Message to the African peace mission: Ukraine shares a history with Africa on the struggle for liberation

Message to the African peace mission: Ukraine shares a history with Africa on the struggle for liberation
From left: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Andrzej Lange) | South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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

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.

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. 

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. DM 

Dr Oleksandr Merezhko is a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) and the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Dr Greg Mills heads The Brenthurst Foundation.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johnny Kessel says:

    These Cretans ignore the historical irony of using Putin’s imperialism to protect their criminal regimes. They try and use the USSR historical context as a justification but that’s false flag. There’s a difference to between Russian foreign policy and employing the Wagner Group – being the military arm of Putin’s criminal organization under the control of multiple shell companies to hide funding. Although the lines do blur, the latter is only concerned about exploitation and sending money back to keep the King in moccasins.

    Will the ANC invite Wagner into SA to protect them? Using their hackers/AI to spread disinformation to sway the ’24 election. I would think there’s a distinct possibility. The ANC would need a lot of money for that.

  • Alley Cat says:

    The list of delegates to this “peace initiative” are not exactly icons of democracy. I am surprised that Ukraine is actually receiving them. Maybe in the hope that they can persuade them that Putin is a warmonger and NOT a rational actor?
    What a joke that they think they will have any sway over the war and negotiations! They have delusions of grandeur and their own importance. Amateurs!

  • Martin Ernst says:

    I could not agree more with everything expressed in this article. The ANC’s stance is despicable, but what else could be expected from a bunch of morally bankrupt thieves. It seems all they really care about is destroying any hope for a future for South Africa.
    The ANC’s stance on the Russian war in Ukraine is just as bad a crime against humanity as apartheid was.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    With a bit of luck, we may not need to worry about putin attending the BRICs summit in August. He is facing an all out mutiny by Wagner which won’t end well. It’s like gang warfare, with both sides armed to the hilt, marking territory and with terrified citizens caught in the cross fire.

    It’s time the world got rid of the big men whose only currency is fear, death and control.

    • Errol Price says:

      I agree with this sentiment.
      It is clear that Ukraine is in no way being taken in by the prevarications and dissimulation of the ANC; nor will America be.
      My suggestion to the Ambassador is that a website be set up so that decent South Africans can express their solidarity with Ukraine.
      Also Ukraine should pass a quiet message to South Africa that when this is all over accomplices who aided in the murder of civilians may be liable for prosecution under Article 25(3) of the Rome Statute.

  • Mark K says:

    Deeds, not words. Lead by example.

    If South Africa expects Ukraine to cede 20% of its land area to a neighbouring authoritarian state, it should immediately cede 20% of the Republic of South Africa to Swaziland. Only then can Ukraine take your “peace proposal” seriously.

  • Denton Hulley says:

    Yet the Irish, after their hard fought struggle from centuries of brutal British colonialism and the horrible subjugation of Ireland, they still were made to cede part of their own Irish territory, Ireland’s northern province to Britain because the minority Protestant Irish of English ethnicity there still wanted to be under British rule, not under majority Catholic Irish rule, and this was done to supposedly avoid a bloodbath between the two factions after independence from Britain. So after all that Britain horribly did to Ireland during centuries of British subjugation in some of the most sordid and disgusting ways difficult to imagine, including Ireland’s famine that killed one million Irish which was allowed by Britain during the British occupation of the island, still Irish territory that did not rightfully belong to the British was annexed by Britain to this day. So, the logic her, like it was granted the minority Protestant Irish and the territory in northern Ireland where they were to come under British rule for the sake of peace, because that’s what they wanted, similarly why can’t the same be done for the minority Ukranians of Russian ethnicity and the territory where they are in Eastern Ukraine, because that’s what they also want, to be under Russian governance. It was  done for the Irish English for the sake of peace, why not for the Ukrainian Russians for the sake of peace there as well.

    • Richard Bryant says:

      Weird logic that acknowledging the wrongness in the Irish peace arrangement that this should be repeated in Ukraine. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

      I think I would be correct in assuming that the Irish arrangement is actually quite temporary and will be fixed one day as has become obvious in the ridiculous Brexit solution.

      • Denton Hulley says:

        First point: I bet the Irish would love to know if you ever made a verbal noise on the wrongfulness of the Irish situation since it was implemented as you are doing now with Ukraine. I bet you didn’t. Explain why not?

        Secondly. You think and you assume. Assumptions are dangerous, like assuming you can cross a flooded bridge with your car only to be washed away with all sorts of what could be disastrous unintended consequences for the car occupants.

        Thirdly, yes of course two wrongs don’t make a right, what makes it right is to fix both wrongs, not just the one. So are you going to vehemently petition the British government and rally support to get it fixed for the Irish as you want it fixed for the Ukrainians?

      • Matsobane Monama says:

        Denton is simply asking
        for CONSISTENCY in how the so-called leaders of the world are handling the conflict in Ukraine. We have a right to question this immorality and self righteousness. This doesn’t mean we condone death and destruction in Ukraine. Yes, two wrongs don’t make a right but ALL lives matter too. We have NEVER had soo much outpouring of condemnation of war by Europeans as far as i can remember.

  • Denton Hulley says:

    So to bring some balance to the debate at least to one issue raised by the article, basically the author’s calling to attention to international law and the potential ceding of territory regarding thr Ukrainian situation. The authors hammering on the international law dynamic concerning Ukraine, is just amazing considering that same hammering has not been applied so far with regard to requiring and demanding among other present similar situations, that the situation in the US be fixed too, because the whole of the US is actually land that has been illegally ceded from the local indigenous peoples by force. The remainder, about seven million of these locals left from the mass atrocious genocide of about 100 million, have been painfully squeezed onto about 2.5% of US territory which are the reservation camps they presently occupy and that without property rights purposely orchestrated to that end, the camps being managed to this day by organs of the US Federal government to keep it that way. So what is going to be done about this, is anything going to be done at all, it’s doubtful as this has been immorally going on for only God knows how long, because honestly, taking a deep dive into this past sordid history of the US, one can’t help but feel the excruciating pain of these people and their situation who’s past, present and future plight continues to be conveniently ignored. What stance would the authors take if these people were their own blood. One wonders.

    • Richard Bryant says:

      The basis of the United Nations charter is that the boundaries post WWII are accepted for all their warts and inconsistencies. Africa for one is a mish mash of international borders which were brutally imposed upon the African people by the race for colonial power. But it’s clearly useless trying to undo those atrocities and go back 2 -3 centuries whether that be Africa, South America, Asia Minor, the USA or Australasia.

      Certainly many complex issues remain but the bottom line is that all member countries of the UN have accepted the international boundaries as they were post WWII. Including russia and the USA.

      • Denton Hulley says:

        Yes, but my point comes from a historic perspective because there are always
        loud references to especially the historical atrocities of the east by and across the western world, non-stop, in order to make the east look constantly bad while conveniently whitewashing their own past heinous acts. For instance, recently a resolution suddenly adopted by the European Parliament Recognising the famine inflicted by the Soviet regime on Ukraine in 1932-1933 – known as the Holodomor – as genocide. Okay, I would agree with that, but are they going to do the same for some past heinous atrocities of the west? Are they? Why not?

  • Denton Hulley says:

    So to bring some balance to one issue raised by the article, the authors calling attention to international law with regard to the potential ceding of Ukrainian territory. So the authors hammering on the international law dynamic concerning Ukraine, it’s just so amazing that same hammering has not been applied so far to demanding, among other present similar situations, that the situation in the US be urgently addressed too, because the whole of the US is actually land that has been illegally ceded from local indigenous peoples by force. The remainder, about seven million of them, left fom the mass genocide of about 100 million, who have been squeezed onto about 2.5% of US land, the reservation camps they presently occupy without property rights purposely orchestrated to that end, and managed by organs of the US government to keep it that way. So what is going to be done about this atrocious injustice, nothing, yet how is it any different, in fact it’s worse. Honestly, taking a deep dive into this past sordid history of the US accusing others, one can’t help but feel the excruciating pain of these people and their situation who’s past, present and future plight continues to be conveniently ignored. What stance would the authors take if these locals were their own blood?

    This camps are really concentration camps, and if any disagrees that reservation camps are nowhere close  to concentration camps, right, until they themselves live in one for the rest of their lives.

    • Terry Hodson says:

      Almost half of the Native Americans live in large cities and rural areas, whereas the other half live on federal reservations. Most of the tribes have their own tribal laws and are not subject to state laws. Yes – there are many social problems on these reservations but they are not surrounded by an electrified fence. Also I would like to say that the history of the world has been about conquering, invasions, colonization, suppression, brutality etc. and this has been done for thousands of years not just the last 600. For example Shaka Zulu was a great conqueror and was known to be ruthless. Parts of Europe, Asia, Persia, the Balkans, Hungary, Arabia, Egypt, Syria and the Barbary Coast were all conquered by the various leaders of the Ottoman Empire which ruled from the 13th Century to the early 20th century. And it would seem that Russia today is driven by the same imperial instincts that it has had for centuries – that of conquest, genocide and colonization.

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