise

According to the Financial Times, Nigeria’s Bola Tinubu, Kenya’s William Ruto, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Zambia’s Hakainda Hichilema are among the prominent leaders who will give the summit a miss. Daily Maverick was unable to confirm this independently.

Among those who will attend are President Cyril Ramaphosa and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Also expected to be in St Petersburg are Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra and Malian President Assimi Goïta, who have become dependent on the Russian mercenary company Wagner for their political survival.

Black Sea Grain Initiative

One of the big questions about the summit is whether any African leaders will urge Putin to rescind his decision of last week to pull out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), and also to stop his bombardment of Ukrainian grain silos in Odesa since then.

Under the deal, Russia agreed to lift its blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to allow Ukraine’s grain to be shipped to international markets, including in Africa. In a year, nearly 33 million tonnes have been exported from Ukraine under the deal, which African countries considered critical to reducing high food prices and insecurity caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine. 

Putin claimed he was pulling out of the deal because Western countries had not reciprocated by fully lifting restrictions on exports of Russian food and also because, he said, most of the Ukrainian grain was going to European countries and not the African and other poor countries who were supposed to benefit.

This was not quite true as eight million of the 32.8 million tonnes went to Russia’s ally China. And although not a large percentage went to Africa, analysts have pointed out that the deal lowered world grain prices by increasing the global supply. Since Russia pulled out, global wheat prices have risen by about 9%.

There is some speculation that China might join African countries in putting pressure on Russia to return to the BSGI because it was receiving the largest volumes of grain from the deal. China’s representative to the UN, Geng Shuang, said last Friday that both the BSGI as well as Russia’s food and fertiliser exports “should be implemented in a balanced, comprehensive and effective manner”.

There has been speculation that Putin might announce an alternative deal at the Russia-Africa Summit which would cut out Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said recently that he was hoping to persuade Turkey, which helped broker the BSGI, to provide escorts to ships carrying grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, to enable the BSGI to continue without Russia.

Russia’s declining allure

Some African countries may have decided not to attend because of lowered expectations of the benefits of strong ties with Russia.

Joseph Siegle, director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank within the Pentagon, funded by the US Congress, noted recently that the 43 African heads of state who attended the Sochi summit “had high hopes that Russia would emerge as a new source of investment and trade for the continent. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to double Russian trade with Africa in five years to $40-billion.

“Since then, Russian trade with the continent has contracted to $14-billion and remains lopsided, with Russia exporting seven times as much as it imports from Africa. Seventy percent of this trade is concentrated in just four countries — Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and South Africa.”

Some African leaders may also be staying away to avoid appearing to be taking sides in a world increasingly polarised by Russia’s war and the backlash from the West.

“There is an understanding that sticking your neck out to support Russia might not be a good idea when so many counties may need financial support and bailouts in the next few years,” the Financial Times quoted Murithi Mutiga, the programme director for Africa at Crisis Group, as saying. DM

Daily Maverick foreign policy specialist Peter Fabricius’ accreditation for the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg this week was denied by the Roscongress Foundation, the Russian government body which is organising the forum.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Good well balanced reporting – thank you. I

  • Steve Davidson says:

    Do we detect a slight bit of schadenfreude in your article, Peter? Right on!

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    Cyril and Naledi only went because the lights work.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Thus those who attend appear as a gallery of rogues! Cyril and Museveni – for pities sake! Cyril will return saturated in homophobia!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Which reminds us that like the Russian ‘ban’ on a DM journalist from attending this ‘conference of wretcheds’ … Egypt’s strong man el’Sisi has just renewed its jailing of Aljazeera journalists as ‘terrorists’ ! What delightful company the wretched keep ! And … as for Putin’s promise to provide “free” grain to Africa … why has he waited till now … that he is up to his eye balls in his own poo ?

  • Denise Smit says:

    The last nail in the AGOA coffin hit in by Cyril Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor. D Smit

    • John Counihan says:

      I wonder what their families think of them? Especially turncoat Naledi’s. Cosing- up to a mass murderer of women and children. Glad I don’t have to explain that to my children and grandchildren!

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Ramaphosa is no Gorbachev; he knows full well that ‘perestroika’ (Restructuring & Renewal) and ‘glasnost’ (Openness & Transparency) will ultimately destroy his party and must therefore be avoided at all costs. The current iteration of the ANC is immiscible with the Constitution, which (mutatis mutandis) mandates these policies. (I know I’m playing it fast and loose with my analogies but if you’ll indulge me, it seems the ANC – with its youth league, women’s league, cadre deployment and levers of power, right down to calling each other ‘comrade’ – has been reading and implementing the communist playbook one page at a time and they are only now starting to grokk how it inevitably ends – badly.) Thus, he, Ramaphosa, is most likely taking a master class from Putin on how to survive politically.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Reply to Peter Oosthuizen. There is a second reason for their visit. They’re aching to kneel before their lord and master to ensure he remains steadfast in accepting their backside kissing declarations of support.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    On the side comment – Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa is attending? General elections are scheduled to be held in Zimbabwe on 23 August 2023 to elect the president and members of both houses of Parliament.
    Zim has no money. I smell a rat. Can the Wagner group extend influence further South.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    I have to agree with Septic Think Tank on this one!

  • Brian Doyle says:

    The other African leaders see the writing on the wall, why cannot Ramaphosa see it.

  • Georg Scharf Scharf says:

    Pathetic picture of SA President and a overweight malnourished African woman, obviously having second thoughts on how much that flight had cost the taxpayer. It would have been better spent on starving people in Africa due to the world. We must work hard to rid Africa from these people in 2024.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Ha ha. Well it is work after all.

  • David Forbes says:

    The knee-jerk Red-Under-Every-Bed responses on DM stories are hilarious. No facts ever appear, just DA slobber.

    Putin told the summit that over 70% of Ukrainian grain exported thanks to the now-lapsed deal had gone to high- or above-average-income countries, including in the European Union, and that the poorest countries, like Sudan, had been “screwed over” and received less than 3% of the shipments.

    These facts can be verified. Unlike the childish emotional responses that think that SA worships Putin. SA has a history with Russia that stretches back to the South African (Boer) War and SA is also non-aligned. SA is not “kommunisties” as so many of these DA charaders claim, since Trevor Manuel became Finance Minister, SA has followed a neoliberal, capitalist economic system, despite the “comradely” rhetoric. Anyone beg to differ?

    I can supply facts.

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