Message to the African Peace Mission: Ukraine Shares a History with Africa on the Struggle for Liberation

It is very difficult for Ukrainians to accept the neutral character of some members of the African peace delegation, including South Africa and Uganda.

12 June 2023 ·   4 min read

Message to the African Peace Mission: Ukraine Shares a History with Africa on the Struggle for Liberation

An African delegation is due to visit Ukraine on 17 June, and then travel to St Petersburg in Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin in a “peace mission”.

The first question to be asked of this mission is: What does it hope to achieve? The mechanics of this process are unclear, though it has the stated intention of exploring the options for peace.

The participants will reportedly include the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa; the President of the Comoros Islands and current President of the African Union, Othman Ghazali; Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi; Senegal’s President Macky Sall; Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni; and Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema.

These leaders have, according to official South African statements, “agreed that they would engage with both President Putin and President [Volodymyr] Zelensky on the elements for a ceasefire and a lasting peace in the region”. The foreign ministers of these countries have been tasked “to finalise the elements of a roadmap to peace”.

The roadmap for peace is quite clear from a Ukrainian perspective.

Ukraine does not accept any argument that the conflict should be frozen in place with Russia continuing to illegally occupy parts of Ukraine, and Ukraine will not trade land for peace. Would South Africa give away Limpopo to Zimbabwe if it invaded to achieve “peace”, or the Free State to Lesotho, would the Congo give the Kivus to Rwanda, or Ethiopia Tigray to Eritrea? These acts would be illegal in terms of international law and politically unconscionable to Africans, as much as the Russian occupation of Crimea and the Donbas is for Ukrainians.

The second question for this mission is about its credibility. It is clear to Ukrainians, and to many elsewhere, that the African National Congress today hardly resembles the party of Nelson Mandela, even though it claims his legacy. Mandela’s statement that “human rights would be the light that guides South Africa’s foreign policy” has been observed more in the breach than its observance.

It is also not the party that negotiated an end to apartheid. For if it were, it would remember that it would never have accepted allies of the apartheid government, or that government itself, calling the shots. It would also recall that it would never have abandoned its commitment to an intact South Africa and nothing less than one-person-one-vote.

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And yet, Russia has attempted to establish its version of Bantustans on Ukrainian territory.

Moreover, it is very difficult for Ukrainians to accept the neutral character of some members of the African delegation, including South Africa and Uganda, the latter whose President Museveni has said that he saw no reason to criticise Russia after the invasion, and whose son, the army commander, welcomed the Russian invasion. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba has since said that he would send Ugandan troops to defend Moscow in case of an “imperialist” threat.

“Call me Putinist if you want, but we, Uganda, should send soldiers to defend Moscow if ever it was threatened by imperialists,” Kainerugaba has written.

Non-aligned? Really?

As for South Africa, it is astonishing that a country which toasted Russia at celebrations on the eve of the invasion, staged military exercises with Russia on the anniversary of the invasion, sent a minister to a security conference in Moscow, reputedly traded in arms with Putin’s republic and has now manoeuvred publicly to breach its obligations to the International Criminal Court by hosting the Russian president, should consider itself to be “non-aligned”. Leaving aside the impact on South Africa’s trade and investment credibility, and the apparent disregard that the government has for the country’s economy and jobs, these actions are a clear signal that the country is not neutral.

In defending itself, South Africa has pointed to its military relationship with the US. That alone does not make South Africa neutral. Inviting Ukraine, where many ANC Umkhonto weSizwe cadres were once trained, would be an act of non-alignment, as would procuring defensive arms for Ukraine. Until then, South Africa is a biased actor.

Also in defence of Russia’s invasion, we learn from its sympathisers that the US should not act in defence of Ukraine’s sovereignty in the way it has done in the face of Russia’s violent aggression, but should rather take a leaf out of President John F Kennedy’s book and negotiate with the Russians.

We agree that there is much to be learnt from JFK’s wisdom and negotiating skills. But those lessons apply to the Russians who essentially did what the hawks called for with Cuba in 1962. Instead of invasion, however, Kennedy was able to handle his internal critics in a sublime manner, finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and avoiding a war that could have ended humankind as we knew it.

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A warped sense of Russian entitlement

These lessons in the use of tact, diplomacy and subtlety were, sadly, not learnt by an angry autocrat in his selection of war as an attempt to bully Kyiv to accept his version of democracy and his rule of Ukraine in a warped sense of Russian entitlement and history.

Ukrainians want to live in a Western democracy, not in a country that cannot produce even the most basic of consumer goods, or deliver running water to all houses and even hospitals.

This is yet another bitter lesson learned by Ukraine in its relationship with Moscow, which has been responsible for serial genocidal atrocities in Ukraine — not least the Holodomor famine engineered by Stalin, and today’s massacres of civilians in Bucha, Irpin and Izyum. Ukrainians do not identify Russia with freedom, opportunity and justice, but rather with oppression, illegitimacy and tyranny.

A visit to these sites and the many thousands of attacks on civilian houses and infrastructure should be high on the itinerary of the African leaders if they want to establish the facts on the ground and their negotiating credibility and neutrality. There are crimes against all humankind, against all countries, and there cannot be “non-alignment” or neutrality towards these injustices, since this amounts to tacit approval. Apartheid and genocide are examples of such crimes.

For the African delegation, this shared history is perhaps the most striking and relevant parallel. Ukraine is fighting a war of liberation against a colonial power. When the African delegation thinks of how peace can be achieved, it should think of how their countries achieved independence despite the habit of imperialists to determine the future of others. Africans would not have accepted anything less than self-determination and to be left to make their own choices.

Ukraine only asks for the same.

This article originally appeared on the Daily Maverick

Photo: President of Ukraine