Like a good guest, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on May 29 bearing gifts.
Lavrov, who showed up unannounced, met President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi, and offered him 34,000 tons of Russian fertilizer, ‘free of charge’.
The fertilizer gift comes at a time food crisis continues to loom, and Kenyan farmers, promised cheap fertilizer by President Ruto will be happy to accept desperately this needed commodity.
This is the Russian fertilizer that had been confiscated in Latvia due to European sanctions last year.
And amid global fertilizer shortages and rising prices since 2020, aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine war, the Russian chemicals company Uralchem-Uralkali, confirmed the docking of the shipment.
“Uralchem-Uralkali Group announces that its consignment of 34,000 tons of fertilizers for Kenya has reached the country’s port of Mombasa. The shipment, comprising potash, urea, and NPKS, is currently being unloaded,” the statement read.
This ‘free’ shipment, given by Russia, has serious geopolitical significance.
As the Russia-Ukraine war drags into a second year, Kyiv and Moscow are fighting another interesting battle for the hearts and minds of the Global South, and especially Africa.
Russia is coming to the continent armed not with tanks but fertilizer while Ukraine is deploying shiploads of grain, and the continent is in need of both.
But important is that the two countries are in need of African support, including votes at the United Nations.
For the Kenyan President, fertilizer was a political issue throughout his presidential campaign in 2022, and he needs it urgently, so any help, wherever it comes from is welcome.
But, is it a carrot dangled toward President Ruto by Russia for Kenyan support at the UN?
When Russia attacked Ukraine last year, it is Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, who delivered a message that struck at the heart of the crisis.
At the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, called to discuss the Russian aggression against Ukraine, Kimani did not just condemn the threat to Ukrainian sovereignty by President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
He highlighted how an unceasing obsession over territory and borders is continuing to drive violence around the globe, long after the European empires that drew those demarcations have vanished from the map.
Kenya, which was representing Africa at the United Nations Security Council, was part of the 141 countries that voted in favor of a UN resolution deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demanded a full withdrawal of Russian forces, and a reversal of its decision to recognize the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Kenya remained vocal, and in five out of six United Nations resolutions adopted for the year 2022-2023, Kenya voted in favor of Ukraine and abstained from making a vote suspending the membership of Russia in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Moscow is urging African countries to at least remain neutral at the United Nations if they cannot vote in favor of Russia.
But Ukraine is asking for resounding African support through a vote.
“I urge Africa not to stay neutral. Neutrality will only encourage Russia to continue its aggression and malign activities across the world, including in Africa,’’ said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in 2022
Lavrov, who got an audience with Ruto at State House thanked the Kenyan President for the opportunity, a different approach from how Minister Kuleba was received in Nairobi when he visited last year.
The Ukrainian Foreign minister didn’t get an opportunity to engage one on one with the President like Lavrov. He was granted a phone audience.
However, President Ruto has previously proclaimed himself on the “existential threat” of the Ukraine war.
In an outspoken interview with DW in March, Ruto explained Kenya’s strong opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Today it is Russia and Ukraine. You never know who it is tomorrow”.
A diplomatic source in Nairobi told Kenyan Foreign Policy that, Kenya has always been non-aligned.
“We have no reason not to support Russia as they always support us as they have on many times when we have difficulties with the West,’’ said the unnamed source.
Moscow supported Kenya’s bid for the United Nations Security Council seat in 2021.
And when President Ruto, then Deputy President, and his then boss, Uhuru Kenyatta, were facing trial at the International Criminal Court- the African Union had requested that the UN Security Council defer the cases against Ruto and Uhuru, for one year to allow them to deal with the aftermath of Westgate attack.
The 15-member council was split- seven members, including Russia and China, voted in favor.
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