‘Peace and stability’ – African leaders welcome Russia-Ukraine wheat deal

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African leaders have welcomed a Ukraine-Russia deal that is set to unblock wheat and maize exports from Ukrainian ports.

The African Union (AU) said the agreement was a “welcome development” for the continent on Saturday, adding that grain shipments were urgently needed to avert famine. 

Macky Sall, chairman of the 55 member state continental body, said the deal was a “response” to Russia’s visit in June, where AU officials stressed to Putin “the urgency of returning cereals from Ukraine and Russia to world markets.” 

Brokered by the UN and Turkey, the deal is the first major agreement involving Moscow and Kyiv since the conflict began in February. It aims to reduce grain prices and restore exports to countries currently gripped by food shortages.

The agreement should make it possible to export between 20 and 25 million tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine, if successful. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused grain and oil prices to skyrocket, with Ukraine accounting for 10% of global wheat exports in 2021 and 40% of the World Food Programme’s wheat supplies

Africa and the Middle East have been hit particularly hard by the fallout from the conflict as they are very dependent on these countries for their wheat supply.

The NGO International Rescue Committee (IRC) praised Friday’s deal as the “first step towards alleviating the global food crisis.”

“Lifting these blockades will go some way to alleviating the extreme hunger faced by more than 18 million people in East Africa, 3 million of whom are already facing catastrophic hunger conditions”, said the organisation’s emergency director for East Africa, Shashwat Saraf.  

Food price rises have worsened an already strained situation in the Horn of Africa, containing Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, which is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years.

Speaking in Pretoria at a news conference with his Ivorian counterpart, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the blockade of grain had forced African leaders to think seriously about food supplies in the future.

“Our continued reliance on massive amounts of grains from that part of the world should be seen as a risk and a real danger to African countries’ 1.3 billion people. We therefore need to use this conflict as a wake-up call,” he said.

The agreement signed in Istanbul is seeking to establish “secure corridors” so that ships can sail grain out of the heavily mined Black Sea, with Moscow and Kyiv vowing “not to attack” them, according to the UN. 

Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara said he was pleased to see that Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to sign the proposal, though he insisted that Africa must be top of the list of grain recipients.

“I also indicated to [Ukraine’s] President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that I wanted the supply to be made a priority for the African continent, because of the fragility of its economies and the social situation in many countries,” he said.

In a statement, the AU reiterated its call for an “immediate ceasefire agreement” between Ukraine and Russia, adding that new negotiations under the auspices of the UN were in the “interest of global peace and stability”.