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Finland’s Niinistö Discuss International Challenges with South Africa’s Ramaphosa


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President of the Finnish Republic Sauli Niinistö began an official visit to South Africa on Tuesday, 25 April, with meeting with President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria. The two heads of state discussed, among other issues, the geopolitical situation and security, global challenges, such as climate change and problems related to food security and their impacts on the African countries, and the bilateral relations between Finland and South Africa.

In the afternoon, President Niinistö participated with President Ramaphosa in an event attended by Finnish and South African trade and industry representatives concerning sustainable solutions to promote sustainable growth. 

On Wednesday, 26 April, President Niinistö gave a speech and discussed with students at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) in Johannesburg. The topic of the speech was how to respond to common challenges in the era of shifting geopolitics.

The visit of the Finish President comes in a particularly challenging moment for South Africa, that will host the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in August. The leaders of the group will attend the Summit. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Beeing a country that has signed the Rome Statute, South Africa should implement ICC decisions.

The ruling party has decided that it is prudent for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC, according to Ramaphosa’s declaration in a news conference after Finnish President’s visit. 

Finland: A friend of South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa said President Niinistö visits South Africa the week the country commemorates 29 years of democracy.

“South Africa’s liberation from apartheid would not have been possible without the principled solidarity and support of the Finnish people, the Nordic countries, and our many, many friends and allies around the world,” said Ramaphosa.

“Even when we attained our democracy this support did not waver, and Finland continues to play a key role in supporting South Africa’s ongoing transition to a more egalitarian, prosperous society that leaves no-one behind. I shared with President Niinistö my personal endearment for the great and honourable Finnish people. In 2000 Finland’s former President Martti Ahtisaari and I were tasked with inspecting Irish Republican Army arms dumps as part of the Northern Ireland peace process,” added South African President.

“I learned from President Ahtisaari, as I have on many other occasions, just how inviolable principled solidarity is in building the fellowship of nations.” 

In his Speech at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg on 26 April 2023, President Niinistö focused on the many crises our world faces. 

“We live in an era of multiple and interlocking crises. The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity. Food and energy crises. Impact of COVID-19 pandemic and health crisis. Inflation and cost of living crisis. They all interact and re-enforce each other. At the same time, wars and conflicts around the world continue to cause terrible human suffering, the situation in Sudan being the latest example. In Ukraine, Russia is waging a war that has increasingly global consequences.”

The two Presidents represent two different “camps”. South Africa has close relations with Putin’s Russia, while Finland is the newest member of NATO, actively engaged in supporting Ukraine.  

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has adverse global consequences. That is very evident. Who the aggressor is, is also very clear. With its actions, Russia is making a mockery of the UN Charter that requires member states to refrain from the ‘use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,’” underlined President Niinistö.

“Still, you and I may be looking at the war in Ukraine through a slightly different lens. Geographically, Ukraine is far away from Africa. But for Finland, it is in our neighbourhood. With Russia, many African countries have memories of close ties during the Soviet times. Finland’s experience is totally different,” he continued.

“For a hundred years, we lived under the Russian Empire. When the Empire crumbled, we declared independence and started building a democratic welfare state. During the Second World War, as a young independent nation, we defended ourselves against a Soviet invasion. We fought hard and remained independent. But we paid a high price: many lives were shattered and territories were lost. After the war, we managed to get along with Russia for decades. But when Russia attacked Ukraine, our historic memory awoke. War leaves deep marks,” he added.

During the visit, Finland and South Africa agreed to increase business cooperation, improve trade and investment between the two countries.

“By way of example, Gauteng province recently entered into a cooperation agreement with the government of Finland in the fields of renewable energy and ICT infrastructure, and towards the creation of a business corridor,” noted President Ramaphosa.

The two parts agreed to expand cooperation in water resource management, early childhood development, out-of-school youth and adult education, and digital and emerging technologies. 

In his Speech, President of Finland noted that “Africa is playing a rapidly increasing role. It is a continent with some of the fastest growing economies of the world, whose population will by 2050 amount to more than a quarter of the total world population”.

“Africa’s geopolitical influence is also undeniable. Last year, the EU and the African Union renewed their partnership to build a common future, as close partners and neighbours. To save and strengthen effective multilateral cooperation with the UN at its core, we need African leadership,” underlined President Niinistö.

President Niinistö last visited South Africa in 2013 when he attended the memorial service for President Nelson Mandela. The previous presidential visit from Finland to Namibia was made by President Tarja Halonen in 2011.

President Niinistö’s will visit Namibia on 27 April and meet with President Hage G. Geingob in Windhoek. During their meeting, the Presidents will discuss the global political situation, global challenges and the bilateral relations between Finland and Namibia.

Source: European Interest

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