Oscar van Heerden | It is imperative that Africa claims its space in the international system

Sending an Africa Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia has nothing to do with wanting to demonstrate our non-alignment position, but everything to do with how this war must come to an end because of the negative impact it is having, writes Oscar van Heerden.

Africa is part of the world and perhaps this is an inconvenient truth that many an Anglo-Saxon, and evidently some here at home, find discomforting, but it remains a truth nonetheless.

For centuries, the “dark continent” was just a space where Anglo-Saxons could come and indulge in their orgies of slavery, colonialism and imperialist pleasures, raping our continent dry of its minerals and so much more. To this day, many of them still believe that Africa must not be heard or seen; it must just remain an obedient hanger-on in global affairs.

Well, the time has come that I may share an obvious truth, and that is, Africa is here to stay, and we will demonstrate our presence in global affairs at every turn because we matter.

Sending an Africa Peace Mission to Ukraine and Russia has nothing to do with wanting to demonstrate our non-alignment position, but everything to do with how this war must come to an end because of the negative impact it is having on the continent and further afield. Africans are voting fodder at the UN, but can’t play the part in global matters.

Food security

Food security is paramount to Africa, and hence the grain deal and getting the much-needed grain to many African countries is critical to the continent.

Coupled with this is the export of fertilisers to the continent, without which our agricultural sector will continue to suffer immensely. Because of this war, oil and gas prices have skyrocketed and all countries on the continent have been negatively affected by this. The cost of living has exponentially increased for the average African, with petrol prices and transport costs being very high.

So, when some ask what Africans are doing sending a peace mission to Europe and supposedly wasting our taxpayers’ money, these are the facts that underscore our objectives, period.  

Cyril Ramaphosa and the delegation are the only leaders to have spoken to both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent times, beseeching them to adhere to their 10-point peace plan. 

To be hosted by both warring parties speaks volumes. We see the collective West and their respective leaders refusing to talk to Putin, only taking one side in this conflict. We see China, Iran and others taking an opposing side in this conflict. 

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The African Mission was welcomed by both countries, even if it means neither wholly agreed with the 10-point peace plan.

It is painted in the Western media that Zelensky rebuffed the delegation by stating that unless there is full withdrawal by the Russians from the territory of Ukraine, there’s nothing to negotiate, and yet the matter of the grain deal looms large on the minds of the Ukrainian government.

The matter of the release of prisoners is of importance for the Ukrainians, and needless to say, the matter of the respect for the UN Charter as it pertains to territorial integrity and sovereignty is at the heart of this war. 

So, to simplify Zelensky’s utterances to only the matter of withdrawal is, at best, disingenuous by the Western media. 

Similarly, the fact that Putin deemed it important to interject midway through the deliberations of the African leaders was indicative of the fact that he simply wanted the framework and premise of our peace deal to be placed in the right context according to Russia’s views on this war.

Equally, the fact that the spokesperson for the Russian Federation stated that they would like to take some of the points forward and that they think it can be workable is a further feather in the cap of the Africans. In the end, the Africa Peace Mission will be judged as an important contribution to finding lasting peace in Europe between Russia and Ukraine.

As for what happened to our security detail in Poland, I have the following to say: just like here at home, we still have racists in this world. We mustn’t forget when this war started and everyone was fleeing from Ukraine to neighbouring countries, it was the blacks that were put at the back of the queues to be processed last. It is common knowledge that Poland is second after Ukraine for their racism in Europe. To deny this is to lie to one’s self. 


The strategic dampener was the misadventure of Wally Rhoode, which did distract from the momentous importance of the peace visit. The focus was in Warsaw because of strip searches, extra guns and racist statements.

Misdirection at its best, including the firing of missiles in Kyiv while the delegation was there.

What the Polish government did is referred to as a “reflective control strategy”, meaning the control someone has over their opponent’s decisions by imposing on them assumptions that change the way they act.

In my view, the NATO-aligned Poland caused an international incident, wilfully, in order to distract and cast aspersions on the Africa Peace Mission. There were a number of administrative hiccups caused by Rhoode, no doubt, but hyper-inflated by Poland, thus casting aspersions on the whole of the delegation from Africa.

As for our media, have you ever considered that perhaps they never wanted our media to cover the realities of this war. After all, the EU has terminated signal from its satellites preventing Russian TV being shown globally.

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In a similar manner, our media was prevented from covering this and other issues. And so we must rely on Reuters to tell us of the ongoings with our African delegation, and what the destruction in Kyiv actually looked like. Because the narrative that Kyiv is winning this war would possibly have been laid bare.

The president’s VIP protection services has been doing this forever. We cannot seriously assume they cocked it up.

The missiles over Kyiv, I suggest, is yet another part of a misinformation campaign. Where were these shootings when other leaders went there? Leaders by the way that Putin doesn’t agree with. Why fire on Africans and not on others? As to missile strikes from Russia, all I’m asking is who benefits from such supposed strikes?

International media reportage on this matter was not surprising at all. According to many, this intervention was a failure before the delegation even left Europe. Unreal.  

Was the intervention a failure?

Zelensky’s peace plan, as analyst Siphamandla Zondi says, is basically, “give us victory, then we can talk”.

What he wants is to have a pre-war situation where there are no Russians in Ukraine and then he will negotiate. Negotiate what then? This is naivety at its very best.

Listening to Emma Louise Powell from the DA, justify Poland’s suspicions because of Lady R and insinuating that SA was smuggling weapons on that flight, defy belief. She was literally justifying this nonsense of Poland. 

READ | ANALYSIS: African peace mission – Fruitless exercise, or a clever act of diplomacy?

So was the intervention a failure? No, because the West will not allow China, the collective South or the Africans to negotiate peace. The West will negotiate peace on their terms and their terms only. 

As for the prompt responses here at home, it’s rather disappointing to say the least, but not wholly unexpected. The rapid dismissal of the racist allegation towards the Poles is rather unfortunate. 

Business Leadership SA CEO Busi Mavuso stated that to be a mediator, you must be able to put something on the table. She then asked, as Africans, what do we have to offer. In other words, we have nothing to put on the table and hence she concludes that this was merely a stunt and a futile exercise.

Well, as a businessperson I’m sure that Mavuso understands the power of the customer. The grain and fertilisers we so desperately require is not given to Africans. We pay for it and dare I say we pay top dollar. So, we don’t go with cap in hand.

Many African countries buy oil and other products from both these warring countries and this war is negatively impacting on us.

SA is positioning itself globally

Our votes at the UN General Assembly are also worth a lot. Many developed world countries take Africans very seriously in these multilateral institutions, and hence this is a bargaining chip as an honest broker.

Finally, the reverse trade imperatives are also a matter that Africans can place on the table. We trade with the US and the collective West, and hence we have bargaining power in this regard.

So, I find it very puzzling that Mavuso would make such emotive remarks. But I understand her primary focus is on the bottom line of businesses in South Africa and not our stature and impact as a country, internationally.

As for the calls about what the cost of this mission was and who footed the bill. I’m sure everyone would agree with me that a projection of our soft power on the continent is critical to positioning ourselves globally.

I’m sure you must have noticed how Ramaphosa was de facto the leader of the delegation and how both Zelensky and Putin interacted with our president. This is very important indeed, we must demonstrate that we can take the lead in such matters and indirectly show that we are a reliable partner and that we are a safe investment destination in African affairs. 

I’m not sure what criteria are being applied to suggest failure. I’m sure no one is stupid enough to suggest that immediately after this visit the war would have stopped.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping went there with a plan and nothing came of it. The Pope was there and nada. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried, but only succeeded in negotiating the grain deal. So, on what basis was this intervention a failure?

The Kremlin has indicated that some of the points on the African Peace Plan could work and that they will further the conversation at the next Russia Africa Summit later this year.  

Bravo to the African Peace Mission and to our president for initiating this intervention. Long may we remember the day that Africa acted as a responsible member among the constellation of nations by wanting to bring an end to this war.

– Dr Oscar van Heerden is a senior research fellow for African Diplomacy and Leadership at the University of Johannesburg.

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