Ukrainian President Selenskyj addresses the AU
Last Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj addressed the African Union (AU) via video conference. The closed-door conversation was the first with the regional organisation since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February this year. In his ten-minute speech, Selenskyj stressed that Russia, not Ukraine, was responsible for the current blockade of grain exports and thus the food crisis on the African continent. In doing so, he accused Russia of having taken Africa “hostage” in this conflict and highlighted the good trade relations as well as the Ukrainian contribution to peacekeeping missions in Africa. At the same time, he assured that Ukraine and its partners would do their utmost to “build a new supply logistics for Africa and other continents”. In addition, Selenskyj announced the appointment of a Ukrainian Special Envoy for Africa and proposed the organisation of an Africa-Ukraine conference to further strengthen political and economic cooperation in the future. The AU reiterated in the talks that dialogue was urgently needed to restore global stability. Ukraine had been trying to organise the talks with AU leaders since April, but the AU had repeatedly postponed them. Besides AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki and Senegalese President and current AU Chairperson, Macky Sall, only Alassane Ouattara (Côte d’Ivoire), Mohammed el-Menfi (Libya) and Denis Sassou Nguesso (Republic of Congo) out of the 55 African heads of state and government invited, attended in person, in addition to Meanwhile, seven African heads of state and government met in Nairobi at the same time to discuss security issues in the Great Lakes region. The other member states were only represented at foreign minister or ambassador level. After Macky Sall had travelled to Russia three weeks ago to meet President Putin in person (press review week 23/2022), critical voices assessed the talks as a purely symbolic gesture by the AU to refocus communication, which had previously been strongly directed at Russia, and thus, to emphasise the continent’s neutrality in the conflict. On Twitter, Sall welcomed Selenskyj’s “friendly address” and stressed Africa’s willingness to respect the rules of international law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Constitutional change sought in Tunisia
In recent days, thousands of people have protested in Tunis against President Saied’s planned constitutional change. A general strike by more than 700,000 public sector workers paralysed large parts of the country on Thursday. After Saied, who has been in office since 2019, dissolved parliament last year and has since ruled by decree, many see the new constitution as another step towards keeping the president in power permanently. The president, however, claims to want to overcome the government crisis that has been going on for a year and to fight the profound corruption by changing his powers. The domestic tensions are further aggravated by the ongoing financial and economic crisis. Due to the economic consequences of the Corona pandemic, Tunisia is on the verge of national bankruptcy, from which a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now supposed to save it. The IMF demands far-reaching reforms and supports the president’s reform course, while it is rejected by the Tunisian trade unions. Another point of contention in the drafting of the new constitution is the future role of Islam. President Saied plans to no longer anchor Islam as the state religion in the constitution, which has met with criticism from the Muslim-majority society and especially from the largest opposition party, Ennahda, which is considered moderate Islam. After the Arab Spring, the religious and secular actors agreed to anchor Islam as the official state religion in the 2014 constitution as well. The law professor appointed to revise the constitution and Chairman of the High Consultative National Committee for the New Republic, Sadek Belaid, presented the new draft to the president last Monday. If he approves the redraft, a final referendum is scheduled for 25 July. The opposition has already announced its boycott.
In other news
On Saturday, Documenta fifteen opened in Kassel. While this year’s Documenta is overshadowed by accusations of anti-Semitism, other pieces of art tend to receive less attention. However, African collectives are particularly well represented this year, questioning the Western sovereignty of interpretation over art and world history with their artworks. For example, The Nest Collective from Kenya criticises the export of textile and electronic waste to Africa, which is often disguised as a donation, with their pavilion made of fabric bales called “Return to Sender – Delivery Details“: The fabric bales are made of used textiles donated from Europe, which, however, can no longer be used due to their low quality and poor condition. According to the collective, about 40% of the second-hand textiles exported to Kenya are unusable. The installation also includes artworks made from e-waste and a film about the socio-economic impact of second-hand textile donations.