By Dr Sizo Nkala
We get it. The logic is compelling, isn’t it? The Russia-Ukraine war has had a negative economic impact on Africa and undermined the continent’s economic growth prospects.
The disruption of critical supply chains, destabilisation of global food, energy, fertiliser, and other commodities’ markets as a result of the war, has left Africa facing an uncertain economic future and plunged millions of Africans into extreme poverty while complicating the continent’s recovery process from the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is the rationale behind the recently announced peace mission which will see a contingent of African heads of state from six countries: South Africa, Uganda, Egypt, Congo, Senegal and Zambia meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in a (doomed?) bid to push them to the negotiating table for a peaceful resolution of their conflict.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that this initiative is unlikely to produce any tangible outcomes. It is not unfair to label it a vainglorious and ego trip that more than anything serves to expose African leaders’ terribly misplaced priorities.
Africa is a hotbed of violent and deadly conflicts right now. Northern Mozambique, the eastern region of the Congo, Somalia, Libya, and the Sudanese capital of Khartoum are engulfed in wars which have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, injured millions, and displaced millions more. The socio-economic impact of these wars on the affected countries and Africa, is incalculable. Yet some of Africa’s most eminent heads of state have decided that flying thousands of kilometres to resolve a conflict in Eastern Europe, is the best course of action.
I shudder to think what the people they are trying to get to smoke a peace pipe, must be thinking about our leaders. It beggars belief that African leaders would choose to expend their scarce resources and energy to resolve a conflict in Eastern Europe while their own backyard is burning.
It is embarrassing and disappointing that the AU has demonstrated little urgency in trying to address the violent conflict that broke out in Sudan a few weeks ago. The trip that the AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat promised to make to Sudan to try and bring the fighting to an end, is yet to take place.
The AU’s calls for a ceasefire have fallen on deaf ears and innocent Sudanese people continue to bear the brunt of a senseless war. Neither has anything come out of the Field Mission to Sudan that the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) promised to send a few days after the outbreak of violence. This is a confirmation of what anyone who has been paying attention knows: that the PSC is a moribund institution existing in name only.
No African leader has summoned enough courage to visit Sudan to try and find a lasting solution to the conflict which threatens to destabilise a whole region.
Why hasn’t there been a peace mission to seek the audience of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the people leading the warring parties in Sudan? Instead, it has taken the US and Saudi Arabia to mediate the negotiations between the warring parties with a view to peacefully resolving the conflict. This renders the mantra of “African solutions to African problems” a hollow and empty slogan.
It is dangerous for Africa to rely on foreign actors in resolving conflict in the continent as they may not have its best interests at heart. African leaders have a moral obligation to act to avert the deaths of innocent Africans caught in the crossfire of conflicts that are not of their own making instead of grandstanding in faraway countries.
The Russia-Ukraine war has exposed the continent’s unsustainable and dangerous dependence on external supply chains for critical commodities. How is it that a continent with a predominantly agricultural economy and vast tracts of arable land still depends on other countries for grain and fertilisers? Are we not needlessly placing ourselves in a vulnerable position and jeopardising our strategic autonomy?
The most appropriate reaction to the Russia-Ukraine war would be to put in place mechanisms to use our resources to cut our dependency on the commodities we import from the two countries. The creation of robust and resilient regional value chains will protect the continent and its people from the devastating effects of global shocks like the Russia-Ukraine war.
The so-called peace mission should be shelved and attention trained on the conflicts at home. I do not know whether we were expected to applaud and burst with pride that Africa is taking its place and asserting its agency on the global stage on this unnecessary trip to Russia and Ukraine. Africa will benefit little from peace in Europe if its own backyard is in flames.
* Dr Sizo Nkala is A Research Fellow at the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg