DAKAR, Senegal – As Ukraine’s top diplomat kicked off a 10-day tour through Africa this week, he said he would try to “better explain Ukraine” to his African counterparts, and why Ukraine needs them against Russian aggression.
There appears to be a lot of work ahead, based on his first stop, in the West African nation of Senegal.
“I got here and heard, ‘This is not our war, the West is fighting against Russia.’” “Russia and Ukraine are one people.” Describing the conversation with Senegalese officials, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “Russia attacked you because you are going to become a member of NATO.”
“The Russian narrative is very present here,” he said on Tuesday in a 30-minute conversation with a group of journalists in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. “Now it is time for the Ukrainian facts.”
It is not yet clear whether African leaders and their people are willing to hear Ukraine’s arguments.
One reason is that Russia remains the largest supplier of arms and wheat to Africa. Loyalty to Moscow among some African leaders goes back decadeswhen the Soviet Union supported independence movements from Algeria in northwest Africa, to Guinea, Angola and Mozambique, in the southeast of the continent.
Usman Sen, director of the Dakar-based Center for West African Research, said many on the continent had not heard of the independent state of Ukraine until a few months ago.
“The country called Ukraine appears on African television because of the Russian invasion,” Mr. Sen said. “The only links that many see between Ukraine and Africa are the consequences of the food crisis in the shopping cart of Senegalese consumers,” he added. Many believe that both Russia and Ukraine are to blame.
Mr. Kuleba said on Tuesday that none of Mr. Kuleba’s predecessors had ever toured Africa, acknowledging that Ukraine has long neglected the continent.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, African countries have been urge to take a sides, infuriating many leaders on the continent who chose not to take sides.
“This is seen in the West as Africa’s support for Russia, which is not entirely true,” said Murithi Mutiga, director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group.
Instead, African Union chief Macky Sall, president of Senegal, said at the United Nations General Assembly last week that Africa “does not want to be a breeding ground for a new cold war”.
Mr Koleba said he had a “long and honest conversation” with Mr Sall on Monday.
The Senegalese presidency did not issue a statement about the conversation and refused requests for comment.
Mr. Kuleba’s trip to Africa comes more than two months after a Similar tour by his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, who blamed the food crisis affecting African countries on Western sanctions against Russia.
Although these sanctions do not target food products, this narrative has permeated throughout Africa Says Mr. Sal When he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.
Public views of the war in Ukraine vary widely across Africa’s 54 countries and 1.4 billion people. But in West Africa, where Mr. Kuleba began his tour, Russia enjoyed the greatest public approval rating.
Mr. Kuleba said he would warn African countries of Russia’s nefarious influence on their societies, reminding them that Russian investments in the continent pale in comparison to those of other countries, including the United States, China and European countries.
He argued that what Russia deployed mostly in Africa was propaganda and conflict. Cite examples Financial and the Central African RepublicWhere are the Russian mercenaries? Dozens of civilians were killedand Burkina Faso, where a Putin confidant praised the recent military coup and Russian flags fluttered When army officers seized power at the weekend.
“If the only investment Russia is making in Africa is brainwashing and destruction, then that is the kind of effect that African countries want to see, they are destroying themselves,” said Mr. Kuleba.
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