Photo: REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko – Egypt’s Prime Minister Mustafa Madbuly, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, President of the Union of Comoros Azali Assoumani, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema walk to attend a joint press conference, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2023.
By Adeoye O. Akinola
On 16 June 2023, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and a team of Selected African leaders arrived in Ukraine and subsequently visited Russia, as part of efforts to mediate and end the destructive and disruptive war between the two European countries.
The ‘African Peace Mission’ presented a 10-point agenda to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Africans, home and abroad, have reacted differently to the peace efforts. While many positively received it, others have been very critical of what they termed a ‘wasted effort’.
The trip has been criticised due to its lack of legitimacy and support from other African leaders, including the secretariat of the continental organisation, African Union (AU), which continues to act as an African Agency in the international terrain. While many have been unsatisfied with the incapacity of the AU to act as an effective African Agency, the regional institution still has the legitimacy to act on behalf of continental Africa.
Apart from the non-involvement of the AU and other African regional powers in the ‘peace mission’, three other leaders of African countries – Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Republic of the Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni – that had earlier agreed to join the team later pulled out. However, four Presidents – South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Senegal’s leader Macky Sall, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, and Comoros President Azali Assoumani, and representatives of the Ugandan and Egyptian leaders, made the trip.
As widely communicated after their meetings with leaders of Ukraine and Russia, there remains a long walk to ceasefire and peace. Ukraine leaders insisted that Russian troops must completely withdraw from all the occupied territories before any meaningful ceasefire talk, while Russia maintained that peace would be “difficult to realise”. As reported by Aljazeera, members of the African mission had a taste of the war when a Russian bomb hit Ukraine during their visit, forcing the leaders to take cover.
Indeed, facilitating an end to the Russian-Ukraine war must be seen in a positive light. Africa and the international community would definitely benefit from a truce between the two conflicting countries. The war is a major distortion to the existing global international economic order and political system. Though, Africa has failed to use the moment to renegotiate its status and become more assertive and relevant in global affairs. Was this part of the objectives of the peace mission? Would it not have been more effective to dialogue with the ‘powers’ behind Ukraine, particularly NATO’s major powers? The team that travelled to Ukraine and Russia seemed too lightweight to achieve this.
Second, Africa may soon become the battlefield for the exertion of the hegemony of the West and the East. As experienced during and after several wars, Africa has been at the receiving end of wars through the proliferation of arms and privatization of instruments of coercion.
Illegal arms and ammunition always find their way to Africa to further destabilise the continent and aggravate the militarisation of the conflict zones.
Furthermore, the continuation of the war would have a negative effect on Africa’s economic development and sustainable peace and security due to the possibility of a significant decline in foreign financial assistance. Despite the opposition of many Africans to its dependency status, sadly the continent depends on global powers for its survival. For instance, the European Union (EU) is the major financial pillar of Africa’s peace and security architecture.
While the impact of the war on food security could have been exaggerated, an end to the war will create more access to food, such as grains, and agricultural products, like fertilizer and cooking oil. It may also enhance the stability of international prices of crude oil and petroleum products.
The conflict is also forcing African countries (many of which rely on foreign assistance from both the West and Russia’s ally) to choose a side in a coercive manner. The weaponisation of the dollar is becoming more apparent. The West has become uncomfortable with African countries such as Eritrea, Mali, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Congo DRC, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, which are perceived to be supporting Russia because they abstained from voting – in October 2022 and in February 2023 – during United Nations (UN) condemnation of Russia’s attack of Ukraine.
It is important to understand Pretoria’s interest in ending the conflict as fast as possible. The war is complicating South Africa’s membership of BRICS (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and other international partnerships, like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), as the US begins to debate punishing countries that support
Russia. South Africa may be disqualified from benefiting from the duty-free access to the US market for its products. The need to prevent this motivated the Western Cape Premier, Alan Winde, to visit the US.
South Africa continues to reiterate its neutrality and non-aligned position, but its membership in the 5-nation BRICS, close ties with Russia, including a joint-military exercise during the war, and its plan to host the Russian strong-man, President Putin, in August, despite the issuance of an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC), have complicated Pretoria’s neutral stance. Depending on the divergent perspectives on South Africa’s position in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, African countries should enjoy the sovereignty to ‘freely’ project their national interests. However, their reliance on global powers would continue to impede their ‘free will’.
While it is commendable to be a peacemaker, many Africans would be glad to see another ‘African peace mission’ heading to Sudan, Congo DRC, Cameroon, and Haiti, where the lives of thousands of Africans are being lost because of unnecessary and mindless conflict.
When will our national and regional leaders commit more to Silencing the Guns in Africa, and the African community abroad?
*Dr Adeoye O. Akinola is the Head of Research and Teaching at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa.