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Kyiv steps up its diplomatic effort

Ukraine inaugurates embassies in Côte d'Ivoire and Congo-Kinshasa and plans to open more

Ukraine continues to expand its diplomatic footprint in Africa, by opening embassies in Côte d'Ivoire and Congo-Kinshasa.

'This war can seem very far away. But the catastrophic increase in food prices has already impacted the lives of millions of African families,' Ukraine's Special Representative for the Middle East and Africa Maksym Subkh said at the opening of the new embassy in Abidjan.

Subkh is due to visit Ghana, Mozambique, Botswana and Rwanda to inaugurate embassies in the coming weeks.

Having had only a minor presence in Africa prior to Russia's invasion in 2022, the Ukrainian government last year vowed to invest significant political capital to deepen ties with African countries, based around a mixture of grain diplomacy, tapping into anti-imperial sentiment in Africa, and gradual influence building (AC Vol 64 No 12, Grain-fed diplomacy).

'We are starting from scratch in Africa. This continent needs systematic and long-term work. It's not something that happens overnight,' said Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, adding that Kyiv intended to 'free Africa from Russia's grip'.

Last December, President Volodymyr Zelensky's government published the country's first-ever Ukraine-Africa Communication Strategy, a three-year blueprint designed 'to systematically raise awareness of Ukraine among target audiences in Africa.'

Officials in Kyiv have briefed that the government will announce an expansion of its grain shipments programme, alongside a major diplomatic drive that will see it roughly doubling its embassies in Africa to over 20 this year, while President Zelensky is likely to make his first state visit to the continent in the coming months.

Last month, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told an event in Washington that President Zelensky was expected in South Africa in the coming months 'because he'd like to strengthen and expand the engagement'.

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