Despite the cynicism, African peace mission should be welcomed
Arena Holdings PTY
It may be easy to dismiss cynically the initiative of African heads of state who have planned a peace mission to Moscow and Kyiv in an effort to help end the war in Ukraine. The criticism, at times caustic and condescending, points to the fact that Africa has had mixed results in attempts to silence the guns in its own backyard. And many Africans continue to perish while trying to cross dangerous seas in search of a better life in Europe, evidently fleeing the consequences of governance failures at home. How then, some have asked, would such leaders help achieve a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine? It may be true that African leaders need to do more to ensure peace and development on the continent. But it is also true that President Cyril Ramaphosa is among few leaders in the world today able to make calls to both Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — calls they take seriously. The two leaders have agreed to meet the African delegation separately in Moscow and Kyiv. Such an engagement, even if it meets with limited success, will add to other global efforts to end a conflict whose ramifications affect much of the world. China, a member of Brics like South Africa, made a similar call for a peace process in February, tabling a 12-point plan, but it did not gain traction, largely because of Beijing’s political proximity to Moscow. Similarly, many European and American leaders have access and influence on only one side of the conflict — Kyiv. In part, this limitation has entrenched the stalemate. South Africa is one of six nations involved in the peace mission, four of which abstained from a UN resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when the war started 15 months ago. Their perceived neutrality should potentially enhance their locus standi in the peace effort. Pretoria’s participation comes in the wake of claims by US ambassador Reuben Brigety that it provided weapons to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine — claims for which he has yet to provide proof, and which are due to be investigated by a judicial inquiry announced by Ramaphosa. Zelensky, while raising reservations, welcomed Ramaphosa’s participation in efforts to broker peace. While Putin initially characterised his military offensive as a special operation, likely to be swift, it has become a protracted, costly affair not just for the two countries involved. The UN, which is supposed to the global forum for resolving such conflicts, could only condemn Russia’s patently illegal invasion. Other than that, the world body seems to have run into a wall over what must happen next. We believe the African mission, while facing ridicule from some quarters, deserves to be given a chance. To say this is not to believe naively that a peaceful resolution to the war is theirs to lose. That there are wars on the African continent does not preclude the leaders from making a contribution that could help resolve a conflict that has impacted global supply chains and pushed up prices, fanning inflation. It is plain that the war has reached a stalemate, with neither side likely to prevail. The only hope to end this increasingly costly conflict is through negotiations. Even if the African mission represents only a small step in the search for peace, it should be welcomed. That both Putin and Zelensky have agreed to talk is good enough. That the issues to be resolved may be complex and intractable can’t be denied. What is critical is for the warring parties to silence the guns, to stop the bombs and start negotiations. The process may be long and arduous. But Rome, as they say, was not built in a day.