The Russia-Ukraine conflict is causing tension not just in the war region but also across the world. Although this is not the first time these two countries are fighting, other nations are not ignorant of the effects the war can have in the modern world.
Subsequently, heads of state and governments particularly in the developed world have taken measures aimed at ending the conflict. For instance, the US, European Union, the UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Australia have already imposed sanctions on Russia.
These sanctions, which mainly target the country’s financial institutions and access to technology as well as individuals, are aimed at crippling Russia’s economy. As these sanctions take effect, nations will have to adjust accordingly.
Since the conflict is happening far away, should Africans worry about the conflict? Well, we will tell you why every African should be concerned about it. But before that, do you know how the crisis started?
The Genesis of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia has over the years tried to assert control over neighboring Ukraine. Initially, both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union or USSR, which constituted 15 republics. The Russian-dominated Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 after its communist government collapsed.
Following its dissolution, the US and the then European nations added several of its allies to NATO, a military alliance. In 2008, NATO invited Ukraine to join the alliance, but that angered Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
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Annexation of Crimea
In 2013, Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to ratify a free trade and political agreement with the European Union. His refusal ignited a wave of protests in Ukraine that morphed into the Maidan Revolution that extended for months.
These protests led to the killing of hundreds of Ukrainians and the impeachment of the president thereafter. Yanukovych termed the process illegal and asked for intervention from Russia. In 2014, Russia responded by deploying troops in Crimea and annexing the peninsula. This move sparked the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Unfortunately, Ukrainian forces were unable to overcome Russian armies and regain the lost region. After months of normalcy following the Minsk-1 peace agreement, the two countries started fighting again in early 2015.
The conflict ended with the signing of the Minsk-2 peace deal after world leaders intervened. Since then, there has been tension between the two former USSR republics. Russia has now invaded Ukraine again, a move that many believe is an attempt to reconstruct the Soviet Union.
Reasons Africans should be worried About Russia-Ukraine Conflict
On social media, it is obvious that some Africans believe the Russia-Ukraine conflict is not their business. They back up their belief by listing the many things that need fixing in Africa. However, there are many ways the conflict can exacerbate the problems in Africa. We will highlight some of them below.
1. Food Security
Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s top grain exporters. These nations play a significant role in the global market when it comes to producing and exporting wheat and other grains. Several countries in Africa engage in agricultural trade with these two countries.
According to 2020 statistics from Trade Map, Russia supplied African countries with agricultural products worth $4 billion. About 90% of these imports were wheat. Similarly, Ukraine exported agricultural products valued at $2.9 billion to Africa.
The extension of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to affect the production and harvest of wheat and other grains. Also, there are high chances that the fighting will disrupt trade. If wheat harvest fails and the countries restrict their exports because of the crisis, the biggest African consumers of wheat will suffer shortage.
Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, and other importers of grain will be in dire need of a new wheat supplier. With disruption in trade, global food prices will rise and that is bad news for African economies that are already struggling to overcome food insecurity. Subsequently, there will likely be a rise in the price of bread and other wheat products.
2. Safety of African Students in Ukraine
Ukraine is one of Eastern Europe’s popular destinations for students from Africa. For example, Morocco is said to have 8,000 students studying in Ukraine and Nigeria has about 4,000 students. Also, about 3,500 Egyptian students and a thousand students from Ghana also study in Ukraine.
Panic and fear are widespread among African students with many desperate to leave the country. Unfortunately, they are stuck because Ukraine closed its airspace soon after Russia’s invasion. Speaking to DW, a Nigerian student called Idachabe said,
“Me and my sister are in panic because we don’t know what to expect. We are not safe and we are not sure about leaving here because the airport is shut down.”
Amid escalating war, some students feel abandoned and let down. Ms. Orakpo from Nigeria told Premium Times,
“We reached out to our embassy to put pressure on schools but our embassy said they could not do anything saying they could not help our school make that decision. Now the case has become worse. We cannot travel, most airlines have canceled flights. The embassy is not saying anything.”
Considering the danger, tension, and uncertainties brought about by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the safety of thousands of African students currently in Ukraine is a huge concern. Morocco and Egypt are reported to have asked their students to leave Ukraine before the conflict started. However, stuck students, particularly from Nigeria, continue to call on their governments to evacuate them.
3. Rising Oil Prices
The crisis in Ukraine is already causing a rise in global oil prices. Russia’s military attack on Ukraine has pushed the price of oil beyond $100 a barrel. This is the first time such a surge has occurred since 2014.
Oil prices are expected to rise further if the crisis escalates and global supply is highly disrupted. Skyrocketing oil prices will heavily impact South Africa, Kenya, and other African countries that import oil and gas. Africans and Europeans should brace up to spend more on petroleum imports.
Similarly, imported goods will become more expensive. High oil prices will also result in reduced economic growth and increased inflation. Since most African countries are battling erratic power supply, goods produced using petroleum products are set to cost more.
Many households across the continent will face increased energy and transportation costs. However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is likely to present new oil market opportunities to African countries that produce crude oil. Nigeria, Angola, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt are likely to witness a high demand for their crude oil.
4. Russia-Africa Summit
In 2019, president Putin cohosted the first Russia-Africa Summit with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Sochi, Russia. All the 54 African countries sent representatives including 43 heads of state/government. The aim of the summit was to strengthen cooperation between Africa and Russia.
The latter seeks to support the continent in solving political, social, and economic problems. Russia also seeks to join efforts with African countries to combat terrorism and extremism. President Putin expressed his country’s willingness to offer trade and aid deals without the conditions, pressure, and intimidation of Western nations. He said,
“We currently export to Africa $25 billion ($22.5 billion) worth of food — which is more than we export in arms, at $15 billion. In the next four to five years, I think we should be able to double this trade, at least.”
Why African leaders are silent
In order to expand Russian businesses to Africa, Russia is set to establish a US$5 billion e-commerce trade portal that will help to facilitate commercial payments. It will also help to absorb risks associated with doing business in Africa.
With the second summit set to be held in the last quarter of the year, many are wondering if this Russia-Russia relationship will continue. The African Union leaders have condemned the invasion and called on Russia to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine and international law.
Kenya, through its UN ambassador, Martin Kimani, expressed its opposition to Russia’s recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states. In its statement, the South African government maintained a measured and cautious response to the Ukraine invasion by Russia. While most African countries remain silent on the matter, the crisis will certainly test the Russia-Africa relations.
5. Military and Security Cooperation
In recent years, Russia has dominated arms sales in Africa. It has established cooperation with African nations that have had diplomatic disputes with Western countries. For instance, Russia recently established military partnerships with Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Moreover, it has been reported that Russia was willing to offer military support to Libya and Mali. With increasing sanctions on Russia, African countries might not benefit from the military equipment supply, training, and technology they have been getting.
As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalates, African governments should brace themselves for hard economic times in the foreseeable future. The crisis should also act as an eye-opener for African countries to work towards becoming self-reliant especially when it comes to food security. In doing so, they will reduce reliance on imports and possibly export their surplus.