Ramaphosa’s ‘peace mission’ just a cynical manoeuvre to deflect attention from his government




Arena Holdings PTY



Any initiative to bring peace to any trouble spot in the world is obviously something to be cheered and welcomed. As Winston Churchill would have said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war. But the so-called peace mission to Ukraine and Russia by a group of hapless African leaders, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is doomed to fail. It’s dead in the water. The trip cannot be a genuine effort to seek peace, but more an attempt to enhance the international standing of the delegation. It’s nothing but a cynical manoeuvre by Ramaphosa to deflect attention — and criticism — from his government, which has scored one own-goal after another over the issue. One would have said his in-tray would be brimming with issues requiring his urgent attention. The country has been plunged into darkness; and more people die here as a result of crime. Why and how these six countries — the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa — were favoured with this project is difficult to tell. It’s not as if they’re consummate peace brokers or paragons of virtue. Some of them would hardly pass the democracy test. Only Senegal and Zambia make the grade. Congo is an unstable kleptocracy. Uganda is ruled by a ruthless octogenarian in power for almost four decades and whose latest gift to his country has been to pass a law that seeks to send gay people to the gallows simply for being gay. Egypt is ruled by a murderous despot and former head of the military, who took advantage of the Arab spring protests that ousted Hosni Mubarak to enforce an even more brutal regime. Many protesters have been sentenced to death for opposing his rule. Quite a galaxy of eminent people that Ramaphosa is to lead to sort out probably one of the most consequential conflicts since World War 2. To be a credible mediator surely one needs to be above reproach, to have a record of achievement and, especially, be able to show that one’s own backyard has been swept. Africa is by far the most unstable part of the world, with regional conflicts erupting with distressing regularity. African leaders often show little appetite to resolve these conflicts. Right now Sudan — not far from Uganda — is in the grip of a cataclysmic military conflict and the continent so far has been indifferent. How about a high-powered African peace delegation to Khartoum? Mediators in any conflict should be neutral and be seen to be so. The eminences soon to pack their bags for Moscow and Kyiv are anything but. They almost seem to have been picked by Vladimir Putin himself. Four of the countries — Congo, Egypt, Uganda and South Africa — hosted Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov this year. That Ramaphosa — and his government — is a fervent Putin poodle through and through is now an established fact. And the fact that he thinks he can hoodwink the world into believing otherwise points to his hubris or naiveté. But naiveté maybe suits the bill. It’s been nothing short of a national embarrassment to hear from the Americans what was on that Russian ship. Whether what they’re saying is true we won’t know, because our government also doesn’t seem to have a clue, apparently. We will have to wait for a judicial commission to establish probably in a year what could be verified by a mere phone call. Of course, this is not an isolated incident. We had that 10day joint naval drill between China, Russia and South Africa off our coast in February. A Russian cargo plane landed at Waterkloof air force base last month. Thandi Modise has made a pilgrimage to Moscow; so has Obed Bapela, who led an entourage of his ANC comrades recently. This week we learnt that the head of the army, Lt-Gen Lawrence Mbatha, was in Moscow for talks on “improving combat readiness”. And of course Ramaphosa is always thrilled to bits for Putin to take his calls. The Russians can’t believe their luck. They’ve got a poodle on a leash for next to nothing. Like a discordant chorus, they may think they’re showing the Americans the middle finger, but these people are like children playing with landmines. The thing will blow up in their faces, with dire consequences for the country. Russia is of no economic value to South Africa. But Ramaphosa’s fellow busybodies are similarly conflicted. Egypt had initially planned to secretly manufacture rockets for the Russians, until they were strong-armed by the Americans to change tack and supply ammunition to Ukraine instead. Egypt’s strongman had to listen. His country is the biggest recipient of US aid after Israel and Jordan. Speaking alongside Lavrov, Yoweri Museveni said Uganda could not be expected to be Russia’s enemy on the say-so of others. His son, seen as heir apparent, has said his country would be prepared to send its troops to protect Putin if asked. But why do these Africans think they can succeed where people with more heft have failed? The muchpublicised effort by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the beginning of the conflict went nowhere. The Chinese, who have more clout over Putin, are still soldiering on with their own plan. Volodymyr Zelensky doesn’t need this circus. It’ sa waste of his precious time. He’s involved in a life-and-death struggle to save his country from a murderous despot. In any case, what’s there to negotiate? Should Ukraine sacrifice its territories in exchange for peace? How do you negotiate with a bully with his boot on your neck? The solution is simple: Putin should get out of Ukraine. Putin will, however, welcome the intervention. He’s scouting about for a way out of this quagmire he got himself into. He’s now apparently banking on Donald Trump to win next year’s US presidential election so he can extricate him from the fruits of his folly. In the meantime, it seems Ramaphosa is prepared to do his bit to give him a helping hand.