At least seven African presidents are heading to Ukraine and Russia next week on a mission they call “the road to peace.” Their goal is to find out what it would take to entice the two warring nations into a peace summit with South Africa as a possible host.
The peace mission is inspired by African concern about the rising economic costs caused by war, including rising food prices that plague the entire continent. But it is also driven by the desire of many African leaders – including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa – to show they are truly non-aligned on the Ukraine conflict rather than on Moscow’s side, as many critics allege.
Analysts are skeptical of his chances of success. Ukrainian leaders have reacted coolly to the African mission, saying it has no specifics so far. They are insistent that the African proposal must fit into the core of Ukraine’s own peace plan, which rejects any immediate ceasefire that would “stabilize” the conflict.
The peace mission is currently scheduled to begin next Friday in Kiev, where the African president will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The next day he will travel to the Russian city of St. Petersburg to meet President Vladimir Putin.
The war in Ukraine “has serious implications for us in terms of cost of living”. [and] Food security,” Khumbudzo Ntshaveni, South Africa’s minister for the presidency, told a media briefing on Thursday.
“Our non-alignment is because we are in search of peace, and we are not in search of peace as spectators,” she said. “If we are serious about ending that conflict, we should be receptive to the possibility of South Africa hosting a peace summit here. I am not saying it is going to happen, but I am saying That we should prepare ourselves.”
Apart from Mr Ramaphosa, the other African leaders in the mission are Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; Macky Sall, President of Senegal; Hakinde Hichilema, President of Zambia; Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of the Congo; and Azali Assoumani, President of Comoros, who is also the current Chair of the African Union. They are expected to be joined by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“We want to hear both sides,” Mr Ramaphosa said earlier this week after an online meeting of African leaders to discuss the mission.
“They need to outline their own perspective on the war, as well as what their minimum requirements are to end the conflict.”
Egyptian presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmy said in a statement this week that African leaders had agreed “to work toward an end to this conflict, given its enormous negative effects on African countries and the rest of the world.” Africa has a strong interest.” in many important areas, such as food and energy security and international finance.”
Mr Putin, who is hosting a separate Russia-Africa summit in July to which all African leaders have been invited, seems keen to meet African presidents. But the Ukrainian government has become more cautious, urging African leaders to support a different Ukrainian peace plan.
“There is a war on Ukrainian soil. Ukrainians suffer the most, and therefore we think it is appropriate to have a Ukrainian peace formula at the core of the peace effort,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told African journalists at a briefing this week. “We therefore call on all African countries to join in the implementation of this formula.”
Mr. Kuleba said that the African leaders have not yet revealed any specific peace plan for Ukraine. While his government sees “value” in talking with them, any peace plan must fit with the core principles of Ukraine’s own peace formula, which rejects the “freezing” of the current situation, he said.
The African peace mission is being facilitated by the Brazzaville Foundation, a non-profit group founded by wealthy French commodities trader Jean-Yves Olivier, who led some of the initial efforts to end apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Took part in the negotiations.
As a sign of the uphill battle they face, African leaders have already seen their mission repeatedly delayed. In early February, the Brazzaville Foundation said it had been working on a peace mission for months.
Last week, Mr Olivier tweeted that the peacekeeping mission would take place on June 8 and 9, but deleted the tweet within hours. The Brazzaville Foundation did not explain why the tweet was removed.
Greg Mills, director of the South African think tank the Brainthorst Foundation, said there are “serious doubts” about the peacekeeping mission’s chances of success. “There is some risk of this backfiring badly,” he said in comments last week after meeting Ukrainian officials in Kiev.
He quoted a Ukrainian lawmaker, Hryhory Nemyria, as saying that the African initiative is “doomed to fail” because it would support a ceasefire that allows Russia to continue to occupy 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory. “This is unacceptable to Ukrainians,” Mr Nemeria told Mr Mills.