Thursday 15 June 2023

Seven African Presidents Off to Russia and Ukraine for Peace Talks

President Hichilema welcoming President El-Sisi
 in Lusaka last week during COMESA Summit.
-Picture by State House Zambia
 By Paul Shalala

Seven African Presidents are on their way to Europe to start mediating in the Russia-Ukraine War which has had global implications.

President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisis of Egypt, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Brazaville and President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros are on their way to Ukraine and Russia as part of the African Peace Initiative which aims at halting hostilities.

The African initiative is among many efforts being made to stop the war which has displaced millions of Ukrainians and left thousands dead.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, countless efforts by the Chinese, Americans and European countries have been made to end hostilities but all have failed.

And now African leaders want to try their luck.

Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stanley Kakubo says the African presidents will start their visit in Ukraine before proceeding to Russia.

Mr. Kakubo says President Hichilema and his African counterparts will hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday and later meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in his home town of Saint Petersburg the following day.

“The African Peace Initiative draws upon Africa’s successful track record of resolving conflicts through dialogue and peace-building, with the African leaders aiming to encourage open dialogue and negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” said Mr. Kakubo.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Mr. Kakubo said Zambia remains deeply committed to global peace as a catalyst for socio-economic development in Africa and the world at large.

He said the Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted Africa's commodity supply chain and extended the humanitarian crisis.

President Hichilema left Zambia on Wednesday night for Europe.

Of the seven African Presidents travelling to Europe for the peace mission, the South African leader Ramaphosa is the closest to Moscow and according to media reports in the west, he is the delegation leader.

President Ramaphosa may use his links to Russia to push for a resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.

South Africa has refused to condemn Russia for the February 2022 invasion of its neighbor and is currently embroiled in a diplomatic row over the presence of President Putin at the forthcoming BRICS summit it is scheduled to host in August.

A few weeks ago, Pretoria issued immunity to all heads of state who are expected to attend the summit which would pave way for the Russian strongman to attend even when the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for him over the Ukrainian war.

BRICS is a group of emerging economies which has become a force in global economics and is slowly being tipped to be a shadow of the G8 group of countries.

It stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

A local think tank in Zambia is hopeful that the effort by African Presidents will yield positive results.

The Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) says African leaders have the capacity to do many good things not only on the continent but also at the world stage.

“The fact that the 7 countries have been accepted by both Ukraine and Russia as legitimate peace brokers must give confidence to all of us that there is a possibility for success. We commend the leaders of the 7 countries for being bold and wish them all the very best in undertaking this important peace building effort for the entire world,” said SACCORD Executive Director Boniface Cheembe in a statement.

And a good governance researcher at the University of Zambia Nalukui Milapo says the effort by African leaders is worth trying.

Dr. Milapo, who is part of the Institute of Economic and Social Research at the University of Zambia, says African countries enjoy warm relations with Moscow and they may just prevail over Putin.

“While relations between Moscow and a few African countries have weakened in the recent past, it is still worth noting that historically, Africa has enjoyed warm relations with Russia, which has provided education and covert military support. These ties go back to the Soviet era. On the other hand, the visit to Kiev is meant to underline the fact that Africans also still look to the West and their democratic ideals, which Zambia especially espouses. For me, Zambia has been enlisted because of its democratic credentials. I doubt if anything will come out of this engagement, but it is worth trying just like others have done,” said Dr. Milapo.

She adds that the African delegation headed for Moscow and Kiev has had varied positions on the war, recalling that during voting for the United Nations resolution condemning the Ukraine war, Zambia and Egypt voted in favour of the motion while South Africa and others abstained.

It is yet to be seen how far these African leaders will go in pushing for peace in Europe when little or not progress has been made in bringing peace to war torn Central African Republic, Sudan and Somalia which are in their backyard.


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