African Heads of State and Government holding a consultation while en route from Poland to Kyiv by train, EPA-EFE/GCIS SOUTH AFRICA HANDOUT -- MANDATORY CREDIT: South African Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)


African leaders launch Ukraine-Russia peace mission

African leaders are visiting Ukraine and Russia as part of a peace mission to the region engulfed in vicious ongoing war, in what may be seen by many as a remarkable turn of events.


African leaders are visiting Ukraine and Russia as part of a peace mission to the region engulfed in vicious ongoing war, in what may be seen by many as a remarkable turn of events.

Six African leaders led by South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, regarded as one of Moscow’s key allies, landed in Kyiv on June 16 as the sound of air-raid sirens and explosions echoed across the Ukrainian capital.

The blasts were said to have been the result of Ukrainian air defence operations, which Ukraine said downed 12 missiles. That included six Kalibr cruise missiles and six hypersonic Kinzhal rockets, plus two drones. No buildings or facilities were damaged in the Russian assault, according to Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kyiv.

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, commented: “Putin ‘builds confidence’ by launching the largest missile attack on Kyiv in weeks, exactly amid the visit of African leaders to our capital. Russian missiles are a message to Africa: Russia wants more war, not peace.”

Alongside Ramaphosa, the other African participants are Azali Assoumani, African Union chairperson and President of the Union of Comoros, and Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Denis Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Macky Sall of Senegal and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia.

Zambia’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Minister, Stanley Kakubo, earlier said: “The African Peace Initiative draws upon Africa’s successful track record of resolving conflicts through dialogue and peace-building.”

The African leaders participating in the initiative aim to encourage open dialogue and negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, by “leveraging their collective experience in conflict resolution”, according to a statement.

After talks with Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on Friday in Kyiv, the delegation heads to St Petersburg on Saturday to meet Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Despite the efforts of the African leaders, few believe it will have a significant effect regarding the conflict, given the visits take place as the long-anticipated Ukrainian offensive that was lifted over spring has resumed. Reports indicate the fighting is fierce and casualties are high on both sides.

While in Ukraine, the delegation also visited Bucha, a town near Kyiv that was under the control of Russian troops from March 5 to 30 and where numerous unarmed citizens were slaughtered, shocking the world. Russian authorities have denied responsibility and instead claim that Ukraine faked footage of the outrage, or staged the killings itself as a ‘false flag’ operation, despite a mountain of evidence pointing to the Russians.

The war in Europe is having a major impact on Africa as well, which has seen key supply chains disrupted as a result of the aggression. In particular, agricultural exports such as grain and seeds  from Ukraine and Russia to Africa have been hit, forcing both to European states to uphold agreements to allow shipping on the Black Sea. Nevertheless, the situation is causing extreme anxiety in African markets.

“This [African] peace initiative should be seen as complementing other peace initiatives that other parties have put forward,” the South African presidency said in a press release on June 15.

“The strength of this mission is that African leaders will be engaging with both parties,” it added.

South Africa claims it has been pushing for a peace process initiative with China and the UN also, “in line with South Africa’s standing as a non-aligned state”, but many question the real intentions of Ramaphosa and see the visit as more a case of damage limitation. Earlier, there was strong criticism from the US, which accused South Africa of supplying weapons to Russia. South Africa has also held joint military exercises with Russia and China.

As the Soviet Union was a key supporter of the overthrow of the South African apartheid regime in the 1990s, Russia and the victorious African National Congress (ANC) have maintained a close relationship. Some observers even accuse Russia of rigging resulting elections in South Africa in favour of the ANC.

Putin, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes against humanity in Ukraine, is invited to the summit of BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in August 2023, which will be in Johannesburg. A senior official in South Africa’s ruling party said recently the country would “welcome” a visit by the Russian President.

Ramaphosa’s party has been accused of receiving generous donations from a mining company owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian entrepreneur close to Putin. Vekselberg owns 49 per cent of South Africa’s fourth-largest manganese miner, United Manganese of Kalahari.

South Africa is the only African country south of the Sahel region that Putin has visited and Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy agency, wants to build a nuclear power plant there. The Sahal area lies between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian savanna to the south.

In relation to South Africa’s apparent support of Russia, US lawmakers asked the administration of US President Joe Biden to take action against the country. Among options, US legal officials suggest cutting South Africa’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which offers improved market access to the US for eligible sub-Saharan nations.