The heads of state of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and the Comoros are expected in the Ukrainian capital on Friday and in St Petersburg on Saturday.
What are the chances of African leaders succeeding where all other attempts at mediation between Russia and Ukraine have failed? “We hope to create an electroshock, but this is only the beginning of the beginning, the curtain-raiser for a play that will be performed, if both parties so wish, in several acts”, explained Jean-Yves Ollivier, the man behind this peace initiative prepared since December 2022, cautiously a few days before the confirmation of this trip.
The mediators’ poster has lost some of its prestige in recent days. Of the seven African heads of state scheduled for the trip, only four are expected to attend. On Friday June 16, the presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and the Comoros – which currently holds the presidency of the African Union – are due to meet their Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev. They will be accompanied by the Prime Minister of Egypt, whose President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi cancelled his visit at the last minute, and the head of diplomacy of Uganda, whose Head of State Yoweri Museveni apologized after testing positive for Covid-19.
The next day, the same two are due to travel to St. Petersburg for talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who was initially scheduled to attend and is known for his close ties with Mr. Ollivier, declared on Monday that “in the face of such a tragedy, Africa cannot remain silent or indifferent”, but finally cancelled his participation, after having requested a postponement. “The security of the heads of state is a problem, particularly in view of the train journey between Poland and Ukraine”, says a source within the organization of the trip.
Conducted at a time when Ukraine is engaged in a military counter-offensive and Russia seems unwilling to compromise, this attempt to establish a dialogue between belligerents may seem doomed to failure. But for Jean-Yves Ollivier, the driving force behind this offer of mediation with the Fondation Brazzaville, which he heads, “it’s at a time when things are getting busy militarily that the opportunities for peace are often greatest”.