From the start of the military conflagration in Ukraine, South Africa has called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and negotiations.
Until the announcement of the African Leaders Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia, which took place last week, there has not been any concerted attempt by a group of Heads of State in the international community to find a sustainable resolution to the conflict, which has dragged on for over 15 months.
South Africa has been part of a chorus of African leaders calling for a non-aligned approach to the war, arguing that developing countries should not be drawn into a contest between global powers. This stance of “active non-alignment” has often been confused with neutrality, but there is a crucial difference between non-alignment and neutrality. Non-alignment is a position whereby countries exercise the right to maintain an independent foreign policy based on the co-existence of states with different political and social systems and not take sides. Neutrality is a position whereby a country chooses not to get involved in a war.
For much of the African continent, non-alignment has been a position that countries adopted during the Cold War, and many are committed to maintaining this approach now. Many countries of the Global South have rejected the West’s binary framing that they must choose whether they belong to one axis or the other. African countries are bound by the need to pursue their own national interests, which often requires them to stand back from conflicts that involve the big powers as they are all too aware that “when the elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled”.
The war in Ukraine has been devastating for the people on the ground who have suffered untold hardship as a result of violent conflict. But the people of the developing world - African countries in particular - have suffered greatly from the economic ramifications of this war.
With food and fuel prices sky-rocketing, many of our own workers can no longer afford to pay the exorbitant taxi fares to and from work and over the course of the past year, the numbers of workers having to walk home as they can no longer afford transport has increased dramatically.
Food price increases have also meant that many households can no longer afford to include protein in their diets or buy essentials like cooking oil.
The Presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Uganda formed the contingent that proposed a peace plan to Ukraine and Russia, with President Cyril Ramaphosa, President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia, and President Azali Assoumani of Comoros travelling to the two countries in person with senior representatives from Egypt, Congo and Uganda.
The objective had been to bring the sides closer to a possible resolution of the conflict. South Africa, Senegal and Uganda have taken a non-aligned approach to the war, and the recent SADC Summit reaffirmed the stance of Non-Alignment on conflicts outside the continent and the region at multilateral fora. Egypt, Zambia and Comoros voted against Russia last year in a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The pundits claimed that the African peace initiative would not make a difference, but it is an exercise in African agency. It is imperative that there are genuine attempts by members of the international community to stave off a massive military conflagration which appears to be in the offing.
Once red lines are crossed, it would put the entire globe at risk if the sides resorted to nuclear weapons. We no longer have the luxury of sitting back and watching the situation deteriorate further. For the sake of our collective futures, we needed to give peace a chance.
The 10-point plan presented by the African leaders proposed that both leaders listen to one another, that the war must be settled through negotiation and diplomatic means, there should be a de-escalation of hostilities, that the sovereignty of states and peoples must be respected in accordance with the UN Charter, there must be security guarantees, the export of grain and fertilizers across the Black Sea must be ensured, there must be humanitarian assistance to the war’s victims, there must be the exchange of prisoners and captives, including children, there must be post-war reconstruction and better interaction with African countries.
The value of this mission was that African leaders made their voices heard, and the leaders of both Russia and Ukraine have said they want to engage further. It was important that our President stated categorically that this war must end, and now it is for members of the international community to back up this message and support the ten-point plan.
**Clayson Monyela is the Spokesperson of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation