Kenya and South Africa may play a major part in the establishment of a “grain hub” on the continent after the politics of Russia-Ukraine war took centre stage during the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
At the core of the battle is US grain exports to Africa, which include 9,000 tonnes of wheat and 25,000 tonnes of maize.
Ukrainian exports for the whole 2022/23 season stood at almost 49 million tonnes, exceeding the previous season’s level of 48.4 million tonnes.
The Russia-US supremacy wars took centre stage during this year’s UNGA, when the President Joe Biden told the UN that the territorial integrity and human rights that form the foundation of the UN must be collectively defended, a thinly veiled attack on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yet, for the second year in a row, the annual debate at the UN General Assembly is “darkened by the shadow of war, an illegal conquest brought without provocation by Russia” against Ukraine, he said, expressing strong support for Kyiv.
“Russia alone bears the responsibility for this war…and has the power to end it immediately,” he emphasised, asking whether the independence of any nation is secure “if we allow Ukraine to be carved up.
Caught in the war of words are African countries whose loyalty has been torn between the two superpowers, for food.
While Kenya had started as one of Africa’s most prominent supporters of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion, South Africa has maintained a more neutral stance. Now, Kenya says it backs an African Union proposal to end the war peacefully.
In June, President Cyril Ramaphosa led an African peace mission to both Ukraine and Russia, a move that did not go down well with the US.
The grain initiative was brokered by the UN and Turkey to enable Ukraine to export its grain including via ports Russia had blockaded.
But Russia pulled out of the deal accusing the West of diverting the grain.
But the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said food exports from his home country was able to reach more people.
“We are not waiting; we are continuing the Black Sea Grain Initiative and trying alternative routes. Several ships with grain have already successfully passed through these routes despite the difficult situation,” the President of Ukraine emphasised when he met Ramaphosa on the outskirts of the UNGA in New York.
In July, Russia offered free grain to six African countries: Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.
During separate meetings between Zelenskyy and Ruto and Ramaphosa, the Ukrainian leader said he will set up “grain hub” in Mombasa and other parts of Africa to tackle food security.
President Ramaphosa said that he and the Ukrainian president had discussed the need to restore the functioning of the “grain corridor” in the Black Sea to ensure global food security, as well as to create grain hubs in Africa.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) shipped wheat from Black Sea ports under the Initiative.
As of July 2023, the programme had bought 80 percent of its grain stock from Ukraine, up from 50 percent before the war.
Over 725,000 tonnes of wheat left Ukrainian ports to Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti during the implementation of the initiative. Some 65 percent of the wheat exported through the Black Sea Grain Initiative reached developing countries.
On Wednesday, Zelenskyy told Ramaphosa that Ukraine was trying to find alternative routes to supply grain to Africa after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s withdrawal from the grain scheme preventing Ukraine from using the Black Sea channel to transport food and other exports to Africa and other regions.