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A dangerous moment: what African countries propose to Ukraine – opinion

27 June, 02:24 AM

President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa to participate in the African mediation mission (Photo:Esa Alexander/Reuters)

Africa pursues its
purely pragmatic interests. That would be grain coming from Russia and Ukraine.
And also, fertilizers. Fertilizers come from Russia. They need to unblock this.
Partially, grain exports align with our interests.

What we can often hear across Global South, is that the West imposed sanctions on the export of Russian food and fertilizers. Except they were not imposed. Specially, those products were taken out of the sanctions, explicitly to satisfy the interests of the countries of the Global South and, first of all, Africa. But still, sanctions in the banking sector have a certain effect. Africa needs to make the Russian ammonia pipeline that runs to Odesa work. And this is their pragmatic goal.

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Partially, as I said, we are also interested in unblocking exports of grain from Ukraine. But regarding reducing sanctions against Russia – no. And I think we have to prove that it doesn’t make much sense. If you want to receive grain, you want to receive fertilizers through a Ukrainian port, and wait, at the same time, bomb the whole of Ukraine. Well, it really doesn’t look fair. Let’s stop the war altogether. And to stop the war – let’s withdraw Russian troops. Let’s take first steps – stop bombing our energy infrastructure, arranging ecocides, and so on.

That is, the Africans have their own interests, and we have our just war for the preservation of our nation. We have to explain this to them. Therefore, their interest, as well as their mission, may partially coincide with the Chinese plan, which is 12 pages long. There are many beautiful words there, but there is generally nothing about the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. The African peace plan may coincide with Russian ideas – lifting or reducing sanctions against Russia, or revoking the ICC arrest warrant for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

Wait a minute, dear African presidents. You are democratically elected yourselves. What does the International Criminal Court have to do with us here?! What do you want us to demand from someone to recall this order? The judiciary is independent. South Africa also knows this. There is a one-party rule, but since 1994, one party is the African National Congress. This is still Nelson Mandela’s party. But their judicial branch works, and the former president was imprisoned, though soon released, and the legal tug-of-war is ongoing. And the Rosatom contract was blocked by SA’s judiciary. They wanted to build a nuclear reactor there. Everything was already signed, but the public spoke out against it, saying there were violations. The court blocked it. And lately we have heard a lot of accusations against South Africa. Although South Africa talks about its neutrality, de facto, this neutrality is not really neutrality, it seems to lean too much towards Russia. So there is pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa from within, as well as external pressure from our international partners.

By the way, speaking of the position of the countries whose leaders came, it’s also different. Some of these countries support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and vote accordingly at the UN. There was the president of Comoros in the delegation. But now they preside in the African Union, and this country votes for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Egypt votes. Zambia votes. Uganda abstains with Congo, while Senegal is on both sides. And by the way, a diplomatic warning was made to South Africa when the G7 meeting was held in Hiroshima recently, where President Zelenskyy and President of Brazil and other activists flew to, but South Africa was not invited.

So, there is a diplomatic struggle going on around all this, and it’s happening with varying success. Again, if we look at the voting map, half of Africa votes to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russian resolutions are supported by either zero nations or one country of Eritrea, or two countries – plus Mali. But other countries abstain. Among them is a heavyweight like South Africa.

We need to at least try to change this situation. This requires work. It’s very good that our diplomacy has been activated, that there were two tours by Dmytro Kuleba to African countries, that we are expanding the circles of embassies. This is a long game, hard work. We have to be present on this continent, as well as in Latin America and Asia. But it’s clear that our resources here are less than Russian resources, objectively. But the truth is on our side, and we must use that.

I will talk about something here that is not dangerous, but we will talk about it in a month. Because what is Russian diplomacy doing in Africa? They began to hold regular Russia-Africa summits, which are attended by all African leaders. Last year, this summit was postponed due to the war in Ukraine, but it will take place in St. Petersburg in July this year. And I expect that the leaders of African countries will go to St. Petersburg. They may talk about different things and maybe some of them will mention the need to end the war, restore territorial integrity, and so on. Putin will represent this as his important victory. We also need to prepare for this. To prepare for another big round of pressure on African countries in order to change their positions in favor of Russia and for foreign propaganda, and for us, that everything is lost, that Africa is against us, and so on. No, not everything is lost. I have already mentioned the voting results of Africa in the UN, and I do not expect them to change much. However, work needs to be done there.


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Currently there is an apparent possible concentration of our efforts and the efforts of our partners in key countries of the African continent. These are primarily Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya – these countries support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. South Africa is a country that constantly abstains. The main activity will be focused on these countries. Changing the position of these countries would mean a lot for other African countries as well. But changing such positions is not easy. Here, the image of colonialism is at work – the West is bad, but Russia did not have colonies in Africa. This is an argument you can hear in South Africa – “Russia always supported us.” And you start explaining to them (and our delegation of the Ukrainian civil society was South Africa, and we also visited four other countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, which vote for us, and Ethiopia, which also abstains, unfortunately, and where the headquarters of the African Union is located) that Russia is not the Soviet Union.

In their case, by the way, the image of the Soviet Union is still a positive one, and one needs to be very careful here.

It needs to be explained that the USSR was also a colonial empire, and that Ukraine was the only socialist country participating in the UN special committee to combat apartheid. Not the USSR, but Ukraine itself. Well, it turned out that way. It is clear that these were games of Soviet diplomacy, so they need to be explained. Many South Africans have received education in Ukraine. Near Odesa, there was a base where fighters of the African National Congress were trained – 350 of them. When Ukraine gained independence, our peacekeepers conducted 10 missions in 10 countries in Africa, very large ones at that. By the way, the last Ukrainian peacekeepers were withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of the Congo only in September 2022. That is, there was already a full-scale war going on, and we still had peacekeepers there. We have a lot to attest that Ukraine is an ally and that we have a basis for developing relations, but the work here needs to be very comprehensive.

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