KACHUR & MURITHI: Why Kenya should join Ukraine peace summit

Kenya and other African countries should promote a comprehensive and lasting peace in Ukraine.

In Summary
  • Russia's invasion of Ukraine is significant departure from the UN Charter. It’s first instance of nuclear state attacking and NPT state.
  • P5 nuclear-armed states gave only lip services to UNSC reform that would permanently represent Africa.

In June, Ukraine will convene a Peace Summit of more than 150 countries. The violation of international law and the breach of the UN Charter following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in February 2022, requires all countries committed to revival of multilateralism and reform of the international system of collective security to actively support the cause of peace.

Kenya and other African countries should support efforts to promote a comprehensive and lasting peace for Ukraine by actively participating in the Peace Summit on DATES, location. Participating will provide African countries with the opportunity to advocate for a transformation of the global order. In particular, Kenya can take the lead among African countries to reshape global governance, ensuring it reflects contemporary realities and promotes equitable development and security for all nations.

Kenya was not independent in 1945, when the United Nations and its Security Council were established to maintain global peace and security. This system of international security has begun to decay and has become dysfunctional, evidenced by the fact Russia was chairing the presidency of the UN Security Council in February 2022, when it invaded Ukraine. The geopolitical landscape has drastically changed, and the existing international order, dominated by major nuclear-armed world powers, including the Permanent Five (P5) members of the UNSC – USA, UK, France, China and Russia – does not fully represent Africa's interests. Africa, a continent of 1.4 billion people, does not have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, even though 60 per cent of the Council’s agenda focuses on the African continent. Consequently, Africans are essentially spectators and bystanders in decisions that affect the prospects of peace and security across the continent.

Call for UN reform

Africa has long advocated for UNSC reform, notably in March 2005, when the African Union (AU) adopted proposals known as the Ezulwini Consensus, which called for a more equal distribution of seats/ It called for two permanent seats with full veto rights and at least three additional non-permanent seats - for the African continent. Twenty years after the AU Ezulwini Consensus, the P5, who are also nuclear-armed states, have only paid lip service to any prospects for UN reform. As the system stands, the nuclear-armed P5 countries can invade and annex other independent countries with no accountability or redress from the international multilateral system. This is a dangerous situation for the world, particularly for citizens of the nuclear-weapon-free African continent.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine marks a significant departure from the UN Charter rules. It is the first instance of a nuclear-armed state attacking a country that relinquished its nuclear arsenal under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In 1994, Ukraine gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances from the US, the UK, and Russia, which promised to uphold Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The result is that annexation of territories by force not only destabilizes regions but also diverts resources from social and economic development to military spending. According to SIPRI, in 2023, global military expenditures reached a record of $2.4 trillion, with a 6.8 per cent increase. In 2024, those expenditures will continue to grow, diverting funding from the developmental agenda critical for Africa’s progress.

The war in Ukraine has aligned interests between Eastern Europe and African countries, as both regions are marginalised in the international governance system. Thus, a group of African and Ukrainian experts has worked together to draw up recommendations on how the international system can be improved and what can be done to ensure more balance.

New international order needed

The first necessary step seems to be to enhance the authority of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, potentially by activating Article 109 of the UN Charter, which would initiate a General Review Conference. The African Union should spearhead the formation of a coalition of progressive states to discuss establishing a new multilateral system, what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has billed as the shift towards a UN 2.0.

Secondly, the annexation of an NPT member by a nuclear-armed state undermines global non-proliferation efforts. All African states, except South Sudan, are NPT members. Therefore, a new mechanism is needed to reinforce the global non-proliferation system, drawing from security guarantees extended to Ukraine.

The UN Charter's emphasis on sovereignty and internationally recognised borders is vital for global security and development. Achieving just peace in Ukraine is crucial to upholding these principles. Given the foundation established by the African Peace Mission to Russia and Ukraine, the African Union, through the leadership of countries such as Kenya, should build upon this initiative and establish a peace building working group involving think tanks and civil society to advocate continue mediation efforts for peace in Ukraine. This is an initiative that the Kenyan government, following consultation with the AU, can propose at the Ukraine Peace Summit.

Imperative for Africa's voice

The Ukraine Global Peace Summit, which anticipates the participation of more than 150 countries is an opportunity for Africa to assert its soft power and its voice and influence in shaping a world order that respects all nations' sovereignty and development priorities. Kenya has maintained its regional and global influence through its peacemaking and peacekeeping interventions and is well-positioned to be a leading voice at the Ukraine Peace Summit.

The Summit is an opportunity for African countries to reframe the global narrative on how the world should address unwarranted aggression, the infringement of sovereignty, and the rights of nations to chart their own course. Africa must seize this opportunity to advocate for a world where might does not make right, and that the powerful are held to account by international law and the UN Charter.

Kachur is fellow researcher at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at the Stellenbosch University

Prof Murithi is head, Peacebuilding Interventions, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa

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