News analysis: Why Africa has joined peacemakers' club on Russia-Ukraine conflict after China

A peace delegation of African leaders has visited Ukraine and Russia to help end a year-long conflict between the two countries, another effort of mediation after China sent its special envoy to Europe last month to promote a political settlement.

The delegation, led by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also involves leaders from Senegal, Zambia, the Comoros and Egypt, as well as top envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda.

They held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Friday and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Described by Ramaphosa's office as "the first time that Africa is united behind the resolution of a conflict outside of our continent," the effort made by leaders from the world's second largest continent to promote a peaceful solution of the Ukraine crisis is considered to be rooted in its own traditional diplomatic position, the survival challenges it suffers from the crisis, and its growing weight in the international arena, according to officials and experts.

Non-Aligned position 

Many African states have maintained a non-aligned position, which is acknowledged by South Africa as rooted in the history of the Cold War.

It is from an experience of reaching out across political divides and building relations with very different countries, coupled with a firm belief in the value of an inclusive multilateral world order and the peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue, Ramaphosa said in an article published on the South African government's website a day before he announced he would lead the peace mission on May 16.

African countries have long expressed views different from those of Western countries on international platforms.

In the UN General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council last year, South Africa and Egypt were among the dozens of 193 members that abstained.

In terms of the Ukraine crisis, Supa Mandiwanzira, a member of the Zimbabwean parliament, told the China Media Group (CMG) that "the U.S. and Western Europe are not interested in realizing peace. They only arm Ukraine to escalate the conflict."

"Only China has been calling for peace," he added.

Ramaphosa expounded on a peace initiative put forward by the African leaders during the trip to Ukraine and Russia.

The 10-point proposal said that the conflict must be resolved, peace negotiations must be reached through diplomatic means, all countries' sovereignty and security must be respected and guaranteed, and the smooth flow of agricultural products and fertilizers should be ensured.

"Africa is now basically doing the same thing as China has been doing. We need more pro-peace forces than escalating conflicts," Mandiwanzira commented on the mission.

'Appeal for survival and development'

Another crucial factor for launching this mission is Africa's growing food insecurity caused by the Ukraine crisis.

Su Xiaohui, deputy director of the Department of American Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said that importing grain and fertilizer from Russia and Ukraine to realize basic food production is their appeal for survival and development.

In 2020, 15 African countries imported over 50 percent of their wheat products from Ukraine. Six of these countries (Eritrea, Egypt, Benin, Sudan, Djibouti and Tanzania) imported over 70 percent of their wheat from the region, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).

The AfDB notes that the Russia-Ukraine conflict triggered a shortage of about 30 million tons of grains on the continent, along with a sharp increase in cost.

This has devastating implications for Africa, as the continent has over 65 percent of the world's uncultivated land, making it a net food importer, according to a report by the UN.

Besides, faced with soaring global energy prices caused by the conflict, African governments did not have the fiscal space like those in developed European countries to protect consumers with such wide-scale, much-needed measures to counter rising energy prices, the report says.

It noted that inflation reached double digits in 40 percent of African countries and staple food prices in Africa "surged by an average 23.9 percent in 2020-22 – the most since the 2008 global financial crisis," adding that seven African countries are in debt distress as of January 2023 and 14 more are at high risk of debt distress.

"As you all know, Africa has been severely impacted by this conflict in terms of food insecurity, the price of grain, the price of fertilizer, but equally, this mission says to seek a road to peace," South Africa's presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said.

A continent 'needed by everyone'

The reason why the delegation of African leaders sees a change to advance mediation is that Kyiv and Moscow have been courting the Global South, according to Reuters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the continent last year and has already visited twice this year. His Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba paid a visit last month, making his second trip to Africa since February 2022, when the crisis started.

In Saturday's talks, Putin told the delegation of African leaders that Russia is open to constructive dialogue and values the balanced attitude of African countries toward the situation in Ukraine and their desire to settle the crisis.

He also said that Russia is ready to review any proposals from African states on the Ukrainian settlement.

Earlier in the week, Putin noted he would consider giving grain "free of charge to the world's poorest countries" after announcing that Russia may pull out of the Black Sea grain deal, which was brokered to allow vital grain exports from key Black Sea ports in the aftermath of the conflict.

"We are not doing this for Ukraine; we are doing this for our friendly countries in Africa and Latin America," he said.

During Friday's meeting with the delegation, Zelenskyy presented the Ukrainian Peace Formula to the leaders of African countries, noting that it would help to restore the security of Ukraine and other states that were affected by the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

"Today, I saw the prospect of our joint work on specific points of the Peace Formula. Of course, I invited African states to participate in the Global Peace Summit, which we are preparing," Zelenskyy said.

"What is happening is that everyone wants to be involved in the resolution of Ukraine crisis, but we have to be realistic about this. Although African countries are unable to offer anything economically, politically and diplomatically, they have the only trump card: Africa is now needed by everyone," Iryna Filatova, professor emeritus at South Africa's University of KwaZulu-Natal, told CMG.

(Cover: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Constantine Palace in Strelna, St. Petersburg, Russia, June 17, 2023. /CFP)

Search Trends