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Russia, Ukraine Will One Day Regret Shaming African Chiefs on Peace Mission

As Uganda President Yoweri Museveni battled Covid-19 last week and stayed in confinement, social media did what it does best; spew wild tales about his illness.

One version went that the son of Kaguta was in good health but came up with the Covid-19 story to avoid travelling with other African leaders on a mission to sell Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin a 10-point plan aimed at brokering peace in their war.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa led an olive-branch-bearing group, including the presidents of Comoros, Senegal and Zambia, as well as Egypt’s prime minister and envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda to Kyiv and Moscow. Some say that, predictably, they came back empty-handed.

Of course, only people who don’t know Museveni well would spin such a conspiracy. He’s a man who doesn’t like to look weak or vulnerable, so, any day he would have taken being rebuffed by Zelenskyy and Putin over being floored by a virus.

The African mission has been rebuked at home, laughed at for flying thousands of kilometres away to the eastern corner of Europe to try and stop a “mzungu war” when they would have walked and put that effort into ending several deadly conflicts closer to them at home.

They were also accused of being “un-African.”

The African group only did a little prior diplomatic work to prepare for the mission.

The people making that charge said African diplomacy is like marriage. The young man looking to ask someone’s daughter to marry him only shows up at his prospective in-law’s home to ask for her hand with prior groundwork.

Usually, by the time he and his entourage arrive, wiser heads from both sides will have held several meetings and agreed on all details, including bride price, where it is demanded.

They will have been assured that the family will green-light the marriage and ask for 20 long-horned Ankole cattle, not 50.

You might be fined if you have been living with someone’s daughter in sin without first getting a permit from the church, Registry, or the elders. However, you will know the fine is $1,000, not $5,000.

The elders think it isn’t a good look to surprise a future son-in-law, changing the penalty and forcing him into the unseemly position of passing the hat around, asking for more money than he carried because, suddenly, the fine went up.

Of course, nothing in all this finely laid-out plan will stop a drunk uncle or cantankerous aunt from disrupting things.

Anyway, the result of all this background work is that the day of “introduction” (betrothal ceremony) is mostly a performative function. Ramaphosa and Company didn’t do the diplomatic equivalent.

But there is something else. For a man who views himself as a pan-African patriarch and Bismarck, Museveni has, surprisingly, been part of relatively few peace mediations in Africa. Apart from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, he has dabbled in little else, and even in these, he did not put his neck out as the lead like Ramaphosa did on Ukraine-Russia.

He knows a few things about what it takes to succeed in mediation. For starters, the obvious case for peace — and what the United Nations charters say — don’t cut it with warriors. The leaders and rebels who go to war and butcher people, know that international laws and the Bible and Quran condemn such atrocities. It doesn’t help to throw these books at them.

The men of war understand three things. First, leaders who have been successful in these peace missions are those who have something concrete and juicy to offer: End the war, and get $500 million (part of which they steal) for reconstruction. Or sanctions will be lifted, and the $50 billion frozen in Western banks will be released.

Or surrender, allow new leaders to come in and rebuild, and you will be given a lovely home on the French Riviera and a $1.5 million monthly stipend to spend as you wish, including gambling in the casino.

The second one is a credible threat. Nigeria did it with Liberia’s corrupt president Charles Taylor in 2006. They pressured him to resign, arrested him, and handed him over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which eventually found him guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes there. Nigeria had the ability to bring Taylor to heel.

The other is an overwhelming moral force. South African statesman Nelson Mandela and the influential human rights activist, Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu were the last two people in Africa who had it in recent times. Globally, a few people like Albanian-Indian Catholic nun Mother Teresa, the Pope, and a handful of fabulously wealthy philanthropists also had/have it.

Ramaphosa’s delegation had none of the three assets above. And as influential African leaders go — except for one or two — his group didn’t comprise the First Seven figures with political clout on the continent. Small wonder, then, that Putin reportedly cut them off halfway as they were making their pitch to tell them why their suggestions didn’t fly.

Still, it was not all in vain. The powerlessness of the delegation was also its asset. They were not menacing or arrogant and giving them a small bone to take him as a victory trophy would have helped Putin and Zelenskyy look like sensible, practical men.

Putin, especially, is likely to send his foot soldiers to Africa one of these days looking for a mine. Closing a deal could be harder, having sent our chiefs away shamefaced.

Source : The East African