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African leader warns of pressure to pick sides in Ukraine

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
President of Senegal Macky Sall addresses the 77th session of the General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (AP Photo)

The chairman of the African Union (AU), Senegalese President Macky Sall, has warned of mounting pressure to choose sides in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, saying the continent "does not want to be the breeding ground of a new Cold War."

Sall made the remark in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Tuesday, following pressure from the United States and its NATO allies on African nations to condemn Russia and impose sanctions on Moscow over its military offensive in Ukraine.

“I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history; that it does not want to be the breeding ground of a new Cold War, but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all its partners, on a mutually beneficial basis,” he said.

“We call for a de-escalation and a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine as well as for a negotiated solution to avoid the catastrophic risk of a potentially global conflict,” he added.

Sall further emphasized that Africa is “a continent determined to work with all of its partners” to address its needs, which include access to the basic necessities of modern life, such as electricity, medical care, and running water.

Many African countries depend heavily on grain imports from Russia and Ukraine. African nations collectively imported $12.6 billion worth of Russian goods in 2020, including 30% of all of Africa’s grain imports, as well as fertilizers and petroleum products, all of which have increased in price due to the Ukraine conflict, Western sanctions, and the global problem of inflation.

So far, Africa has stayed rather neutral on Ukraine. Some 25 countries either voted to abstain or did not vote at all on a UN resolution that condemned the war in Ukraine earlier this year.

Meanwhile, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor has called on the UN to lead “a process of diplomacy” between Moscow and Kiev to bring an end to the conflict.

“We would want a process of diplomacy to be initiated between the two parties and we believe the UN must lead, the UN secretary-general in particular,” Pandor said at the UNGA on Tuesday.

This came as French President Emanuel Macron used his speech at the UN General Assembly to press nations not to stay neutral and condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 to “de-Nazify” the country.

Since the onset of the offensive, the United States and its European allies have supplied billions of dollars’ worth of weaponry to Ukraine and imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow. The US and its NATO allies have also been pushing nations to sever relations with Russia and isolate it over the ongoing war.

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