Lavrov’s Nairobi visit: How Russia is drawing in Africa

Tuesday May 30 2023
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kenyan President William Ruto

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) poses for a photo with Kenyan President William Ruto at State House Nairobi, Kenya on May 29, 2023. PHOTO | PCS


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday received Nairobi’s audience on Moscow’s war in Ukraine, after first presenting the goodies needed in Kenya.

Mr Lavrov’s one-day official trip saw him meet with Kenya leaders, including President William Ruto, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula.

Read: Lavrov in Kenya as Russia-Ukraine contest heats up in Africa

President Ruto said, after the meeting, that Kenya would work to “deepen relations” with Moscow.

A dispatch from State House said the two countries would sign a trade pact before the end of the year to “give business the necessary impetus”.

Lavrov, who had not been to Nairobi in the last three Africa trips, talked about the war in Ukraine and what Moscow thinks Kenya needs: food and how to pay for it.


“We gave our detailed evaluation of what is happening in Ukraine and why Russia is defending itself against an attempt against Russian language and culture as well as attempts to destroy all things Russian,” Lavrov told Russian media in a press conference live streamed on Telegram. He said he discussed agriculture, telecommunications, trade and the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit.

Lavrov’s press conference targeted his audience back home. Speaking in Russian, the top diplomat referred to Africa’s ongoing food security problem. Moscow, he said, was sending 34,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser to Kenya, part of a donation Russia says it has been making to the world’s vulnerable.

He also argued that the grain shortage is a “geopolitically induced” problem. In Nairobi, he called for a special arrangement where countries settle each other’s payments in local currencies, a suggestion first fronted by the BRICS -- India, China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

Read: Lavrov: US trying to wreck Russia-Africa summit

“The share of the dollar is decreasing. The alternative payment system is an existing process. It is beginning to gain pace and in essence, this is going to have a good effect on the world economy,” Lavrov said, referring to the currency discussions.

“Unfortunately, our commodity trade is not that big yet in terms of Kenya specifically. But as it gets bigger, transiting into settlements in national currencies, this is the future of world trade,” he said.

“We need to guard ourselves against the negative impact of mechanisms created by the West and build supply chains that are independent of Western blackmailing,” he further added.

Food diplomacy

Russia, sanctioned by the West since last year, has been pushing for a new currency for cross-border trade by the BRICS nations, which it says will be open to other countries.

The potential currency could provide economic independence while competing with the existing international financial system currently dominated by the US dollar, which accounts for about 90 percent of all currency trading. The dollar also accounts for nearly all oil trading.

Recently, some countries like Kenya and Tanzania which are facing a dollar crunch, have begun bilateral discussions with countries they import from to settle payments in local currencies. India has since accepted certain payments from Dar and Nairobi in this format.

While millions of Africans have been suffering from a food crisis, exacerbated by the Ukrainian invasion which cut supplies, Lavrov argues that Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine should not be blamed for the shortages. Instead, he blames the West for sanctioning Russia and then diverting grain sold through a special window to other places not as needy as Africa.

“We are open for a sincere and honest discussion with every country and primarily with our African friends, of the real reasons for the threat of famine in Africa and those who created it,” Lavrov’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a briefing on Monday.

“We can explain what obstacles we have to overcome to ensure unconditional fulfilment of our international commitments on the supplies of food, fertiliser and other strategic goods to the countries that need them the most,” she said.

Read: Russia threatens to scrap Ukraine grain deal

Kenya’s President William Ruto sees fertiliser as what his country needs the most. Facing rising basic food prices and costly importations, Ruto has set out to find cheaper fertiliser and seed. It has meant he talks to Russia and its enemies in the West. Last year, Ruto reversed a decades-long policy banning genetically modified maize in Kenya. He then authorised its importation.

But Nairobi was critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with its envoy to the United Nations, Dr Martin Kimani, in a February 2022 speech condemning it and terming it as one that could strengthen dying empires of the world. However, Nairobi has adopted African Union’s call for dialogue since then.

Special window

In Nairobi, Lavrov said Russia in spite of agreeing to a special window for grain exports, has been unable to deliver the grain to Kenya and other poor countries. Both Russia and Ukraine are the world’s biggest producers of wheat. When the war began, Russia was sanctioned by the West thus blocking it from transactions including settling payments.

The special window, referred to as the Black Sea Initiative, was reached with the support of the UN and Turkey to allow grain from Ukraine, blockaded by Russia and fertiliser from Moscow to be transported if it is to serve the need of hunger.

Yet, Lavrov said just about three percent of the 30 million tonnes of fertiliser sent through the arrangement had been shipped to Africa.

“Today, Russian representatives in the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre are literally fighting to include bulk carriers bound for Africa into the Black Sea Initiative,” said Zhakarova.

“On the contrary, Ukrainian officials are insisting on priority registration of the biggest vessels in a bid to gain maximum profits. They have no interest in (helping) starving Africans,” Zhakarova added.

Read: US, Russia jostle for Museveni’s attention

UNSC reforms

Lavrov also supported reforms at the UN Security Council. The 15-member body whose decisions are binding to the entire UN member states has no representatives from Africa with veto powers. Only US, France, the UK, China and Russia have such powers.

“The UN Security Council’s problem is the over-representation of the Western states,” he argued.

“Out of 15 current members, six are represented by the US and their allies. Accepting representatives from Africa, Latin America, and Asia will be the only way to ensure proper representation in this key authority of the United Nations Organisation,” he added.