On the Ukraine war, African hearts may be won through the stomach

By JULIUS BARIGABA

Food security is turning into a good lobbying tool for those concerned about the war in Ukraine, using it to smoothen relations before asking for endorsement votes.

And the European Union has taken that seriously, vigorously campaigning for a global reprimand of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where it has sent food.

In the past two months, European Union has ramped up budget to address food security in East Africa and the Great Lakes region by providing a total of €75 million ($75.18 million) to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. This is all part of its food production aid that is meant to build resilience systems to withstand the food crisis that was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials said.

Direct and indirect grants

Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda get €10 million ($9.95) each, in direct and indirect grants, to support various food production projects in the countries, while Somalia takes €20 million ($19.9 million), with the DRC getting the lion’s share of allocations to the region, of €25 million ($24.87 million), the EU announced on October 25.

The funding is part of a €600 million ($597 million) allocation from the EU to support the most vulnerable African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries to cope with the unjust consequences of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, notably the current food crisis and related economic shock.

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“The EU’s swift and comprehensive response to the current food insecurity in several vulnerable partner countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific area demonstrates our strong solidarity towards our partners, in particular in Africa.

“It helps shoulder the consequences felt worldwide of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” said Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen.

Food production potential

The commissioner explained that in terms of geographic focus, these five Eastern African and Great Lakes region countries were identified for funding because of their potential to sustainably enhance food production but also, their vulnerabilities and exposure in the context of current crisis.

“In the short-term we are helping families with food and nutrition assistance and helping countries to buy the food they need; we also work on solutions to address current and future risks by investing in local sustainable food systems to enhance resilience,” Urpilainen explained in a statement.

EU officials explain why some countries in the region are especially vulnerable but warn that humanitarian aid cannot substitute efforts needed to increase resilience of the most at-risk populations, to end hunger.

In addition, the EU is also set to provide a total of €71 million ($71.17 million) announced last month in emergency food assistance and support for the refugee crisis to DRC, Burundi, Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.

“Just now, famine is knocking on the door in Somalia,” said Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management. “The newly allocated funds will help those in a dire situation meet their emergency food needs.

Other African countries

Brussels also announced aid to other African countries that include Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Zambia that are expected to build on ongoing EU programmes to ensure scale and effectiveness in food production.

So, what is EU’s concern?

In the detailed European Commission decision, Brussels says it is crucial to effectively communicate this latest round of aid in a “Team Europe approach” and explain the geopolitical focus of this additional support to the recipient partner counties, following Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. 

Western powers have used aid tied to the current food crisis, to remind African as well as the world’s poor and developing countries, that their humanitarian and economic woes are a result of Russia’s eight-month war on Ukraine.

For instance, in August this year, US Ambassador to the UN Thomas Greenfield flew to Uganda to meet President Museveni, where she announced an additional $20 million through USAID, in assistance to address the spike in food insecurity, which is a key concern in Africa and around the world, as a direct effect of the Russia’s war in Ukraine, which also triggered a global increase in oil prices.

‘Free’ fertilizer and grain

Are African countries buying into western rhetoric against Moscow? Moscow itself has promised African countries of ‘free’ fertilizer and grain, cautioning the continent against backing ‘Western propaganda.’ Ms Thomas-Greenfield trip to Kampala followed an unprecedented trip by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

However, while African countries were initially reluctant to take sides, recent dynamics indicate a shift towards the West. The October 12 UN General Assembly resolution to condemn Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian regions, for example, garnered the strongest African support yet. Some 143 countries in the world voting in favour, 26 of them were African. Five voted against, none of them were African. Nineteen African countries abstained.

Even Eritrea which had voted no, abstained this time.

Mali, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, the Republic of Congo, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe were among the African countries that abstained. Lavrov had also toured Egypt, Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville on his African trip in July. 

“The current global food crisis has been years in the making, but since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine it has become a downward spiral that risks slipping out of control. Rising acute food insecurity and increasing food prices indicate that the resilience of food systems has been eroding around the world,” the Commission’s statements read.

Highly regressive

The EU adds that the impacts are also highly regressive, as they affect poorest households, as well as women and girls the most, especially in developing countries in which more than 50 percent of the income of the poorest households is spent on food.

This complex crisis is a pathway to instability in countries around the world, with a number of ACP countries particularly at risk, Brussels warns.

The EU Delegation to Uganda office said aid to the country will fund the Agricultural Business Initiative (ABI) to support competitive, profitable and sustainable agribusiness sector and provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to improve precaution and access to markets.

The funding will also be deployed to scale up a programme to increase resilience to food shocks of chronic and acute food insecure households in Uganda’s north-eastern Karamoja sub region, which has since 2016 suffered erratic rains and insecurity, impacting food production.

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