An offshoot of the Russian invasion has been that the many dimensions of insecurity in Africa have been laid bare. In our third instalment on the Russo-Ukraine conflict, this section will address the effects of the conflict on various dimensions of security within the continent.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has plunged the global food markets into turmoil with developing countries bearing the brunt of the damage. This is partly because the Russian Federation and its satellite state Belarus both control about 23% of global fertiliser exports thereby having a significant impact on the ability of farmers in Africa to grow food crops in their countries.
Moreover, Russia (33.5 mt) and Ukraine (24 mt) collectively account for 30% of the world’s wheat, 50% of sunflower oil and 20% of the global maize markets respectively. Russia’s blockade of several Ukrainian ports, coupled with the energy crisis has torpedoed supplies of these agricultural products to the several African countries that rely on them.
In 2020, Russian exports of agricultural products to Africa totalled $4 billion and Ukraine received $2.9 billion in same. However, the decrease in their supply has caused food prices to skyrocket with the FAO Food Price Index averaging 158.5 points in April 2022, down 1.2 points (0.8 percent) from the all-time high reached in March but still 29.8% higher than prices in April last year.
Moreover, the crisis has seen several states move to protect their citizens by restricting exports of staples from their countries. The belligerents, Russia and Ukraine have themselves imposed a ban on exports of wheat and sugar with India and Kazakhstan replicating the ban on wheat exports and Kosovo and Algeria doing the same with sugar. Russia has further imposed quantitative restrictions on sunflower oil. Argentina has similarly placed bans on beef and soybean meal and soybean oil. For their part, Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of edible oil has banned exports of palm oil to drive down the oil price on domestic markets.
What has ensued in Africa as a result, is an abrupt increase in the price of staples such as wheat and a corresponding increase in the foods which these products make such as bread. Even before the crisis, the average African household spent about 40% of its income on food, compared to just 17% in developed economies. Russia’s war in Ukraine, coupled with other endemic pressures such as “multiyear droughts in the Horn and East Africa; a locust swarm; the internal conflict in Ethiopia; flood, drought, conflict and the economic effects of COVID-19 in West Africa;” threatens to put 44 million people in 38 countries in hunger, most of these people being vulnerable populations in Africa and the Middle East.
In the context of military security, Russia has expanded its influence within the region by entering strategic military alliances with some 28 African states. In some cases, the Kremlin has capitalised on tense relations between African countries and Western powers to expand their influence within the region. One such case is Russia’s supply of military equipment, training and technology to Nigerian forces following Washington’s inertia to execute a $1 billion weapons sale to the Buhari administration after allegations of human rights abuses by the administration both in its fight against Boko Haram and against its own people during the #ENDSARS protests.
Similarly, the Ethiopian government turned to the Kremlin to sign a military cooperation agreement in July last year when it believed the United States had taken sides with Egypt in the dispute over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam and after the accusation of US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken that the Abiy-led administration had pursued a policy of ethnic cleansing in Tigray.
The Western and Central Africa regions have suffered regime insecurity in recent times with successful coups being recorded in Mali, Guinea and Chad over the last year and in Burkina-Faso in January this year. In these times, Russian-backed paramilitary forces (this is strongly denied by the Kremlin), the Wagner group has positioned itself as an additional layer of support to staggered regimes lending direct support to the Libyan and the CAR governments. In Mali, the military junta, having suffered trade sanctions from the sub-regional trade bloc, ECOWAS, and by driving French forces out of the country has had to court the support of the Wagner group to assist it in its embittered battle with jihadist forces within the country.
Of additional concern is the potential for weapons supplied to Ukraine to find their way into Africa further deepening Africa’s security woes. Whiles Russia has been responsible for 39% of arms imports in Africa, Ukraine has gained itself a reputation for being a “supermarket” of illegal arms. Due to weak protocols on gun possession largely as a result of volunteers being engaged in Ukrainian forces to fight in the Donbas region, some weapons are smuggled out of the country through the Middle East into other parts of the world.
In 2017, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) uncovered a weapons laundering scheme where Ukrinmash, a Ukrainian state arms exporter, laundered 59 amphibian armoured patrol vehicles originating from Poland through Ukraine to buyers in Burundi and Uganda via the United Arab Emirates. This is not without precedent. Between 1992 and 1998, it was estimated that Ukraine had lost $32 billion in military assets which it had inherited from the Soviet Union due to lapses in oversight, theft and discount sales.
These assets found their way into hotspots such as Croatia and Sierra Leone with Ukraine and Bulgaria being linked to a UN investigation into illicit arms trading in the case of Sierra Leone. Understandably, the massive Western support in light and heavy weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves from Russian aggression has renewed fears that some of these weapons may find their way into the continent in the aftermath of the conflict and worsen the already fragile security situation in Africa.
Neither West nor East
The pandemic, coupled with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has taught African governments a difficult lesson about the need to develop more sophisticated and resilient systems to better insulate our economies from the brunt of economic catastrophes, which appear to occur more frequently. Against this backdrop, the priority of African governments in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict should be to prevent a war of attrition and seek a quick end to the conflict, one way or another, as a return to normalcy in international trade provides the best shot of easing the economic situations in their countries.
To that extent, while many African countries may sympathise with Ukraine being bullied by a larger power, they will resist temptations to draw the ire of the Russian Federation as this will only serve to exacerbate the conflict and destroy economic and military relationships to their own detriment. In this conflict, perhaps “citizen and sovereign interests” demand that Africa remains content with a position at the peripheries.
Sam Kwadwo Owusu-Ansah | Lead Research Analyst, Transnational Policy | firstname.lastname@example.org
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