Diplomacy as a bulwark against Russian influence in Africa. After the opening of the Ukrainian embassy in Kinshasa on Wednesday April 10, it was in Ivory Coast that kyiv inaugurated its new chancellery on Thursday. Ribbon cutting, flag raising and national anthem: embassy after embassy, ​​Ukraine hopes to “fight against the Russian narrative, widely spread on the African continent”, summarizes Yurii Pyvovarov, Ukrainian ambassador in Dakar, responsible for ensuring the interim representation of Abidjan while awaiting the appointment of an ambassador assigned to Côte d’Ivoire.

In total, six new chancelleries will see the light of day in Africa in the space of two weeks, inaugurated by Ukraine’s special envoy for the Middle East and Africa, Maksym Soubkh. Following the Ivorian opening, Ghana, Botswana, Mozambique and Rwanda will follow, bringing the number of Ukrainian diplomatic representations on the continent to 17. “The objective is to reach 20 embassies,” explains Yurii Pyvovharo from the new chancellery in Abidjan, a plush 1,200 m2 building located a stone’s throw from the Russian embassy.

With the support of the Ivorian government since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine in February 2022, kyiv intends to rely on the leading French-speaking economic power in the sub-region to make it “a pivotal country from which to deploy its strategy of influence in West Africa”, estimates political analyst Sylvain N’Guessan, director of the Abidjan Institute of Strategies. Not enough to compete, in the short and medium term, with the vast network of Russian influence deployed on the continent via its information agencies, cultural centers and military partnerships. But kyiv cannot ignore the weight of Africa in a redefining multipolar world.

“Food” offensive

The trigger for this awareness was the vote on March 2, 2022 at the UN General Assembly, during which only 28 of 54 African countries condemned Russian aggression. Determined to stay away from a war which, they believe, does not concern them, 17 states on the continent abstained, the African Union (AU) having failed to bring about a consensus. Divergences are particularly visible in West Africa, where countries like Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger – Russian instructors arrived in Niamey on Wednesday – unabashedly display their support for Moscow.

From March 1, 2022, the Ivorian state took a clear position against the invasion of Ukraine. Ambassadors to Ivory Coast from European Union countries, the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland were received by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kandia Camara, to assure them of support of President Alassane Ouattara in the vote on UN resolutions condemning Russia.

Support reiterated in July 2022 during a telephone conversation between the Ukrainian and Ivorian presidents, and reinforced two months later during Alassane Ouattara’s speech in New York. Before the United Nations General Assembly, the Ivorian head of state called for “the immediate and definitive cessation of hostilities in Ukraine”. In October of the same year, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also visited Abidjan.

The challenge for Ukrainian diplomacy today is to counter the “food” offensive which allows Vladimir Putin to influence the positions taken by African states dependent on Russian wheat. “This war may seem very distant to you, but the catastrophic rise in food prices has already affected the lives of millions of African families,” recalled Maksym Soubkh from Abidjan, referring to the Russian blockade in the Black Sea, which complicates delivery of cereals destined for the continent.

Eight African countries, including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, benefited from the “Grain of Ukraine” humanitarian food program launched by Kyiv in November 2022. As of the end of February, 7,665 tons of Ukrainian wheat flour are arrived in Sudan, 25,000 tonnes in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt. If for the moment “Seed of Ukraine” does not count Ivory Coast among its beneficiaries, Yurii Pyvovharo says he hopes “for its participation soon”.

Communication battle

In addition to this wheat diplomacy, kyiv wishes to strengthen bilateral trade. With the opening of the Abidjan embassy, ​​she hopes for the support of Côte d’Ivoire during upcoming international meetings, starting with the next high-level conference on peace in Ukraine, which is to be held in Switzerland around mid-June. In the economic chapter, Wautabouna Ouattara, Ivorian Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs, welcomes the “boost” that this inauguration brings in view of the “enormous economic potential” between the two countries, kyiv being particularly interested in Ivorian cocoa and its derived products, and Abidjan by cereals, iron, steel, vegetable and animal fats from Ukraine.

In 2023, the volume of trade between Ivory Coast and Ukraine will be around 90 million euros. According to Wautabouna Ouattara, Ivorian exports to Ukraine have increased by more than 40% compared to 2022 and imports by 18%. Strengthening cooperation between the two States should notably involve the rapprochement between the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Côte d’Ivoire and that of Ukraine. Ambassador Yurii Pyvovarov pledges that trade between the two countries will represent “between 350 and 400 million euros” within five years.

“But what can an embassy do in the face of Russian propaganda? », asks Sylvain N’Guessan, emphasizing the importance of the communication battle in this war for influence of which Africa is one of the main theaters. If, for the researcher, this inauguration allows Abidjan to show that it “is not seduced by Russia and remains in line with the position of Paris”, he believes that Ukraine will have to deploy other tools to rally to its cause “a certain Ivorian youth tired of the French colonial heritage and increasingly inclined to be tempted by pro-Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] thinking”.

In this regard, Ukrainian diplomacy intends to develop agreements in the field of education and wishes to “bring to [its] Ivorian friends [its] experience in spotting Russian lies”, announces Yurii Pyvovarov. The security aspect was not addressed, while Ukrainian forces are today active in Sudan, where they have targeted positions of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, known as “Hemetti”. , who benefit from weapons and training provided by the Russian mercenary group Wagner, present in the country since 2017. A commitment which leaves Kiev’s allies skeptical.