South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared that the leaders of Russia and Ukraine had finally consented to meet with a group of African leaders to discuss a proposed African peace plan to end the conflict between the two countries, halt the state of war, and enter into negotiations that could result in a potential settlement.
According to Ramaphosa, the future of this new endeavor, for which preliminary contacts may have begun some time ago, rests on face-to-face meetings between the African side and presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky.
After the South African presidency released a statement claiming that Zelensky and Putin had agreed to receive the African mission in their respective capitals of Moscow and Kiev, this declaration seemed to enter more serious realms. Most importantly, the African peace plan has the backing of the African leaders of Egypt, Uganda, Senegal, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This effort has also been coordinated with the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which have expressed “cautious support” for it and the African vision, which is comprehensible and makes sense.
The UN Secretary-General was briefed on the specifics of the initiative and, for his part, expressed increased optimism about its prospects for success, provided that the leaders of Russia and Ukraine approach it with an open mind and a desire to support peace through a diplomatic resolution. The Reuters report on the African plan described South Africa as Moscow’s closest ally in the continent.
South Africa, which views itself as neutral in the conflict, was one of a select few nations that did not participate in voting on United Nations resolutions regarding sanctions on Russia. That’s why it gets worried whenever someone accuses it of doing something other than what it actually is—a neutral party. That’s why it gets concerned whenever it’s accused of taking a position that is the exact opposite of neutral. It swiftly refuted last week’s claims made by the US ambassador to South Africa that ammunition and weapons were loaded onto a Russian ship from a naval base in Cape Town in December 2022.
South Africa’s strong ties to Russia could provide advantages for the African initiative, given that successful mediation initiatives in conflicts involving two or more parties typically require this pattern. That’s why, the plan—the specifics of which have not yet been disclosed—was enthusiastically embraced, despite occasional objections from some parties. Furthermore, the countries involved in the creation of that plan, which will take part in this effort to bring about peace, cannot be categorized in the same way as South Africa by the Western camp. For instance, Egypt is a significant participant in this African endeavor, and it has made clear and declared its neutral stance on both sides of the conflict ever since the conflict first broke out. At the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in November 2022, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called on world leaders to put an end to the conflict, reiterating Egypt’s willingness to play the role of mediator through its exemplary relations with the two parties in order to find a potential settlement formula. At that time, all attendees and the various international media outlets that gathered to cover this enormous event, in which all countries were represented at a high presidential and leadership level, greeted and celebrated Egypt’s presidential initiative with great enthusiasm. Rather, it was remarkable that the Egyptian mediation offer on the first day of COP27 overshadowed environmental issues, despite their importance, and sparked both celebration and appreciation, as well as questions regarding the likelihood of success of such an offer, given Egypt’s reputation as a skilled mediator.
The timeline of events makes it clear that Sharm El-Sheikh was the birthplace of the concept of an African peace plan in the name of Africa, in which a number of countries with different interrelationships would take part and from which the continent of Africa, which Egypt represented at COP27. With its numerous and competing powers, most of which have interests with the countries of the continent, Africa has recently risen to a position of remarkable significance in the context of international relations and has established itself as one of the world’s heavyweights in terms of partnerships. This importance is largely due to the fact that most of these powers have interests with these countries. However, the positive response to the African proposal to end the conflict between Russia and Ukraine suggests that it was more fortunate than the recent Chinese initiative. Since Beijing’s announcement of its Peace Plan for Ukraine, it has been met with widespread European and Western reluctance and skepticism due to the current state of international polarization with China. The African initiative, in contrast, will be difficult to dismiss and is not as likely to go unnoticed.
After nearly a year and a half, the front between the Russian and Ukrainian sides was severely worn out, as was seen in recent events. Both sides are making plans to launch the much-anticipated so-called “spring offensive”, but the delay in doing so is an unmistakable sign that they are both hindered by a lack of trained personnel and adequate weaponry, and thus unable to successfully move the conflict into a new phase that will help them achieve their declared military and political goals. This creates a conducive environment for advancing settlement initiatives, particularly when the parties discover safe exits that offer a practical and face-saving settlement that advances the interests of both parties.
In light of this, both the Russian and Ukrainian presidents have expressed interest in meeting with the African delegation and discussing the contents of the initiative, something that other mediators haven’t been able to do.
This African initiative has a better chance of succeeding than others, and if it does, it will mark a significant geopolitical advancement for the continent and the participating countries. When compared to the Chinese Peace Plan, the Brazilian effort, the Turkish attempt, and the Vatican’s offer, the African initiative appears to be the most fortunate. In retrospect, it appears that most of the previous initiatives did not arrive in time or did not contain the appropriate solutions for both sides. The success of the African initiative in resolving the crisis, however, depends on Russia and Ukraine accepting such efforts. The parties’ ability to approach such initiatives with realism and an open mind is the most crucial requirement for their success. Hopefully, at this point in the war’s history, this condition has become somewhat mature.