Senegalese President and chair of the African Union Macky Sall has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek a lasting cease-fire in Ukraine. Sall’s talk with Putin comes just a week after Senegal abstained from a U.N. vote to condemn the Russian invasion. African nations have interests in seeing an end to the war but also in not upsetting Putin.
Sall’s request as chairman of the African Union Wednesday was a contrast to his actions as Senegalese president a week prior, when Senegal joined 16 other African countries in abstaining from a U.N. vote to condemn the Russian invasion.
Senegal is considered a beacon of democracy in West Africa, so the move came as a surprise to many.
“[Non-alignment] has been the default posture for many African countries over the years where they prefer not to get involved or not to get in between great power rivalries,” said Joseph Siegle, the director of research for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “And so, it isn’t a vote of support for Russia, but a vote for trying to maintain neutrality.”
Russia has a plethora of business dealings throughout the African continent. Senegal, for example, signed a $300 million deal with Russian oil company Lukoil just last year. The company also has operations in Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria. Russian mining companies are also active throughout Africa, from extracting diamonds in Angola to aluminum in Guinea and uranium in Namibia.
Most notably, Moscow is Africa’s leading supplier of weapons. Since 2015, it’s signed military agreements with more than 20 African countries.
Furthermore, private Russia military companies with close ties to the Kremlin have gained an increasingly strong foothold in African countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic.
So, while it may be in the best interest of many African countries to avoid tension with the Kremlin, leaders are beginning to feel the ripple effects of the war.
“Russia is a country that exports a lot of products, notably gas and raw materials like wheat,” said Abdou Rahmane Thiam, head of the political science department at Dakar’s University of Cheikh Anta Diop. “That can have an economic impact especially with regards to trade.”
Luckily, the African Union does have some sway, Thiam said.
“International relations are not only decided by major world powers — the African Union is still a regional institution. It can be considered an influential voice,” Thiam said. “Russia also needs Africa. It’s in their best interest to listen to the spokesperson of the African Union.”
In a statement about the call, the Kremlin referred to the invasion as a “special military operation to protect Donbass” and did not mention Sall’s request for a cease-fire. Instead, it stated that Russia was asked to safely evacuate foreign citizens and said both leaders had reaffirmed their commitment to further develop Russian-African relations.