Macron’s Benin visit part of push for support of position in Ukraine

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·3-min read
AFP - LUDOVIC MARIN
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Officials from France, the United States, and Russia have been visiting the African continent this week in an effort to garner support from various African leaders for their stance in the Ukraine conflict. While in Benin, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Russia of waging a "new type of hybrid world war".

“It’s like a new Cold War is playing out in Africa, where the rival sides are trying to gain influence,” William Gumede, director of Democracy Works, a foundation promoting good governance, told Associated Press (AP) newswire.

This spate of visits from French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and US’ UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield are a shift into “high gear” in order to garner support from the various African countries, according to Gumede.

Russia sent troops into Ukraine on 24 February, sparking a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

"Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine. It's a territorial war, the likes of which we thought had disappeared from European soil," Macron said on the second leg of a trip to Africa to reset France's relations with the continent, where many nations are former French colonies.

French touch in Benin

"I speak on a continent that has suffered colonial imperialism," he said at a press conference with Benin President Patrice Talon.

"Russia is one of the last imperial colonial powers" as it decided to "invade a neighbouring country to defend its interests," he said.

On a more regional level, Macron pledged support to Benin in terms of countering terrorism after the West African country has faced escalated threats from al-Qaeda and Islamic-State-linked armed groups.

"France promises support in air, intelligence and equipment as well as training for the defense and security forces of Benin," Macron indicated at a press conference with his Benin counterpart Patrice Talon.

"We are also going to meet Benin’s needs in terms of equipment and help the country to structure how it arms its army".

This renewed support comes as France prepares to pull its forces out of Mali after 9 years, repositioning its involvement in the Sahel region. It blamed the deterioration of bilateral ties on the decision by the Malian junta to work with Russian group Wagner to expel jihadists.

French opposition lawmakers were hoping Macron would draw attention to the "alarming" situation of political prisoners in Benin amid a crackdown by the Talon administration on opposition figures, particularly during the election last year.

Talon denied that the country was holding political prisoners. “In Benin no one is in prison for political reasons, they are in prison because they have committed crimes for political reasons,” he said.

The release of 30 opposition supporters was announced during Macron's visit.

Food security

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov targeted African countries hit by drought and hunger, as he visited Egypt, Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia this week.

As Western countries have promoted that Russia and its war against Ukraine are to blame for rising food prices and massive shortages, Lavrov maintained in his visits that the West is creating a neo-colonialist war though food availability.

A number of African countries, especially Egypt, are reliant on Ukraine for grain, but since the war broke out earlier this year, no grain has been shipped.

Macron accused the Kremlin of using TV channels like RT to spread propaganda in support of the war. And he charged the Kremlin with blackmailing the world by thwarting the export of grain from Ukraine.

"They are blackmailing because they are the ones who blocked cereals in Ukraine. They are the ones who regulate their cereals".

"The situation in Ukraine did additionally negatively affect food markets, but not due to the Russian special operation, rather due to the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions," Lavrov said in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.

However, a large number of African countries have refused to comment or agree to Western sanctions against Russia.

The most telling example was the UN General Assembly vote in March to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Twenty-five African countries abstained or did not vote at all.

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