CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Germany apologized on Thursday for using a leopard emoji in a jibe at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Twitter that ended up offending some Africans.
The German foreign ministry poked fun at Russia’s top diplomat during his tour of Africa when it tweeted that he wasn’t there looking for leopards, but using the trip to try and justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The tweet, and the leopard emoji the foreign ministry used on its official account, played off Germany’s decision to send some of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help its military fight off Russian forces.
But an African Union official took offense at what she said was the continent being portrayed as only about wild animals. Ebba Kalondo, the spokeswoman for AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted back to the German government account questioning if Africa, its people and its wildlife was “just a joke to you?”
“Foreign policy is not a joke nor should it be used to score cheap geopolitical points by illustrating an entire Continent with colonial tropes,” Kalondo wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The German foreign ministry apologized and said that the tweet wasn’t meant to offend, but rather “to call out the lies that Russia uses to justify its imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine.”
Lavrov has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea this week, where he has repeated his claims that the United States and its Western allies are using Ukraine as a tool in a “hybrid war” against Russia.
Many African nations still hold historical ties with Moscow. South Africa was one of several to abstain from a U.N. vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution alongside Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria.