Press Review CW 25/2023: Prospect of success?
Press Review 16 June 2023 to 23 June 2023

African peace initiative for Russia and Ukraine

At the weekend, a delegation consisting of Heads of State and Government and high-ranking officials from seven African countries travelled to Ukraine and Russia to mediate between the two warring parties and advocate for a peaceful solution to the war. The delegation, led by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, also included Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema and Comorian President Azali Assoumani, who also currently holds the AU Presidency. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, who were also originally supposed to be part of the peace initiative, cancelled their participation a few days before the trip and sent high-ranking officials to represent them instead. First, the delegation flew to Kiev on Friday, where they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Even before the delegation arrived, however, the first incident occurred. At Warsaw airport, a plane from South Africa with journalists and security personnel accompanying President Ramaphosa was detained by the Polish authorities. According to the Polish authorities, the reason was the carrying of unauthorised firearms. The plane and the passengers on board were denied onward travel and the plane was sent back to Johannesburg three days later. In talks with Zelenskyy, the African representatives presented their 10-point plan, which includes recognition of the sovereignty of Russia and Ukraine, unhindered grain exports, as well as a de-escalation of the fighting, the release of prisoners of war and more humanitarian aid. Zelenskyy was sceptical about the African peace initiative and rejected any negotiations with Russia until Russian forces have left all occupied territories. Furthermore, he demanded that African leaders clearly condemn the Russian invasion and isolate Russia on the international stage as a result of its aggression. With the exception of Egypt and the Comoros, the other states involved in the peace initiative had abstained or stayed away from the UN General Assembly resolutions against Russia so far. At the same time, the Ukrainian president declared that they would continue to strive for a peaceful end to the war and spoke out in favour of greater African-Ukrainian cooperation in the direct supply of grain. The visit was overshadowed by Russian air raids, so that the group of visitors had to seek temporary shelter in a bunker. On Saturday, the delegation then travelled on to St. Petersburg to hold talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The visit began with a warm welcome for the guests by Putin and an address by the African presidents, but Putin interrupted it after Ramaphosa’s speech, after which the live broadcast of the peace talks was cut off. Putin also expressed scepticism about the African 10-point plan and rejected much of it. He also stressed that Russia would only agree to peace negotiations if Ukraine recognised Russian sovereignty over the territories it occupied, demilitarised itself and distanced itself from NATO. The African peace initiative, which Ramaphosa had previously described as historic because it was the first African peace effort outside its own continent, is considered by many international experts to have failed because the African delegations did not succeed in bringing Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table. Ramaphosa, who has been criticised both in South Africa and on the international stage for his pro-Russia course and is under pressure in view of the upcoming BRICS summit in South Africa and the international arrest warrant against Putin (Press Review Week 14/ 2023), stressed in the meantime that although it had not been possible to bring both parties to the conflict together, the doors had been opened for further talks. On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the talks with the African delegation would continue. Although the visits to Kiev and Moscow did not produce any immediate success, the African peace initiative was certainly of central importance, argues, for example, Prof. Christopher Afoke Isike from the University of Pretoria. Not only did African states show that it was possible to speak out on international conflicts, but they also took the opportunity to personally address and discuss African interests, such as the negative impact of war on food security in Africa.

ATMIS troop withdrawal from Somalia

On Wednesday, the African Union Transitional Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) announced that it had begun withdrawing 2,000 soldiers. Thus, the African Union (AU) initiated the first of the four-stage withdrawal plan of the ATMIS troops, whose mandate expires in December 2024. The aim is to then hand over full security responsibility to the national army (SNA). The troop withdrawal is in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 2670 (2022) and 2628 (2022), which commit ATMIS to withdraw 2,000 troops by the end of June 2023. Only in April, at the special summit in Uganda, the troop-contributing states confirmed their intention to keep to the timetable (Press Review Week 17/2023). The partial withdrawal comes amid the resurgence of the Al-Shabaab militia. Just last month, Al-Shabaab fighters attacked an AU base, killing 54 Ugandan peacekeepers in one of the deadliest attacks since the offensive began last year. For years, the militant movement has been trying to overthrow Somalia’s UN-backed federal government. With the help of ATMIS and the US Africa Command (Africom), Somalia managed to liberate large areas of central Somalia in 2022 in the first phase of military operations announced by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. In the second phase, which Mohamud announced at the end of March this year, the aim is to push Al-Shabaab back from the states of Jubaland and Southwest. As part of the military preparations for the troop withdrawal, a technical team was appointed this week by ATMIS and the UN Support Office in Somalia to oversee the implementation of the ATMIS withdrawal. Further military support will also come from neighbouring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, Mohamud announced. In addition, the Somali government recently confirmed that it had trained more than 20,000 soldiers who will replace AU troops and are also equipped to take over security duties. Nevertheless, security experts warn against a hasty withdrawal and a scenario similar to that in Afghanistan. They fear the collapse of state institutions after the end of the transitional mission, especially if the UN arms embargo against the country is not lifted and Somalia is thus denied access to equipment. Experts also share the fear that Al-Shabaab could remobilise as a result of the troop withdrawal.

In other news

On Wednesday, Alex Moussa Sawadogo received the Honorary Award of the German Africa Foundation for his outstanding commitment to the film and cultural scene from Africa and his great dedication to changing the image of Africa in Germany through the medium of film. In 2007, Sawadogo along with some friends founded the association toucouleur e.V. together and thus established the Berlin film festival AFRIKAMERA, of which he has been the artistic director ever since. Since 2020, he has also been the director of the Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), the largest and most renowned pan-African film festival, which takes place every two years in Burkina Faso’s capital. In Berlin, AFRIKAMERA counteracts the lack of representation of films and filmmakers from Africa and contrasts the diverse facets of everyday life in Africa with stereotypical images here. Furthermore, AFRIKAMERA serves the intercultural dialogue between Africa and Germany and is an important place for networking and exchange between cultural and film professionals and the interested public. This year, the AFRIKAMERA Festival will take place from 14-19 November under the motto URBAN AFRICA, URBAN MOVIES: FUTURE & UTOPIAS.

New Blog entry: What opportunities exist for young people ahead of the 2024 South African National Elections

As Youth Month comes to an end in South Africa, a month dedicated to honouring the memory of the 1976 Soweto uprisings and the resilience of youth, our South African German Chancellor Fellow Dambisa Dube reflects in her latest blog entry on the urgency of youth agency, its barriers and possible opportunities of leveraging the digital civic engagement of young people to ensure better youth turn out ahead of the South African National Elections

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