The media upheaval emerged in the aftermath of Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Initiative, sounding the alarm on the looming food crisis, especially in vulnerable regions like Africa. But, was Africa merely a public relations (PR) pawn in the West’s strategy to corner Russia and sustain the initiative?
Russia’s exit from the Black Sea Initiative, intended to facilitate grain and fertilizer exports to impoverished nations, sparked widespread criticism. The programme’s execution and impact were flawed, with Africa – a region that stood to gain enormously — largely overlooked.
With the initiative’s suspension following Russia’s withdrawal last month, a new possibility has surfaced at the Russia-Africa Summit: direct Russian grain and fertilizer donations to Africa — a proposition by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Initiated in 2022, the Black Sea Initiative aimed to fortify global food security amidst Ukraine’s conflict. Though it brandished humanitarian ideals, closer inspection reveals a commercial platform benefiting Ukraine and the European Union, rather than the lifeline for developing nations it purported to be.
According to Putin, who briefed African leaders at the summit about the grain deal, only three percent of the 32.8 millions of cargo exported from Ukraine (less than one million tons) benefited Africa and other needy regions.
The rest, or 70 percent to be precise, went to wealthy countries, including the European Union. By contrast, Russia exported 11 million tons of grain to Africa last year. As a result, the deal went up in smoke when Putin withdrew from it in July this year.
And that is not all. Of the 262 000 tons of such fertilizers blocked in European ports, Putin said, only two batches were sent to Malawi (20 000 tons) and Kenya (34 000 tons).
“The rest remained in the hands of the Europeans. And this despite the fact that it was a purely humanitarian action, which, in principle, should not be subject to any sanctions,” he said.
“Well, someone doesn’t want Russia, as some say, to “get rich” and send money to military purposes. But it’s a freebie! No, they are not released. Despite all the empty talk about the desire to help the poorest countries.”
The UN report claims that over 30% of the grain went to developing nations. Surprisingly, it failed to share evidence as to which poor countries and or regions benefitted from the alleged 30 percent supply. In the absence of such proof, it is safe to believe Putin’s version of events.
A dismal three percent of the grain exported via this sea corridor reached the needy countries in Africa. Meanwhile, wealthier nations, especially within the EU, claimed the lion’s share of the grain. Many African leaders, who spoke during a plenary session on the second day of the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg on Friday, concurred with Putin.
From Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Senegal leader Macky Sall to Burkina Faso’s Interim president, Ibrahim Traore, and Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagawa, they all confirmed that their countries received very little or no grain at all under the UN-brokered deal.
Despite the Western media furore around Russia’s withdrawal, it’s painfully clear the wealthy nations were the prime beneficiaries, while the most vulnerable are sadly neglected. So far many Western leaders – including US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of the European Union Commission Ursula von der Leyen – have not rebutted Russia’s version with their own facts.
All they have claimed, one after the other, is that Putin is “weaponizing” food. But their claim is laughable and sad in equal measures. Under the Ukraine grain deal, the poorer countries and regions, including Africa, were supposed to benefit in the main to help prevent a global food crisis. If the main beneficiaries, as it is the case to date, are wealthy European countries, then what is the point? It makes this whole thing a fraud.
Sadly, it means Africa and other poor regions were used as pawns in great power politics and later robbed by the West of the proceeds of a deal cooked in their name. The real motive was to create a new revenue stream for Ukraine and feed wealthy nations at the expense of Africa.
As if that was not enough betrayal, European powers confiscated even the grain Russia donated to Africa, under the guise of preventing Russia from getting rich and using the money to fund its war in Ukraine, while at the same time publicly professing to be fighting against hunger.
This two-faced approach, and the penchant to speak from both sides of the mouth, have laid bare the West’s real attitude towards Africa. They believe African people only exist to make them comfortable, deserve their crumbs and aren’t worthy of any respect or anything good that the Europeans don’t have. This colonial and imperialist mentality is the reason behind the collapse of the grain deal.
The intention of the West, from the onset, was to use Africa to justify a humanitarian corridor and then use the grain secured in the name of the poor to feed themselves and their vassals. Fortunately, it backfired. The African gods and ancestors worked overtime to expose the real enemies of their people.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, recently highlighted this glaring imbalance. He questioned the viability of a deal benefiting primarily Ukraine’s commercial interests, instead of addressing the dire needs of the world’s poorest countries.
An honest evaluation reveals the initiative as a commercialized programme, manipulated by vested interests and used for public relations subterfuge.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rightly observed: “We are facing the largest food crisis since World War II.” While major powers in the West wax lyrically about global food security, the ground realities reflect a different scenario. The Black Sea Initiative, unfortunately, is a glaring example of this gap between rhetoric and action.
The Black Sea Initiative fell drastically short of its humanitarian promise for Africa, a continent wrestling with multiple challenges and escalating food insecurity. It invites grave scrutiny as to why the poorest nations received such a paltry share of the grain exported under the initiative.
Contrary to the Black Sea Initiative’s disappointing delivery, Russia’s direct grain donations to Africa promise better results. Given Russia’s substantial 20% stake in the global grain market, and the significant 11.5 million tons of grain exported to Africa in 2022, Putin’s pledge to support Africa in becoming a food exporter appears both genuine and impactful.
In other words, Russia’s direct, transparent aid strategy will genuinely address the needs of the vulnerable, avoiding the deceit surrounding the initiative. As the debate and lobbying for the Black Sea Initiative’s reopening continues, it’s crucial that global food security initiatives be evaluated on their actual practical results.
Lavrov’s critique is justified, and Putin’s promise offers a practical, less convoluted solution to the food security problem facing some African countries. Amid lamentations over the suspension of the “well-meaning initiative”, we must pause to ask the question: Who truly benefitted from the initiative since its inception?
Russia’s commitment to direct grain donations offers a fresh avenue to address Africa’s food crisis, a pivotal highlight of the Russia-Africa Summit. Putin’s assurance that “Russia will continue to work vigorously to organize the supply of grain, food, fertilizers and more to Africa” signals a new course.
Lessons must be gleaned from the Black Sea Initiative’s downfall, including how Africa is exploited as a facade for Western commercial ventures and dishonesty. Our focus must remain on transparency, fairness, and genuine commitment to assist those in dire need, eschewing the use of impoverished nations for propaganda.
As we shift from the mirage of the Black Sea Initiative to the tangible reality of free grain for Africa, let Russia’s new approach give comfort to Africa amid food insecurity. The failure of the Black Sea Initiative serves as both a stark reminder of the obligations to the less fortunate and a call for a renewed approach to tackling global food security.
The UN could have done better in handling the failed grain deal.
Mahasha Rampedi is African Times’ Editor-In-Chief.