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Zelensky plans trip to South Africa

by Staff reporter
08 Apr 2024 at 11:29hrs | Views
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky plans to pay SA an official state visit in the next few months as part of his African charm offensive amid a debilitating war with Russia.

International relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor said Zelensky indicated his intention to visit SA this year to "establish stronger trade links with SA and also wishes to discuss the nature of the relationship, which he hopes will ensue once the matter of the war has been settled."

South Africa has agreed to host Zelensky's first state visit to the continent but it's not yet clear when this will occur.

"If it happens, that is going to be the first-ever visit of President Zelensky to Africa, so that would be very symbolic," Ukraine's special representative for the Middle East and Africa, Maksym Subkh, told journalists.

He adds that Ukraine intends to double its 10 embassies in Africa, with six to come this year.

Election delay

The Africa Report understands that Zelensky had hoped that the visit would happen as soon as January, but President Cyril Ramaphosa's programme did not allow for it. South Africa will hold general elections at the end of May, and after that, it could take up to two months for the next administration to be installed and prepare for a state visit.

Subkh also says Ukraine is hoping that South Africa could host a Ukraine-Africa summit, an idea first floated by Zelensky in November last year, where other African leaders would be invited to meet Zelensky, but it's unclear whether Pretoria has an appetite for this.

"President Ramaphosa is a respected president in Africa and I think he's capable of bringing other African leaders to Pretoria to meet Zelensky and to talk about the many issues pertaining to the Russian aggression, to confronting the Russian propaganda, the negative effects that Russia's invasion against Ukraine brings to Africa, and to explore the opportunities of deepening our cooperation," he says.

Reaching out to Africa

Zelensky had previously tried to reach out to African leaders when he requested to address African Union leaders, which eventually happened via video link but was attended by only four leaders.

Ukraine's dealings with Africa in the past were mostly limited to a handful of countries in the north and east Africa, but after Russia's full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022, it has made a strong push to woo African countries to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia.

This has mostly taken the form of a humanitarian food initiative, dubbed Grain from Ukraine, which has benefitted countries that previously relied on Ukrainian grain imports, such as Egypt, and others affected negatively by high grain prices. It has also helped Ukrainian farmers to stay afloat as the Russian blockade has made it difficult and expensive to export their grain.

African peace talks

The Ukraine government's tone has softened markedly towards South Africa since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion, when South Africa repeatedly abstained from voting for UN resolutions aimed at condemning Russia's actions.

South Africa also refused to cut ties with Russia – the governing African National Congress's secretary-general Fikile Mbalula was hosted by President Vladimir Putin as recently as last month, days ahead of the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion.

But in the middle of last year, South Africa took the lead in an African delegation that visited Zelenskyy and Putin to establish channels for peace talks. The initiative was supported by the African Union and five countries – South Africa, Zambia, Uganda, Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville – but leaders of the latter three countries pulled out of the trip at the last minute.

Subkh says Ukraine appreciated the fact that the leaders came to the country first. "We told the group of African presidents that we wish you come to Ukraine before you go there [to Russia] because you have to see what Russia has done to our people," he says.

The delegation visited areas around Kyiv where buildings and infrastructure were destroyed during Russia's onslaught during the early months of the invasion. They also endured an air raid alert which sent them to a shelter, an almost daily occurrence in the city.

Subkh says South Africa and Ukraine maintain "continuous and consistent dialogue on the highest level, so our presidents talk to each other frequently".

Playing a positive role

The last phone conversation was in February when Zelensky invited Ramaphosa to the Global Peace Summit, which Switzerland will host with a focus on the conflict in Ukraine. Ukraine is hoping that the summit will take place in the next month or two.

Zelensky and Ramaphosa have also met in person twice, once for the peace initiative, and a second time on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September last year. Ramaphosa's security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, is also part of the Ukraine Peace Formula talks, which is looking at ways in which the conflict could be ended.

For this initiative, South Africa is involved in negotiating prisoner-of-war exchanges as well as helping to set up mechanisms that would see the return of thousands of children which Ukraine says were abducted and forcefully deported to Russia.

"South Africa has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia and we see that it can play a positive role in releasing Ukrainian military men and women who were imprisoned and abducted by the Russians," Subkh says.

Post-war planning

He also intimated that South African engineering and building companies would be invited to help rebuild Ukrainian infrastructure and assist with de-mining once the war has come to an end.

Subkh says Ukraine is planning to establish 10 more embassies in Africa this year, including in Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mauritania, Tanzania and Sudan, once the conflict there comes to an end.
It already has 10 embassies in Africa, including South Africa, Angola, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia.

Africa's presence in Ukraine is markedly smaller. South Africa, Sudan, Egypt, Libya and Algeria have missions in Kyiv, while Nigeria had a mission, but it has closed.

Source - theafricareport
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