The African effort at negotiating for peace between the parties is not only a laudable one but one that holds significant merit not only for Africa but for the Global South and the globe generally, writes Mikatekiso Kubayi.
An interest in peace
The effort by African heads of state to help find a peaceful end to the conflict in Ukraine is both lauded by some and dismissed by others. A continent often depicted as poor, underdeveloped, and incapable is not often seen participating in matters concerning “competition between great powers”, especially violent conflict in Europe. Theories in International relations such as World Systems Theory and Dependency Theory factor much in the imagination and calculation of those that may feel it recalcitrant for Africa to dare offer an intervention where it should be in perpetual submission. Including submission to the consequences of this conflict on its economy, development objectives and general wellbeing. Africa, as does the Global South and indeed, the entire globe has all to gain from a cessation of the conflict and from peace being found.
There can be no doubt however, that the world is indeed changing. What has been a less than adequate global order seems to be giving way to more voices, especially those of the marginalized and most impacted on, to assert their agency. The global community inherited a governance system from an era in which the horrific impact of war and conflict was so severe that a new and strong mechanism for multilateral cooperation for peace, conflict resolution and development was required. Millions had lost lives and millions more had lost limb and infrastructure was destroyed. The global economy suffered extreme blows and with it, development efforts. A mechanism was required to attend to this destruction and to help prevent a repeat of the same in the future. Such a mechanism was to feature instruments in its charter, with which the ambitions of its architects were to be pursued, attained, and sustained. The United Nations (UN) is that mechanism. The UN was formed with a charter that details the exact rules by which all parties to it must abide to avoid, negotiate and settle conflicts for a sustained peace. Both Russia and Ukraine are members of the UN.
The Global South in the main did not have much of a say in the design of the system. Although Jan Smuts, a white South African nationalist, was party to the drafting of the UN charter, he did so to represent interests that did not include black people, Africans, and Africa. Africa had already started to see significant struggles for liberation and development long before the Bretton Woods system was imposed on all. Russia and Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union where not only supportive with resources, but they also trained and joined liberation struggle armies in the trenches. Pictorial evidence of this and recorded stories of veterans of the struggle are plentiful. Many would recall their time spent in Odessa, St Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev and other major cities of the Soviet Union. Many also recall the blood spilt in the cause of freedom and development alongside their Russian and Ukrainian comrades. At the 1952 Bandung Conference, many affirmed their non-aligned stance precisely to never again see a repeat of the horrors they had lived through. They were to never allow great powers to spoil a movement towards peace, stability, and healing.
The process of finding peace has begun
It is the imperfection of the international system, failing to prevent conflict while allowing old tensions, and apprehension about risks to security interests that have led us to this point. Many an African state chose the non-aligned movement precisely to avoid conflict, promote equality in the international system, development, and an ability to resolve disputes through peaceful means among other things. But a peaceful resolution of a conflict is rarely found in a single trip by heads of state to present a proposal and hear parties’ positions. It is a process. It is a necessary process because Africa, the Global South and the world need a sustainable and peaceful end to the conflict. The process has begun, and with others such as by China and Brazil among others, hope is possible.
Africa and other regions of the Global South have also experienced numerous conflicts, mostly due to arbitrary borders imposed on them by powers thousands of kilometers away. These borders have split kinsmen, disrupted trade and other routes of interactions by peoples.
Peace is of course a necessary requirement for stable conditions that development needs. The United Nations Agenda 2030 makes clear the need for peace and stability as a major requisite for development. It is because of this that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is detrimental to global development, particularly in the Global South. Russia is a major global supplier of energy, agriculture, technology and defence goods and services among many others. Ukraine is a major global supplier of agriculture, energy, technology goods among others. The beginning of the conflict was felt immediately, sharply and globally, and created all sorts of other crises such as a spike in prices of energy products, a drastic shortage of grain, fertilizers and cooking oils among others. Africa has been particularly hard hit by this conflict and its pursuit of development is impacted negatively by it.
The African effort at negotiating for peace between the parties is not only a laudable one but one that holds significant merit not only for Africa but for the Global South and the globe generally. Much will be gained from this peace effort. Together with other initiatives such as by Brazil, China and others, progress can and will be gained, especially if actors take heed of the cries of many global peoples calling for peace and development. This effort is a demonstration that the global governance system is one to be shared by all states and that each state, great or small, has a role and voice in the affairs of the globe and in pursuit of the objectives for creating the UN and multilateralism. This is also a demonstration of the massive shifts in agency in global affairs not seen in many decades.
There have been two Minsk as well as other agreements. Many discussions by varied parties to the conflict as well as by concerned global actors have concluded agreements, tacit and/or firm agreements prior to the Minsk agreements that need to be considered for the sake of all. The world is watching. Young people the world over pay attention to developments; on social media, traditional and other news sources and are aware of the history that has led the world to this point. Can this effort succeed? Yes, it can, not because Africa is cleverer than any other region, but because the effort at peace it shares with others stands to benefit the expected 2.5 billion African population of 2050; a market being developed and primed to boom through efforts such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the other 14 flagship projects of the African Union (AU). This is a market ready and in need of Russian and Ukrainian products and investment. All stand to benefit from the success of this effort and it’s in the interest of global agency and development to support it. The world needs to focus on investments in the real economy for its future and choose peace for development.
Africa, as it should, has presented an introduction to its efforts to contribute to peace efforts between Russia and Ukraine. It does so because it is not only in its own interests, but also the interest of the Global South and indeed the world. As any peace effort goes, more engagement and negotiation and diplomatic effort should continue to find a solution that guarantees all parties the security and peace that they seek. The Russia – Africa Summit of July 2023 presents another audience for continued discussion in this effort. The world’s gaze will be on this summit to see if it will deliver tangible outcomes on the peace process as well as on trade, finance, and other areas of cooperation. There is optimism from the fact that both parties are willing to grant an audience and that other partners are willing to support the effort.