The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, recently visited Africa, and it didn’t go well. From Aug. 3 to 7, she visited Uganda, Ghana, and Cape Verde. While the goal of the short tour was to discuss U.S. efforts to address the global food security crisis that several countries on the continent are experiencing, but instead it turned out to be an opportunity for the U.S to warn African countries against doing business with Russia.
Prior to its invasion of Ukraine, Russia increased its trade with Africa in 2021, which now exceeds $20 billion, according to “Russia Briefing” published by pan-Asia investment data service company Dezan Shira & Associates.
Ahead of a trip to Uganda and Ghana, Greenfield said in an interview that it would be a “listening tour” and that she wanted to find solutions for the food insecurity crisis that has worsened on the African continent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. installed sanctions. But during her trip, Thomas-Greenfield warned African countries against buying anything from Russia except grain and fertilizer. She insisted there are “red lines” the countries should not cross — or there could be consequences, especially if they trade in U.S.-sanctioned commodities such as Russian oil.
The U.S. banned imports of Russian oil and natural gas in March.
Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black American, was nominated by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to be the Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations as well as the Representative of the United States of America in the Security Council of the United Nations on January 20, 2021. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 23, 2021, and sworn in on February 24, 2021.
A career diplomat, Thomas-Greenfield returned to public service after retiring from a 35-year career with the U.S. Foreign Service in 2017. Her career includes an ambassadorship to Liberia (2008-2012) and postings in Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria, and Jamaica, according to her bio.
“Countries can buy Russian agricultural products, including fertilizer and wheat,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said, according to The Associated Press. But, she added, “if a country decides to engage with Russia, where there are sanctions, then they are breaking those sanctions.”
Buying Russian oil could constitute breaking those sanctions.
“We caution countries not to break those sanctions,” Thomas-Greenfield said, because then “they stand the chance of having actions taken against them.”
Some saw the sending of a Black U.S. diplomat to issue the warning was calculated.
“A black woman comes to Africa as a messenger of a system that was buying and selling her ancestors into slavery, to tell Africans that they are not free to trade with whomever they want. How painfully ironic!” tweeted Addis Qnie, MD.
Thomas-Greenfield’s warning didn’t sit well with many African officials, as many African countries have good trade relations with Russia. And some countries, like Uganda, have chosen not to take sides between the U.S. and Russia over the war in Ukraine. Uganda is one of 25 African nations that abstained or didn’t vote in the U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, AP reported.
Also, Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of grain to African countries, and rising prices as a result of the war have hit Africa hard, The New York Times reported. Millions on the continent do not have enough to eat, according to the humanitarian aid organization Alima.
“The sanctions against Russia have worsened this situation, and now we have no access to grain from Russia, mainly wheat. And most importantly, we have no access to fertilizers. The situation was bad, and now it has worsened, creating a threat to food security in Africa,” Macky Sall, president of Senegal and of the African Union, said after a recent meeting with Russian officials, MR Online reported.
Photo: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks to reporters after delivering a keynote address on peace and food security at the University of Ghana in Accra, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Misper Apawu)