On February 21th Russia recognized the independence of separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, while, on the night of 23 February, it invaded the Ukraine territory. The African countries responded in different ways, showing support for one part or the other. However, the relations established by Russia and Ukraine with many of the African nations could spread the economic effects of the invasion outside Eastern Europe, reaching the African continent. The Russian attack did not lead to a unique condemnation voice by the African States. Some of them expressed measured responses.
For example, South Africa, the most industrialized African country, just called “on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine in line with the United Nations Charter” and urged the UN Security Council to “play its role in the search for peace“. Both nations are part of the world’s emerging economies group of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and have important investment relations. Nigeria, one of the biggest continent’s economies, focused more on the safety of Nigerians living in Ukraine instead of condemning the military attack, and Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, when asked by a journalist about Nigeria’s standpoint on the war, chose not to answer and walked away.
Others, like Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), acted in defence of the aggressor. About the first one, a delegation led by the deputy leader of the Sudanese junta, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, flew to Moscow on Wednesday 23, in order to strengthen the relations between the two nations. Regarding CAR, the president Faustin-Archange Touadéra has approved the Kremlin’s recognition of the Ukrainian regions as independent states and a monument of the Russian paramilitary personnel who suppressed an armed insurrection in 2020 has been erected in the CAR capital of Bangui.
The stance of all African countries became clear on Wednesday 23, when the United Nations voted a draft resolution condemning the aggression of Ukraine and calling Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” 141 nations voted in favour, permitting the resolution to pass, but some nations abstained from the vote, included a large quantity of African States. Among these: South Africa, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Algeria, Burundi, Madagascar, Namibia, the Central African Republic and Angola.
Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Adonia Ayebare, justified the refusal to vote speaking about neutrality. He said: “As incoming Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) neutrality is key. Uganda will continue to play a constructive role in the maintenance of peace and security both regionally and globally.” Nevertheless, on February 28, the Uganda’s President’s son and commander of Land Forces, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, tweeted: “The majority of mankind (that are non-white) support Russia’s stand in Ukraine. Putin is absolutely right! When the USSR parked nuclear armed missiles in Cuba in 1962 the West was ready to blow up the world over it. Now when NATO does the same they expect Russia to do differently?” recognizing Putin’s effective reasons to invade Ukraine.
The day after, Ethiopia, who did not take part in the UN vote, sent a statement by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, requesting restraint:“Ethiopia has abundant lessons to share from its recent engagement in war. Our experience has shown the devastating consequence that war inflicts upon families, communities, livelihoods and the economy at large”. Eritrea, together with Syria, Belarus, North Korea and Russia, was one of the five nations to vote against the resolution. On the other hand, Kenya, Ghana, Gabon, Congo, Somalia, Rwanda, Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of Congo voted yes.
Kenya, in particular, even before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, sided openly against the territorial claim. On Feb. 22, Kenya’s UN Envoy Martin Kimani gave a short but sharp intervention, condemning Russia with references to the history of the continent: “Kenya, and almost every African country, was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart,” Kimani told delegates. “Rather than form nations that looked ever backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known,[…] We chose to follow the rules of the OAU (Organization of African Unity) and the United Nations charter not because our borders satisfied us but because we wanted something greater forged in peace.” And he concluded rejecting “irredentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious or cultural factors.”
But what are the consequences of the Eastern-European conflict which could also influence the African continent? Firstly, a considerable rise in the price of the global grains and oilseed. This is because both Russia and Ukraine play a considerable role in the global agricultural market, producing respectively 10% and 4% of the global wheat, that is a quarter of global wheat production. In 2020, Russia accounted for 18 percent and Ukraine eight percent. African countries depend on grain imports. In 2020, Russia exported $4 billion of agricultural products in the African continent. Half of the import went to Egypt, followed by Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya and South Africa. At the same time, African nations imported $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products from Ukraine, above all Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. The rise of the grain price can generate a double consequence. On the one hand, it constitutes an enrichment opportunity for the African grain and oilseed farmers. On the other, consumers will experience a higher price for commodities. The price of wheat flour has already risen by 15% over last year’s prices, and it is expected to reach a higher level if the situation between Kiev and Moscow further deteriorates.
Another major economic factor regards the surge of the price of an oil barrel above the 100 dollar mark. From February 25, it has already risen to 105.79 dollars a barrel and could continue to rise with the sanctions against Russia, which, as the world’s second crude exporter, provides 11.5% of world supply. The primary consequence is the rise of the cost of transportation across the continent, with a domino effect on the prices of nearly all other products. Charlie Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, declared:”It becomes a double whammy of potentially higher food prices globally and higher energy prices pushing up inflation. And when central banks respond by hiking interest rates, it becomes a triple whammy,” Despite that, Patrick Smith, editor of the UK-based Africa Confidential publication, pointed out the incredible occasion for oil- and gas-producing countries: “Europe has to rapidly find alternatives to Russian gas, and the most reliable alternatives are in Africa. It’s a great opportunity for African states to move in, and get new deals done quickly,“
Also Samia Suluhu Hassan, the Tanzanian President, has declared that “this crisis will cause a particular interest in African gas“, referring to the resources of his country, as well as Mauritania, Nigeria, Mozambique, Senegal and Algeria. In Senegal, between 2014 and 2017, 40 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were discovered, and its production will start later this year. On February 16, Nigeria -which already exports liquified natural gas (LNG) to several European countries – signed an agreement with Niger and Algeria to develop the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline and increase the supply of natural gas to European markets.
It is possible to affirm that the financial and commercial repercussions of the Russian attack on Ukraine could result both positively and negatively for Africans depending on the different actors’ point of view and the opportunities the African nations will be able to seize within the multilateral context. Anyway, it is fundamental to consider every state on its own, keeping in mind that each of them has its peculiar relations and foreign policy priorities.