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German foreign office "sorry" for tweet taking a dig at Russia's African outreach with a leopard emoji

Johannesburg — A German foreign ministry quip about leopards and an African tour by Russia's top diplomat has sparked a cool response on the continent, ranging from bewilderment to accusations of insensitivity. On Wednesday, Germany said it would deliver 14 of its top-of-the-line Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, bolstering support for the country in its fight against the Russian invasion along with the U.S., which promised 31 M1 Abrams tanks.

The move was announced as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in southern Africa on a trip aimed at drumming support for Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in South Africa
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor (not seen) during his official visit in Pretoria, South Africa, January 23, 2023. Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency/Getty

"Lavrov is in Africa, not to see (leopard emoji) but to bluntly claim that #Ukraine's partners 'want to destroy everything Russian'," the German foreign office tweeted.

Some were unimpressed by the pun and hit at the emoji as a stereotype of Africa as a land for little more than safaris.

Ebba Kalondo, spokeswoman for the African Union's chair, replied asking whether German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had also "come to see animals" when she visited the Ethiopia-based AU headquarters this month.

"Or is the Continent of Africa, its people & wildlife just a joke to you?" she wrote.

Zainab Usman, head of the Africa Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the tweet was "not a good look."

"Using terrible stereotypes... to score a geopolitical upper cut to an adversary in a European war will not win you any African friends. Tone deaf! Do better!" she wrote on Twitter.

Later the German foreign office replied it was "sorry" and the tweet was "in no way intended to mean offense" but to call out "the lies that Russia uses to justify its war of aggression."

"Point taken. Thinking of a different, German breed of leopards may have made us miss the connotation you are pointing out," it said in a reply to Usman.

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