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Russia looms large on Scholz's first Africa tour as chancellor

Senegal's President Macky Sall welcomes German Chancellor Olaf Scholz upon his arrival in Dakar, Senegal May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Andreas Rinke

Russia's impact on energy and food prices and security will provide the backdrop to Olaf Scholz's first trip to Africa as German Chancellor, a three-day tour of Senegal, Niger and South Africa kicking off on Sunday.

The first stop on Scholz's trip is Senegal, which has billions of cubic metres of gas reserves and is expected to become a major gas producer in the region.

Senegal's president Macky Sall and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hold a press conference at the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal May 22, 2022. REUTERS/ Ngouda Dione

Germany is seeking to reduce its heavy reliance on Russia for gas following the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine. It could help explore a gas field in Senegal, a government official said on Friday.

The source said Scholz also wanted to discuss possible cooperation on the development of renewable energy. In Senegal, he will visit a solar power plant after meeting and holding a joint news conference with the country's President Macky Sall.

Germany has invited both Senegal, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union, and South Africa to attend the G7 summit it is hosting in June as guest countries.

Senegal's president Macky Sall receives German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal May 22, 2022. REUTERS/ Ngouda Dione

Both countries abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a special military operation to demilitarize a neighbor it says threatened its security.

Ukraine and Western allies say the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.

The conflict has triggered supply disruptions that have pushed up food and energy prices in Africa. Russia's military has blocked exports from ports in Ukraine, a major grains and food supplier to the region. The Kremlin blames Western sanctions for the rising prices.

SECURITY IN THE SAHEL

Scholz will travel later on Sunday to Niger. The country has taken on a bigger role hosting European special forces to stem a jihadist insurgency across the Sahel since European relations with the military junta ruling neighboring Mali have deteriorated.

The European Union suspended its military training mission in Mali due to a lack of guarantees from Malian authorities that military contractors from Russia's Wagner Group would not interfere in the work. The group is under EU sanctions accused of human rights abuses.

Russia denies any wrongdoing in Mali or in any other country where Wagner operates. Both Mali and Russia have previously said Wagner Group is not made up of mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment bought from Russia.

Scholz will visit German troops in Niger and discuss the lengthy battle against insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that have killed thousands and made swathes of territory ungovernable in the Sahel, south of the Sahara.

On Monday evening Scholz is set to travel to Johannesburg for the final leg of his tour.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)