Paramount founder emerges as broker in African peace mission to Ukraine

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Founder of Paramount, Ivor Ichikowitz, played a significant role in the African peace mission to Ukraine last weekend, which was led by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.

News of Paramount’s involvement in the African peace mission surfaced on 5 June when Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni shared a photo from a virtual meeting showing Ichikowitz and French businessman Jean-Yves Ollivier taking part in a conference on the peace mission to Ukraine along with Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani, Ramaphosa, and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Ichikowitz and Ollivier were representing the Brazzaville Foundation, whose goal “is to develop initiatives, primarily in Africa, in the fields of conflict prevention and resolution, development, the environment and conservation and to bring countries together in peaceful cooperation.”

The Continent reported Ollivier stating Ichikowitz is a long time a friend of the Brazzaville Foundation and for the peace mission, Ichikowitz offered pro bono resources, contacts, access and advice. “He was officially [thanked] by the six heads of state during the 5 June Summit meeting for his contribution.”

The Ichikowitz Family Foundation said Ichikowitz is proud to have served in a supporting capacity as a friend of the Brazzaville Foundation in helping to coordinate the African peace initiative. He has been involved in this process since the middle of 2022, which has seen him help plan and coordinate interactions between various stakeholders.

While Ichikowitz was not part of the official delegation visiting both Kyiv and Moscow last week, he “has participated in the peace mission process as a proud African who is concerned about the immediate and long-term impact of the Ukraine-Russian conflict on Africa and its people. He participated as an African who is heavily invested in Africa and is a lifelong advocate and vocal proponent of the continent,” the Foundation said, adding that Ichikowitz believes that the continent must take up its rightful role on the international stage in addressing the challenges facing the world especially where Africa and Africans are directly affected.

Ichikowitz believes that Africa has and will continue to suffer consequential damage from this conflict and that the leaders of the continent have an obligation to weigh in and play their role in facilitating dialogue, with a view to using their non-aligned status to open channels of communication between the parties, with a view to eventually contribute to facilitating negotiations.

Asked how Ichikowitz would ensure that his defence business interests are kept separate from the peace initiative, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation said they did not see any conflict of interest since Ichikowitz stepped down as executive chairman of Paramount in 2022 and is concentrating his efforts on the Ichikowitz Family Foundation. The Ichikowitz Family Foundation was founded more than a decade ago with the facilitation of dialogue as one of its central objectives. “It therefore should not come as a surprise if Mr Ichikowitz participates and contributes to any initiative that is aimed at creating dialogue in order to improving the lives of Africans and the future of the continent,” the Foundation stated.

“To further clarify, neither he nor the company he founded have any business interests with either the Russian or Ukrainian governments. Paramount has never done business with Russia or supplied any military equipment to Russia, and has no intention of doing so. There has never been a contract for the supply of military equipment between Paramount and Ukraine. Therefore there is no commercial interest for either Mr Ichikowitz or Paramount in the Ukraine conflict or any other aspect of his involvement in this process,” the Foundation added.

The African peace mission that visited Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on 16 June and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 June met with limited success as Zelensky said peace talks with Russia would be possible only after Moscow withdraws its forces from occupied Ukrainian territory while Putin accused the Ukrainian side of not wanting to talk. Russia has also said withdrawing from Ukraine is not negotiable.

The Brazzaville foundation in a statement before the mission said that the initiative was not intended to bring about a ceasefire but rather to voice Africa’s concerns and to facilitate a dialogue between the parties.

Following the visit, Ramaphosa said the delegation impressed upon the two leaders the importance of finding a peaceful solution and the particularly harsh impact the conflict continues to have on African nations.

“Among other things, we called for a de-escalation of fighting and for negotiations to commence with urgency; for the release of prisoners of war and return of children; for greater humanitarian support; and for reconstruction efforts to be prioritised. “We used the meetings to highlight the damaging effect that this conflict is having on African countries and economies, contributing to food shortages and a rise in the cost of living,” he said.

The President said the mission was “successful in registering the willingness of African leaders to contribute to a negotiated peace and to highlight the broader effects of the conflict”.

“We hope that it will contribute in some way towards international peace efforts. For us the most important outcome was the commitment on both sides to continue engaging with us to take our discussions forward so that we can join the two countries together on the road to peace,” Ramaphosa said.

However, while the African leaders that supported Ramaphosa did not think that their engagement with both Presidents would lead to results that could end the war, Ramaphosa said they want to engage so that a peaceful solution is found. He said the African leaders stand ready and prepared to participate in further engagement.

Ichikowitz’s role in the peace mission has drawn criticism, with The Continent and Vrye Weekblad for example claiming Paramount supplied an armoured vehicle to Russia. Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering (KPE) did indeed provide a single Arlan (Kazakh Marauder version, manufactured in Kazakhstan) to Russia as a demo vehicle – this vehicle was showcased to various countries in the region by KPE. It was subsequently donated to Chechnya’s head of state and was used by Chechen forces during the Russian invasion.

In a statement on 20 June, Paramount stated it does not have any relations or business with Russia. “The company has never supplied military equipment to Russia and has no intention of ever doing so. Paramount operates in strict adherence to both the South African National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) and United Nations (UN) widely-recognized global arms regulations. In the company’s near 30-year history, there hasn’t been any contraventions of such conventions.

“Any allegation that Paramount or its Founder are supporters of Russia or that Paramount operates factories in Russia and supply the Russian armed forces is outrageously false and must be treated with the contempt it deserves. Paramount does not have any companies, or factories, or any operations, or any employees in Russia,” the company reiterated.

Paramount also refuted allegations on social media suggesting that Paramount was involved in loading arms onto the Russian cargo vessel Lady R that docked in Simons Town in December. “This is far-fetched, malicious and very dangerous especially in this climate. It is totally devoid of any truth,” the company said.

Paramount reiterated its “deep concern, and unbridled support for those suffering in the prolonged campaign of aggression taking place in the war in Ukraine. Paramount’s public support in trying to help alleviate the misfortunes of the Ukrainian people is clear and unequivocal. Our staff and our organisation have donated fully equipped hospital ambulances to the Ukraine at the start of the conflict, and sponsored and participated in the Ukrainian Run for Peace In Pretoria, hosted by the Ukrainian community in South Africa,” the company affirmed.

Ambulances donated by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation to Ukraine.

It also condemned the loss of life and the socio-economic devastation caused by the continued Russia-Ukraine conflict. “This has a direct impact on the lives of millions of Africans as a result of fertilizer and food shortages. Paramount believes that the only way forward is through a brokered peace between these nations.”

Ichikowtiz has been outspoken in global media denouncing the conflict and has called for mediators to bring about its swift resolution. “We are truly the only non-aligned continent in the world, which is why the…African peace initiative to Kyiv and Moscow is so important. On a personal note, I hope for my own country to find its moral compass and condemn Russia for its barbarity and then help forge peace — because that is what true leaders do, not slavishly stand by when crimes against humanity are being committed in the full view of the world.”