Can the African Union be a neutral arbiter of peace in Ukraine? | Russia–Ukraine War

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On May 22, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Dakar, Senegalese President Macky Sall said he would visit Moscow and Kyiv in the coming weeks in his capacity as President of the Union (AU), which he said wanted “peace through dialogue between the two parties”.

“We don’t want to be aligned with this conflict, very clearly, we want peace,” Sall explained. “Even though we condemn the invasion, we are working for a de-escalation, we are working for a ceasefire, for dialogue…this is the African position.”

But is the continental body really “neutral” on Ukraine? Can it really foster peace by initiating dialogue between warring parties from the position of a non-aligned entity?

We should look at the actions – not the statements – of African leaders to answer these questions.

On March 2, 17 African states, including Sall’s Senegal, abstained from voting in a crucial United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And the AU shamelessly rebuffed two attempts by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address his heads of state. On April 12, Zelenskyy requested an audience with AU heads of state in a phone call with Sall. But the requested meeting did not materialize.

Later that month, AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat revealed that Zelenskyy had made a second request to address the AU through Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro. kuleba. This attempt, too, did not yield any tangible results.

Sall then promised to “bring together all the Heads of State of the African Union who want [meet] with » Zelenskyy on a date yet to be confirmed. It was a disconcerting admission by the AU Chairman that not all African leaders are willing to meet and acquire first-hand information from the leader of the invaded party. It was an admission that the AU would not even try to organize the meeting that Zelenskyy actually wanted – which would include all African heads of state – for fear of offending Russia.

It is not the actions of a genuinely non-aligned body that condemns the invasion of Ukraine, but seeks to foster peace from the perspective of total neutrality.

If there were any doubts about the falsity of the AU’s “neutrality” claim, South African President and former AU chairperson Cyril Ramaphosa dispelled them on May 24.

Speaking to the media in Pretoria, again with Germany’s Scholz, Ramaphosa described Russia and Ukraine as ‘two warring entities’ in a weak and misplaced attempt to diminish the former’s enormous culpability in the devastation suffered today today in Europe and beyond. He lamented the economic fallout from Russia’s violent actions and blamed the West for the emergence of a global food crisis, saying ‘bystanders’ will ‘suffer from the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia’ – repeating an argument first made by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who said in April by sanctioning Russia, Western elites showed they were willing to “sacrifice the rest of the world to maintain their global dominance”.

Ramaphosa also asserted that Africa “has a role to play [in the resolution of the conflict] because he has access to both leaders [of Ukraine and Russia]”. However – just as has been the case with the AU in general – Ramaphosa’s government has long refused to engage with the Ukrainian side.

On April 11, Ukraine’s Ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, took to Twitter to complain that senior South African officials had refused her requests to meet since the Russian invasion began in late February. . “Since the start of the Russian invasion, I have had no requests to meet with South African government officials,” she wrote, “45 days. My people are under brutal attack from the Russians now.” South Africa disputed his claim and insisted that Ramaphosa wanted to speak “to your president”. Ramaphosa finally had a 20-minute phone call with Zelenskyy on April 20 – nearly two months into the war and seven weeks after he called Putin to get his side of the conflict.

South Africa’s unwavering refusal to condemn the Russian invasion and the diplomatic row with Abravitova strongly contradict the “African position” confidently declared by Sall in Dakar.

There are evidently sharp and widespread divisions over the importance and sanctity of international law within the ranks of the AU leadership. On the day Ramaphosa tried to shield Russia from justified global condemnation in Pretoria, for example, Ghanaian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi did the exact opposite in Accra. “We both condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and have called for its immediate cessation as its effects, together with the ravages of COVID-19, have proven devastating for the whole world, especially those in between us on the African continent,” Akufo said. -Addo said. Unlike Ramaphosa, he did not blame Western sanctions or attempt to whitewash Russia’s actions: he rightly called the Russian invasion a massive threat to African and universal peace.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine may have seemed remarkably remote from the immediate problems of the ordinary African man or woman in February. And therefore, it might have seemed acceptable – or according to some even somewhat romantic – that some African leaders were trying to defend Putin’s actions on the basis of anti-(US) imperialism.

Today, however, the widespread consequences of Russia’s unprovoked aggression are beginning to be felt. Many countries in Africa depend on Russia and Ukraine for a large percentage of their wheat, fertilizer and vegetable oil imports. According to the International Monetary Fund, Africa faces the possibility of widespread instability as food and energy prices rise rapidly. Therefore, the redundant diplomatic charades and organizational confusion engulfing the AU’s response to Russian aggression must come to an abrupt end.

Russia poses a clear and existential threat to the social, economic and political stability of Africa. Africa must speak truth to power collectively and act decisively to help ensure Ukraine’s well-being and avert major crises across the continent. As the progressive world acts against Putin, Africa must act in tandem with him. To choose to extend an ostensibly cold and discredited façade of neutrality indefinitely, even as thousands die and Ukrainian cities are destroyed by Russian bombardment is simply indefensible. Ordinary Africans (and Ukrainians) should not have to suffer the consequences of Russia’s illegal and unlimited expansionism.

Before Sall’s delegation departs for Russia, the AU must undergo much-needed introspection. How will the AU seek to broker peace and defend Ukraine’s right to territorial integrity and self-determination if it cannot commit to safeguarding the UN Charter and international law ?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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