African Union to Send Delegates to Russia, Ukraine
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
The African Union (AU) is planning to wade into the crisis between Russia and Ukraine with a view to finding a lasting solution and averting the looming food shortage that may hit the continent.
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded its neighbour, Ukraine and this action has sent prices of food, especially cereals and fuel higher in the markets.
On May 18, the AU delegates were supposed to be in Moscow but the trip was aborted. However, the Chairman of the group and President of Senegal, Mr Macky Sall, confirmed at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor, Mr Olaf Scholz, that the visit will happen.
“As soon as it’s set, I will go to Moscow and also to Kyiv. We have also accepted to get together all the heads of state of the African Union who want to meet with President (Volodymyr) Zelensky of Ukraine, who had expressed the need to communicate with the African heads of state. That too will be done in the coming weeks,” he said.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has divided Africa. In early March, Senegal abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution – overwhelmingly adopted – that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.
The AU, Regional Economic organizations have officially called for the adoption of diplomacy mechanisms and negotiations through which to end the seemly endless crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
Besides the official statements from the AU, Southern African Development Community (SADC ) and Economic Community of West African States, at least, half of the African countries from the continent voted to condemn Russia’s action in the neighbouring republic. According to reports, 17 African countries abstained from voting on the resolution at the United Nations.
Some policy experts say this Africans’ voting scenario at the UN opens a theme for a complete geopolitical study and analysis. There are so many interpretations and geopolitical implications though.
Nevertheless, the African Union, Regional Economic organizations and the African governments are still and distinctively, divided over the Russia-Ukraine crisis due to divergent views and worse, afraid of contradictions and confrontations posed by the crisis and its effects on future relations.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has also come under fierce criticism over the official stand on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Prior to the February 24 crisis, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interest to broaden cooperation in trade and in the economic sectors in Africa. With an invariable commitment to strengthen and develop relations in a positive and constructive manner, and especially in these challenging circumstances, Moscow is still planning for the second Russia-African summit.
Gerrit Olivier, an Emeritus Professor at Pretoria University and former South African Ambassador in Russia and Kazakhstan, said South Africa, a member of BRICS and an economic powerhouse in Africa, abstained from voting against Russia. There have been many conflicting reports about South Africa’s position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. For many, both inside and outside the country, this was a controversial decision resulting in a rare local public debate about foreign policy.
What followed was indeed a case study of expedient, if not downright ‘Walter Mitty’ diplomacy. First, President Cyril Ramaphosa rushed to telephone Putin, obviously to bask in the reflected glory and honour of speaking to the ‘great man’. Afterwards, he subserviently thanked “His Excellency President Vladimir Putin” for taking his call. At the same time, our ‘great negotiator’ refused official engagement with the local Ukrainian ambassador as well as with ambassadors of the European Union, our biggest trading partners, wrote Professor Gerrit Olivier.
As a direct result of the crisis, Europe has abandoned importing oil and gas from Russia. It has been looking for alternatives in Africa. Sall said Senegal would be ready to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the continent seeks to wean itself off Russian energy sources. Along with neighbouring Mauritania, Senegal hopes to exploit gas and oil deposits found in the Atlantic in recent years.
Sall has estimated LNG production starting in December 2023 and reaching 10 million tonnes per year in 2030. The Senegalese leader said he had asked Germany to help Senegal develop future projects. Scholz said discussions should continue “in an intensive manner” because it was in our mutual interest to achieve progress.
In late February and early March, Mr Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Ms Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued official statements urging both Russia and Ukraine to employ diplomatic means to solve the crisis, and further said they were following closely the developments in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, as a direct result of the “special military operation” launched on February 24, Russia has come under a raft of sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and a host of other countries.
Global Food Price Index Trends Downward in May
By Adedapo Adesanya
Global food prices dropped in May 2023, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Friday.
The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 124.3 points in the month under review, down 3.4 points (2.6 per cent) from April and as much as 35.4 points (22.1 per cent) from the all-time high it reached in March 2022.
The decline in May was underpinned by significant drops in the price indices for vegetable oils, cereals and dairy, which were partly counterbalanced by increases in the sugar and meat indices.
The FAO Cereal Price Index averaged 129.7 points in May, down 6.5 points (4.8 per cent) from April and as much as 43.9 points (25.3 per cent) below its record-high value one year ago. International wheat prices declined by 3.5 per cent month-on-month, reflecting prospects for ample global supplies in the upcoming 2023/24 season and the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
World maize prices fell by 9.8 per cent in May. A favourable outlook for 2023/24 points to a rebound in global supplies, with higher production expected in Brazil and the US, two major exporters, weighed on prices.
A slow pace of US exports and China’s cancelled purchases also exerted downward pressure on world maize prices.
Among other coarse grains, world prices of barley and sorghum also declined, by 9.5 per cent and 9.7 per cent, respectively, influenced by declines in international maize and wheat prices.
By contrast, international prices of rice continued to increase in May, as previous deals with Asian buyers were executed, and supplies tightened in some exporters, such as Viet Nam and Pakistan.
The FAO Vegetable Oil Price Index averaged 118.7 points in May, down 11.3 points (8.7 per cent) month-on-month and standing as much as 48.2 per cent below its year-earlier level. The continued decline in the index reflected lower world prices across palm, soy, rapeseed and sunflower oils.
International palm oil prices fell markedly from April, as protracted weak global import purchases coincided with expectations of rising outputs in major producing countries.
In the meantime, world soyoil prices dropped for the sixth consecutive month, largely underpinned by the persistent pressure from a bumper soybean crop in Brazil and higher-than-expected stocks in the US, where higher supplies of alternative feedstock partially replaced the uptake from the biodiesel industry. As for rapeseed and sunflower oils, international prices continued to decline on ample global supplies.
The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 118.7 points in May, down 3.9 points (3.2 per cent) from April and standing 25.5 points (17.7 per cent) below its corresponding value in 2022.
The decline in May was led by a steep drop in international cheese prices, principally due to ample export availabilities, including from inventories, amid seasonally high milk production in the northern hemisphere.
Following 10 consecutive monthly declines, international price quotations for milk powders rebounded, reflecting an upturn in purchases by North Asian buyers and seasonally falling milk supplies in Oceania.
Meanwhile, butter prices rose slightly, as increased price quotations for supplies from Oceania, due to high purchases by Southeast Asian buyers and seasonally falling milk supplies, were almost offset by a decline in European prices on high export availabilities.
The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 117.9 points in May, up 1.1 points (1.0 per cent) from April, marking the fourth consecutive monthly increase, but still 5.0 points (4.1 per cent) below its value in the corresponding month last year.
International poultry meat prices increased further in May, driven by the continued high import demand, especially from Asia, and some concerns over potential short-term supply challenges due to widespread avian flu outbreaks.
World bovine meat prices increased slightly, underpinned by higher global demand for Brazilian supplies and persistent supply tightness in the US despite the continued high cattle slaughter in Australia. Pig meat prices rose for the fourth successive month, although only marginally, as supply limitations stemming from high production costs and animal diseases elsewhere boosted demand for Brazilian supplies. Meanwhile, world ovine meat prices fell on high export availabilities from Oceania.
The FAO Sugar Price Index averaged 157.6 points in May, up 8.2 points (5.5 per cent) from April, marking the fourth consecutive monthly increase, and as much as 37.3 points (30.9 per cent) above its value a year ago.
Rising concerns over how the development of the El Niño phenomenon may affect the 2023/24 crops, together with lower-than-earlier-expected global availabilities in the 2022/23 season, triggered the increase in international sugar prices in May. Shipping delays amid strong competition from soybean and maize in Brazil also supported the increase in world sugar prices.
However, the positive outlook for the 2023 sugarcane crops in Brazil, along with improved weather conditions benefiting the progress of the harvest, prevented larger monthly price gains. Lower international crude oil prices and a cut in fuel prices in Brazil further contributed to limiting the month-on-month increase in world sugar prices.
Kenyan Entrepreneurs to Access Funds with Hustler Group Loan
By Adedapo Adesanya
Kenyan entrepreneurs will access more loans with the launch of Hustler Group Loan, the second product of the Financial Inclusion Fund, an initiative of the President William Ruto administration.
President Ruto said this would boost the hustler spirit and deepen financial inclusion in the country since the Fund has witnessed 42.5 million transactions through which 20.2 million Kenyans have accessed about Sh30 billion.
He also noted that enterprises will now have access to affordable and accessible financing to spur their growth.
The birth of the Hustler Group Loan follows the launch of the Hustler Fund early in the year; out of the Sh30 billion, Sh19.7 billion has been repaid.
“Not a single shilling has been stolen through corruption,“ President Ruto insisted.
He said he was keen on ensuring that businesses access affordable credit.
“That is the route to ensuring that enterprises grow, generate more earnings and create more jobs for millions of underprivileged Kenyans,” the President said on Thursday, June 1, in Moi Stadium Embu during the Madaraka Day celebrations.
Comoros President Azali Assoumani, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, Cabinet Secretaries, Embu Governor Cecily Mbarire, MPs, Former President of Niger Issoufou Mahamadou, among others, were present.
The Kenyan President also said he was keen on enhancing food production through subsidising production.
He said five million farmers have registered and benefited from the government’s subsidised fertilisers.
“As a result of these interventions, farmers have been able to plant 200,000 additional acres of food this year,” he said.
On health, the president explained that the government would reform the National Health Insurance Fund to meet the needs of Kenyans.
He noted that he was committed to delivering Universal Health Coverage.
He said the government has collaborated with counties to recruit community health promoters to deepen this goal.
“These promoters will facilitate early detection of conditions for referral to further attention.”
On his part, the Deputy President said the government had initiated practical measures that would put more money in the people’s pockets.
Mr Gachagua said he would lead town hall meetings with farmers to develop sustainable plans to uplift them.
Imagine the Strategic Partnership between Asmara and Moscow
By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh
In this extremely poor Eritrea nation located in the Horn of Africa, with a population of 3.6 million, what factors could attract to strengthen cooperation in the spheres highlighted by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with President of the State of Eritrea Isaias Afwerki at the Kremlin.
According to reports from the Kremlin on May 31, Putin referred to the fact that Eritrea has recently marked 30 years of independence. This was when the two countries established diplomatic relations too.
Russia is attracted due to its highly strategic location. Eritrea is bordered to the northeast and east by the Red Sea, Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south, and Djibouti to the southeast. The undemarcated border with Ethiopia is the primary external issue currently facing Eritrea. Geopolitical history informed us that Eritrea’s relations with Ethiopia turned from that of cautious mutual tolerance, following the 30-year war for Eritrean independence, to a deadly rivalry that led to the outbreak of hostilities from May 1998 to June 2000 that claimed approximately 70,000 lives from both sides.
Despite the differences between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Russia maintains good relations with the two. But the main significance, as stressed during the meeting, was trade and economic relations which deserve primary attention. There could only be a few, of course not a lot, of potential in many areas. From our studies, agriculture makes up 11 per cent of the wider economy’s value and is the main economic activity in Eritrea.
In 2013, the pickup in growth had been attributed to the commencement of full operations in the gold and silver Bisha mined by Canadian Nevsun Resources, the production of cement from the cement factory in Massawa and investment in Eritrea’s copper and zinc. Chinese are very active in the mining sector, and the Australians operate Colluli potash mining. In 2020, the IMF estimated Eritrea’s GDP at $2.1 billion.
With that economic background, however, Russia sees an opportunity to develop trade and economic ties between the two countries. “Of course, we must, first of all, pay attention to the development of trade and economic ties, here we have good prospects in many areas,” Putin said.
As expected, there was a display of passion for packing official documents. After a series of substantive consultations on partnership and intensive preparations between Asmara and Moscow, the delegation signed several intergovernmental agreements. “I am sure that our talks today will be successful and will benefit the development of relations between the Russian Federation and Eritrea,” Putin stressed.
The trade turnover between Russia and Eritrea in 2022 amounted to $13.5 mln, including $11.5 mln from wheat exports, according to materials for the talks between Putin and Isaias Afwerki in the Kremlin.
“The trade turnover between Russia and Eritrea in 2022 amounted to $13.521 mln (exports: $12.745 mln, including $11.5 mln – wheat (27,500 tons); imports: $776,000),” the statement said.
In 2021, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $9.314 mln. Exports of wheat amounted to $8.125 mln, oil products – $175,000, and sulfates – $888,000. At the same time, imports of ready-made clothes reached $126,000.
According to the statement, Eritrea is highly interested in strengthening ties with Ural Automobile Plant and Kamaz. In 2018, Kamaz delivered 56 cars and 5 buses valued at around $5 million to Eritrea.
“In my view, the global order, which is on the cusp of a radical transformation, requires an objective appraisal and mutual consultations on the timeless subject matter and phenomena of paramount importance and significance. The common assessment that we undertake will, in turn, revitalise the formulation of programmes and partnerships that we chart on,” Isaias Afwerki said during the meeting.
Isaias Afwerki believes that Russia was the primary competitor and rival of the policy of encirclement and containment by the forces of domination from the early 1990s, and its global impact in the past 30 years was considerable indeed. Russia did not undertake, at the outset, all the necessary preparations for effective resistance.
An integrated and comprehensive strategy of resistance was not accordingly set in motion. But with time, as the latent policy of containment against China becomes more transparent, international awareness of the free people has increased.
“It is imperative to expand and deepen this awareness, chart out a comprehensive strategy and concrete plans that encompass all fields, create dynamic mechanisms, marshal the necessary resources to ascertain the advent of and transit to a civilised international order of mutual respect, cooperation, complementarity and prosperity, where justice and the rule of law prevail. This is not an option but an obligation,” he explicitly pointed out to Putin.
It is important to remember that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Eritrea in January 2023. He said the agenda for Russia-Eritrea cooperation focuses on implementing potential joint projects, including the logistics hub in Asmara. At a meeting at that time, Afwerki and Lavrov also discussed the radical changes in the international situation and key directions for the development of Russian-Eritrean relations. Lavrov reported to Putin about the results of his African tour at a Security Council meeting.
Afwerki has been president since 1993, when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia. He is the first and the only person to hold the post. Sergey Lavrov visited Eritrea in January as he toured Africa. The commercial activities revolve around this strategic location as a transit point, and the strategic location also makes the country prime for an increased military presence. This is the strategic importance for Russia.
Lavrov spoke extensively about economic cooperation. According to him, Russia’s truck maker KAMAZ was already working in Eritrea, supplying its products to that country, as was Gazprombank Global Resources, which was building cooperation in the banking sector. In the same year, 2018, concrete talks were held to build a logistics centre at the port of Eritrea, which makes the world’s class logistics and services hub for maritime transportation through the Suez Canal and is definitely set to promote bilateral trade.
Still that same year, Eritrea was interested in opening a Russian language department at one of the universities in the capital of the country, Asmara. Lavrov further indicated: “We agreed to take extra measures to promote promising projects in the sphere of mining and infrastructure development and to supply specialized transport and agricultural equipment to Eritrea.”
In April 2022, Eritrea’s top diplomat, Osman Saleh, made a quick reciprocal visit to Moscow to receive honour and congratulations for opposing the resolution in New York. That was in March 2022; Eritrea was one of the countries who voted against the resolution condemning Russia over the situation in Ukraine at the United Nations.
Eritrea is now a member of the African Union. The Eritrean government previously withdrew its representative to the African Union to protest the AU’s alleged lack of leadership in facilitating the implementation of a binding border decision demarcating the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea is also a member of the United Nations.
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