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African Peace Mission to the Russia–Ukraine Conflict

Mr Mohanasakthivel J is a Research Analyst in the ALACUN Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi.
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  • July 13, 2023

    South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, along with a group of African leaders, embarked on a peace mission in an attempt to help resolve the Russia–Ukraine conflict. The delegation comprised leaders and representatives from seven countries—Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, apart from South Africa. It arrived in Ukraine on 16 June 2023 and headed to Russia a day later to discuss a pathway for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing war. The delegation presented a 10-point agenda for Presidents Zelensky and Putin, aiming for peaceful conflict resolution, including open communication, diplomacy, de-escalation, respect for sovereignty, security guarantees, grain flow restoration, humanitarian efforts, prisoner release, reconstruction, and dialogue promotion.1

    While President Zelensky insisted on Russian troop withdrawal for meaningful progress in the peace talks, Moscow demanded Ukrainian recognition of Russian sovereignty in the occupied territories. Peace plans have also been proposed by Brazil2 and Indonesia,3 which were not considered by Ukraine and Russia. The two countries however were receptive to the idea of the African Peace Plan.

    Africa had previously been involved in peace efforts during the Arab–Israeli conflict in the 1970s. These initiatives demonstrate Africa's efforts to promote peace and stability beyond its own borders.4 The Russia–Ukraine conflict and its impact on food, fuels, and fertilisers poses challenges for vulnerable populations across the world. Africa is a continent of significant size, complexity, and remarkable diversity. Its 54 countries and territories exhibit unique circumstances, histories, and varying relationships with both Russia and Western nations.


    The Peace mission, though, did not have high-level political representation from Congo, Uganda, and Egypt. The Presidents of these countries did not personally participate in the mission but instead sent their representatives. This lack of direct involvement from key leaders raised concerns about the plan's effectiveness and the commitment of these countries. In addition, the absence of Nigeria, despite having the largest population and economy in Africa, was a glaring inadequacy as regards the peace mission, lessening the group’s legitimacy.

    Polish authorities refused entry to the South African Presidential Protection Services and journalists, citing the absence of original permits for the security team's heavy weaponry.5 The incident raised concerns about President Ramaphosa's safety as he travelled to Kyiv with reduced security. These acts undermined the peace mission and conveyed a message of disregard for the visiting delegation and their efforts towards promoting peace.

    The timing of a peace process plays a significant role in determining its outcome. The mission arrived in Kiev when the city was subjected to a Russian missile attack. The timing of Russia's missile attack on Kyiv, coinciding with the presence of the seven-nation African delegation, including four presidents, was perceived as a display of disrespect.6 Ukraine also simultaneously launched a counteroffensive. These acts of escalation which prioritised military operations diverted attention and resources away from the African peace mission.

    In addition, it is essential to highlight the absence of the African Union (AU), an organisation renowned for its expertise in leading peace initiatives. The participation of the African Union (AU) in a peace process would have lent greater significance and credibility, superseding the efforts of a coalition of nations.

    President Ramaphosa announced the peace initiative shortly after the US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety, accused the country of supplying arms to Russia, an accusation that South African officials have denied.7 This backdrop cast doubt on South Africa's involvement in the peace process. Ramaphosa in his meeting with President Putin also deliberated on the issue of the Russian President’s prospective participation in the August 2023 BRICS Summit in South Africa.

    Due to an indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), South African authorities would be obligated to arrest Putin if he were to visit. South Africa, however, made the decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Putin.8  Due to this, in a notable departure from previous years, South Africa was absent from the invite list for the June 2023 G-7 summit held in Japan. This development potentially signifies the initiation of a process whereby the country faces the prospects of further isolation or even exclusion from Western nations.9

    Going Forward

    It is pertinent to note that African nations have become wary of Russia's efforts in adding to the militarisation of the continent. The presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organisation, for instance, is a cause for concern for African nations as the group poses major challenges to UN Peacekeeping Operations in countries like Mali and Central African Republic (CAR).10 Despite the rebellion of its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner group's deployments and business network in Africa remain unaffected.11

    African countries therefore are evaluating the implications of engaging with Russia, and ensure that their policies align with long-term development goals without compromising their sovereignty or security.  President Paul Kagame of Rwanda recently emphasised the necessity for Africa to cultivate resilience as a means of safeguarding itself against external factors. The role played by external actors such as Russia has been significant in facilitating the erosion of democracy in various regions, including in Africa.12 Over the past two decades, Russia's Africa policy has aimed at undermining democratic principles by targeting countries with weak domestic checks and balances. This approach has allowed Russia to exert influence in regions where authoritarian governments are prevalent.13  

    During the upcoming Second Russia–Africa Summit to be held from 26–29 July 2023, African leaders are expected to take a strong stance against Russia's use of food supply as a leverage for negotiation with Western countries. By adopting a prudent approach to external engagements, African nations could seek to safeguard their interests while contributing to regional stability and sustainable progress.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.