An African delegation is due to visit Ukraine on June 17, and from there travel to St Petersburg in Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin as part of 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 options for peace.

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

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

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From Ukraine’s perspective, the roadmap to peace is quite clear. Ukraine does not accept any argument that the conflict should be frozen in place with Russia continuing to illegally occupy parts of the country; furthermore, Ukraine will not trade land for peace.

Would South Africa give away Limpopo to Zimbabwe if it invaded to achieve “peace”, the Kivus to Rwanda or Tigray to Eritrea? These acts would be both illegal in terms of international law and politically unconscionable to Africans, as much as Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the Donbas is for Ukrainians.

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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. His statement that “human rights would be the light that guides South Africa’s foreign policy” has been seen more in the breach than its observance.

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It is also not the party that itself negotiated an end to apartheid. For if it was, it would remember that it would never have accepted allies of the apartheid government calling the shots, or that government itself. 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.

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

Questionable neutrality

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 Yoweri Museveni has said that he saw no reason to criticize Russia after the invasion in extolling its virtues, and whose son, the army commander, welcomed the Russian invasion.

General Muhoozi Kainerugaba has said since that he would send Ugandan troops to defend Moscow in case of an “imperialist” threat. “Call me ‘Putinist’ if you want, we Uganda should send soldiers to defend Moscow if ever it was threatened by imperialists,” he has written.

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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 the invaders on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, sent a minister to a security conference in Moscow, reputedly traded in arms with Putin’s republic and has now maneuvered publicly to breach its international obligations to the International Criminal Court by hosting the Russian president, should consider itself to be “non-aligned.”

Forgetting 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 simply not neutral.

In defense, 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 we Sizwe cadres were once trained, would be an act of non-alignment, or procuring defensive arms to Ukraine similarly so. Until then, South Africa is a biased actor.

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

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

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

Ukrainians want overwhelmingly to live in a Western democracy; not in a country that cannot produce even the most basic of consumer goods that its citizens would want to buy, or deliver running water to all housing and even hospitals.

This is yet another bitter lesson learned by Ukrainians in its relationship with Moscow, which has been responsible for serial genocidal atrocities in Ukraine – not least the Holodomor famine engineered by Joseph 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.

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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 both the facts on the ground and their negotiating credibility and neutrality.

These are international crimes which are crimes against all humankind and against all countries. There cannot be “non-alignment” or neutrality towards these injustices, since this amounts only to tacit approval. To such crimes belong apartheid and genocide.

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 their own independence no matter the addictive habit of imperialists in determining the future of others.

Africans would not have accepted anything less than the self-determination of their future, and being left to make their own choices.

Ukraine only asks for the same.

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The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

 

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