Armed with what Kenya needs, Russian Lavrov gets Nairobi’s ear

Lavrov Ruto

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets President William Ruto and other Kenyan leaders at State House Nairobi.

Photo credit: PSC

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday received Nairobi’s audience on Moscow’s war in Ukraine, after first presenting the goodies needed in Kenya.

Mr Lavrov’s one-day official trip saw him meet with Kenya leaders including President William Ruto, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula. President Ruto said, after the meeting, that Kenya will work to deepen relations with Moscow.

A dispatch from State House said the two countries will sign a trade pact, before the end of the year, to “give business the necessary impetus.”

Lavrov, who hadn’t got an audience in Nairobi in the last three trips to Africa was talking about the war in Ukraine, but also about what Moscow thinks Kenya needs: Food and how to pay for it.

“We gave our detailed evaluation of what is happening in Ukraine and why Russia is defending itself against an attempt against Russian language and culture…and attempts to destroy all things Russian,” Lavrov told Russian media in a press conference livestreamed on Telegram. He discussed agriculture, telecommunications, trade and the upcoming Russia-Africa Summit, he said.

Lavrov’s press conference targeted his audience back home. He spoke in Russian to Russian media. But the visiting Russian top diplomat was referring to the ongoing food security problem in Africa. Moscow, he said, was sending 34,000 metric tons of fertiliser to Kenya, part of a donation Moscow says it has been making to the world’s poor.

Then he argued the grain shortage is a “geopolitically induced” problem. In Nairobi, he argued for a special arrangement where countries settle each other’s payments in local currencies, a suggestion first fronted by the BRICS group of emerging countries such as India, China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa.

“The share of the dollar is decreasing. This (alternative payment system is an existing process. It is beginning to gain pace. In essence, this is going to have a good effect on the world economy,” Lavrov said, referring to the currency discussions and what Kenya thinks.

“In terms of Kenya specifically, our commodity trade is not that big yet, unfortunately. But as gets bigger, transiting into settlements in national currencies, this is the future of world trade.”

“We need to guard ourselves against the negative impact of mechanisms created by the West. We need to build supply chains that are independent of Western blackmailing.”

Russia, sanctioned by the West since last year, has been spearheading the development of a new currency to be used for cross-border trade by the BRICS nations, but which it says will be open to other countries.

The potential currency could provide economic independence while competing with the existing international financial system currently dominated by the US dollar, which accounts for about 90 percent of all currency trading. The dollar also accounts for nearly all oil trading.

Recently, some countries like Kenya and Tanzania begun bilateral discussions with countries they import from to settle payments in local currencies. India has since accepted certain payments from Dar and Nairobi in this format.

But Kenya’s pressing need is food. Lavrov argued Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine did not cause food shortages being seen on the continent, with some parts reporting famine. Instead, he blamed the West for sanctioning Russia, then diverting grain sold through a special window to other places not as needy as Africa.

Honest discussion

“We are open for a sincere and honest discussion with every country, primarily, with our African friends of the real reasons for the threat of famine in Africa and those who created it,” Lavrov’s Spokesperson Maria Zhakarova told a briefing on Monday.

“We can explain what obstacles we have to overcome to ensure unconditional fulfillment of our international commitments on the supplies of food, fertiliser and other strategic goods to the countries that need them the most,” she said.

Fertiliser is what the government of President William Ruto has needed the most. Facing rising prices of basic food and costly importations, President Ruto has set out to find cheaper fertilizer and seed. It has meant he talks to Russia and its enemies in the West. Last year, Ruto reversed a decades-long policy banning genetically modified maize in Kenya. He then authorised importation.

But Nairobi was critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and its envoy to the UN, Dr Martin Kimani had given a speech back in February last year in which he condemned the invasion as one that could strengthen dying empires of the world. Since then, however, Nairobi has adopted African Union’s call for dialogue.

In Nairobi Lavrov said Russia, in spite of agreeing to a special window for grain exports has been unable to deliver the grain to Kenya and other poor countries. Both Russia and Ukraine are world’s biggest producers of wheat. When the war began, Russia was sanctioned by the West who blocked transactions including settling payments.

The window known as the Black Sea Initiative was reached on the support of the UN and Turkey and means that grain from Ukraine, blockaded by Russia, and fertilizer from Moscow can be transported if it is to serve the need of hunger.

Yet Lavrov said just about 3 percent of the 30 million tons sent through the arrangement have been shipped to Africa. “Today, Russian representatives in the Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre are literally fighting to include bulk carriers bound for Africa into the Black Sea Initiative,” said Ms Zhakarova.

“On the contrary, Ukrainian officials are insisting on priority registration of the biggest vessels in a bid to gain maximum profits. they have no interest in (helping) starving Africans.”

Lavrov was also speaking of reforms at the UN Security Council. The 15-member body whose decisions are binding to the entire UN member states has no representatives from Africa with veto powers.

“The UN Security Council’s Problem is the over-representation of the western states,” he argued.

“Out of 15 current members, six are represented by the US and their allies. Accepting representatives from Africa, Latin America and Asia will be the only way of ensuring proper representation in this key authority of the United Nations Organisation.