WAR IN EUROPE
Ukrainian foreign minister bemoans ‘very low’ return on its investment in Africa relations
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, says Ukraine has so far received a ‘very low return on investment’ that it has made in improving relations with Africa. And he has offered South Africa – rather ironically, given its sympathy with Russia – as one example of a better return.
He said Kyiv’s relations with Pretoria, once cold, turned for the better when President Cyril Ramaphosa sat next to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky during a dinner in the capital in June and talked informally.
Briefing African journalists in Kyiv on Wednesday, Kuleba was asked to describe the progress in what he has called Ukraine’s “African Renaissance”, its revival of relations with Africa, which has already taken him on visits to 12 African countries over the past year. And it plans to open embassies in nine more African countries.
“A diplomatic answer would be it’s too early to summarise any conclusions,” Kuleba said.
“A not-diplomatic answer would be we invested and will keep investing quite a lot of effort in relations with Africa. In business there is such a term as a return on investment.
“Currently we have a very low return on investment,” he said. While “we definitely feel a positive attitude towards Ukraine”, there were “not enough very specific, concrete steps which would demonstrate some new common projects between Ukraine and African nations”.
Kuleba hastened to add that he was not saying “everything is broken and nothing is working, because diplomacy takes time”.
If Ukraine reached an agreement with an African nation that it would vote for Ukraine on a particular resolution in the United Nations, for example, this did not mean that country would vote for Ukraine on future resolutions on the same issue.
He said relations were at a very early stage where Ukraine had made “quite a significant political investment” and had identified subjects and themes of the projects that could link Ukraine and African nations more closely. But so far no specific projects had been launched and “solid feedback is still not there”. He said that, for one thing, he would like some return visits of African counterparts to Kyiv.
Kuleba also complained that Ukraine had to reach agreement with African nations for their support at every step rather than reaching agreement on principle and being able to count on their further support.
He said if Ukraine reached an agreement with an African nation that it would vote for Ukraine on a particular resolution in the United Nations, for example, this did not mean that country would vote for Ukraine on future resolutions on the same issue.
“You constantly have to reach agreement for every step separately, you can’t agree on the principle.” This was different with European nations – “when they say we support you on this issue, it means we constantly will support”.
However, Kuleba added that for 20 years Ukraine and Africa had not dealt with their relations seriously. “So we need time so this diplomatic machinery would start working from both sides.”
He later qualified his remarks by saying he was not saying that Africa had not reciprocated Ukraine’s overtures, but that “we are waiting for this reciprocity to emerge”.
Kuleba suggested Ukraine had had more success with South Africa, though there was still a way to go. He visited Pretoria last week and appeared to have a good meeting with his counterpart, Naledi Pandor.
With South Africa “the turning point was the visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of this African leaders group to Ukraine. And the critical point that brought relations to a new track was that concluding dinner when the presidents were sitting at the same table.
“Only the presidents were at the table and President Ramaphosa sat next to President Zelensky. They talked a lot and that was a sort of informal exchange. And they agreed some agreements which have already been implemented or started to be implemented.”
The question is: how far we can go in our bilateral relations, keeping in mind South Africa has its own relations with Russia, it’s part of BRICS.
He did not elaborate on the agreements but Zelensky told African journalists on Tuesday that after their meeting, Ramaphosa had sent his national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, to participate in Ukraine’s peace forum initiative. Ramaphosa also went on to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg and urged him to return children abducted from Ukraine, to exchange prisoners of war and to resume Russia’s participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, through which Russia had lifted its naval blockade on Ukraine’s seaports to allow it to export grain to world markets, including in Africa.
“So, from both our side and from President Ramaphosa… in terms of agreements reached during that meeting, we see the effective appearance of this reciprocity principle,” said Kuleba. The question is: how far we can go in our bilateral relations, keeping in mind South Africa has its own relations with Russia, it’s part of BRICS.”
But, “I believe we have a big space for manoeuvres”, he added, noting that he had discussed with Pandor how far the two countries could advance their relations and what else they could do.
He offered relations with South Africa as a “diplomatic example”, describing how they had progressed “from the cool, cold and very distant ones to the very first contacts, presidential exchange and my telephone talk and my meeting with the foreign minister and transition to the new quality of these relations” after Ramaphosa’s dinner meeting with Zelensky.
“But these are relations between states, it’s like relations between humans,” Kuleba said.
“In order to maintain friendship, love, you have to do it every day, you have to talk, you have to support, you have to hear each other, you have to be next to your partner. That’s why I’m speaking about the importance of the visits of African presidents, colleagues, foreign ministers to Ukraine, because this is the best place to change your position if that was a neutral or negative position.”
In his briefing with the African journalists, Zelensky said Ramaphosa and the other leaders of the African peace mission in June had arrived in Kyiv with mixed emotions and information about the war but had left with a changed understanding.
Referring to Ramaphosa specifically, he said they had spoken about Ukraine’s peace formula – which calls for Russia’s complete withdrawal from Ukrainian territory – and “he understood it. He understood the details of it.”
After that, Mufamadi had attended the first meeting, in Copenhagen, of Ukraine’s peace formula process. “And this is already fact: we are closer to each other.”
Zelensky said that when African leaders then left to meet Putin they “already were charged with the real facts. And this helped them to debate and not just listen one more time how they are being told disinformation… This is what is very important.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: War in Ukraine
Zelensky said he had told the African leaders that he was not going to try to change their opinions, but just give them information so that they changed their own minds.
He said he would like to organise a meeting with African leaders, perhaps through the African Union, to discuss how to achieve stability in the world and peace in Ukraine.
Kuleba said a Ukraine-Africa summit was still on Ukraine’s agenda and his government was working on it.
Ukraine already has embassies in Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and Tunisia. It is planning to open embassies soon in Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania, Botswana, Mauritania, Cameroon and Rwanda. Officials said more could follow, depending on the feedback. DM
Peter Fabricius is in Ukraine on a fact-finding mission for African journalists that is sponsored by the Ukrainian government.