Kenya has declined a request from Ukraine to address Parliament, as Nairobi officials fear being dragged into a conflict with the potential to hurt its bilateral ties with both Kyiv and Moscow.
The details emerged on Monday as Kenyan diplomats in Nairobi argued they have been doing enough already through the UN Security Council.
Ukraine, which has been defending its territory against Russia’s invasion, made the request to address the Kenyan bicameral House in February when Moscow launched what it called a military operation in that country.
According to Business Daily, the request was not honoured, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintaining silence on the matter.
On Tuesday, a senior ministry official told Business Daily there was no need to allow the speech, adding that Kyiv should make use of the available diplomatic channels.
“Why would they want to address the Kenyan Parliament, for instance? Is there a precedence?” an official asked.
Kenya holds one of the 10 non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council and both Ukraine and Russia see it as critical in deciding issues related to the conflict at the horse-shoe-shaped table in New York.
While Nairobi has used its non-permanent seat on the Security Council to either condemn the invasion or abstain from decisions of both the General Assembly and the Council, it is yet to grant two wishes critical to Kyiv: a top-level meeting involving foreign ministers, and the speech to Parliament.
Well-placed sources on Monday told the Business Daily that for two months, Ukraine’s ambassador to Kenya, Andrii Pravednyk, has been seeking to meet with Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet secretary Raychelle Omamo in vain.
Nairobi on Monday denied it had refused an audience with the Ukrainian diplomat, saying all his requests had been addressed, except the speech to Parliament.
On Monday, during a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine, under the ‘maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine’, Kenya, once again, condemned the invasion.
Nairobi, however, has been cautious as well, avoiding departing from the African Union’s position, which condemns the invasion but opposes the massive economic sanctions imposed on Russia.
On Friday, Nairobi abstained from a UN General Assembly vote that proposed suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
The vote eventually passed, but Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria were some of the African countries that abstained.
Kenya, one of the largest economies in Africa, has been clear on its stance over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even before troops crossed the border on February 24.
The country’s ambassador to the UN, Martin Kimani, rejected Russia’s recognition of two breakaway regions in Ukraine, and he called the invasion an “act of war”.
Kenya said the Russian military action had triggered trauma and oppression of the colonial past in Africa.
“The humanitarian crisis in Ukraine is unnecessary and I reiterate Kenya’s recognition of Ukraine’s inviolable right to sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence,” Mr Kimani told the UN Security Council the day before the UN General Assembly vote.
He condemned what he described as the “racist treatment” of Africans barred from fleeing the conflict, which is “damaging the spirt of solidarity needed today”.
But the Kenyan diplomat gave a warning that the growing international sanctions against Russia might be tantamount to collective punishment given the dire consequences and domino effect on other economies worldwide.
The invasion has caused a wheat crisis and prices have soared to a record high as the war has slowed agricultural exports from Russia and Ukraine, known as the Black Sea breadbasket. The two countries typically provide a quarter of global wheat exports as well as large volumes of corn, barley and vegetable oil.
The conflict has highlighted how many states are seeking to balance relations between Moscow and Washington and experts say there has been nervousness about direct criticism of Russia.
But many countries – including regional powers like Kenya and Ghana – have said they are deeply concerned about the use of force to project national security interests that could create a troubling precedent in the historically conflict-riven continent.
Since Vladimir Putin became president in 2012 after a four-year stint as prime minister, post-Soviet Russia has sought to advance its interests in some African countries and the Middle East as part of its efforts to expand its global footprint.
In 2019, Mr Putin held a summit in the resort city of Sochi with more than 40 African leaders and told them that Moscow could offer help without the strings he said came with help from the West.
On the same day as the Russian assault on Ukraine, one of Sudan’s most powerful generals, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
The head of Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces said after the meeting that both countries had agreed to deepen ties in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and oil and gas.
Days later, 20,000 tonnes of wheat arrived from Russia at Sudan’s main trade centre, Port Sudan.
Trade between Sudan and Moscow totalled $322.5 million in 2020, making Russia one of the North African nation’s top 10 trading partners, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.
Russia has also been lobbying in Sudan for several months to secure a military base on the Red Sea, local media have reported.
Moscow has a presence in Guinea, where Russian companies are involved in gold mining. In the Central African Republic, Russian mercenaries are reportedly fighting rebels who oppose the government, while protecting diamond and gold deposits.
Russia has sought to deepen ties with Mali since a coup in the West African nation last year. In December, hundreds of mercenaries linked to Russia’s private paramilitary Wagner Group arrived in Mali, French and US security officials said.
Malian authorities denied the presence of Wagner forces and said the Russians were part of a contingent of military trainers in the country.
Egypt voted to condemn Russia’s invasion despite it relying on the country for wheat and other food imports. Strident criticism of Moscow’s policies may make it harder to secure supplies in the event of disruption to Ukrainian wheat exports given that the Russian government has made a list of “unfriendly” countries that mean commercial deals will require an official review.
Egypt is, like many countries in the region, in a tight spot as it is also keen on maintaining its security relationship with the US and trade links with Europe.
It is attempting a balancing act in this crisis, says Hamish Kinnear, North Africa and Middle East analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a specialist in global risk analytics.
In Libya, there have been official statements by Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s Government of National Accord and Fathi Bashagha’s Government of National Stability condemning Russia.