The war in Ukraine could have a devastating effect on some African states, threatening their economies and putting governments under diplomatic pressure to take sides in the growing dispute between Russia and Western powers.
As an article by the South African news website Daily Maverick notes, the war in distant Europe will be “felt in every village and city in South Africa and the world”.
“Even before the first missiles were fired, this war had already taken its toll: it diverted billions of dollars to rearmament and prevented them from fighting poverty, pandemics, education, inequality and the emerging climate crisis in this critical year,” writes Mark Heywood. .
What was Africa’s reaction to the war?
South Africa, whose economy is the most industrialized on the continent, has called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, saying the conflict must be resolved peacefully.
“An armed conflict will undoubtedly cause human suffering and destruction, the effects of which will not only affect Ukraine but will also have repercussions throughout the world. No country is immune from the effects of this conflict,” reads a government statement.
South Africa’s position is a blow to Russia, which sees it as a key ally in Africa. The two countries maintain close economic ties, as both are members of the BRICS, a grouping of the world’s emerging economies.
Kenya, an East African economic power and a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, went further in its condemnation of Russia.
In an enthusiastic speech, Kenya’s ambassador to the UN Security Council, Martin Kimani, said: “Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty are violated. The UN Charter continues to wither under the relentless onslaught of the powerful.”
Ghana and Gabon – the other two African states on the UN Security Council – also condemned Russia.
No African country has so far come out in favor of Russian intervention, not even Mali and the Central African Republic, where Russian forces are helping governments fight insurgencies.
But – a sign that autocratic regimes will stick with him – the powerful Sudanese military commander, General Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, arrived in Moscow just as the war in Ukraine began.
His trip was aimed at strengthening ties with Russia, at a time when the junta has become an outcast in the West for derailing the transition to democracy following the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.
At the same time, the Russian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo said Moscow was ready to help the Central African nation to end armed violence in the east of the country, according to state television.
Oil prices have already surpassed $100 a barrel to reach their highest level since 2014.
Budgets in oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Angola may be boosted by higher prices, but transport costs are likely to increase for people on the continent. This will have a ripple effect on the prices of almost every other product.
“Rising food prices globally and rising energy prices, which are driving up inflation, pose a dual threat. And when central banks respond by raising interest rates, it becomes a triple risk,” said Charlie Robertson. , global chief economist at Renaissance Capital.
But the editor of UK-based Africa Confidential, Patrick Smith, said the war offers huge opportunities for oil and gas producing countries.
“Europe must quickly find alternatives to Russian gas, and the most reliable alternatives are in Africa. This is a great opportunity for African states to step in and quickly conclude new deals,” he said.
According to him, the biggest danger facing Africa is the likely rise in bread prices, with Russia and Ukraine supplying around 30% of the world’s wheat.
“The price of bread has been a factor of political instability and triggered the Arab Spring. The Maghreb countries – Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria, which depend heavily on wheat – could be the most affected by tighter supply and prices taller,” Smith said.
Kenya is also concerned about the impact the war – and financial sanctions against Russia – could have on its vital tea industry. Russia is among the top five consumers of its tea, which helps Kenya earn foreign exchange.
“Tea and other beverages are classified as food products and should not normally be affected by trade sanctions,” said Edward Mudibo, chief executive of the East Africa Tea Traders Association (EATTA).
However, he added that some traders do not want to risk seeing Russia excluded from international payment systems.
And the Africans in Ukraine?
Thanks to its affordable tuition fees and its links with Africa dating back to the Soviet era, Ukraine is a top destination for African students, of whom there are thousands to study at its universities, especially in medicine. Other Africans also live and work in Ukraine.
With the outbreak of war, their security aroused more and more concerns. Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged its more than 1,000 citizens to “take shelter” at home or in government-designated shelters.
But the National Union of Students of Ghana has urged the government to organize their evacuation, saying the war requires a similar response to the one taken during the first coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe that the model used for the evacuation of students from China at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic could be adopted in this case as well,” it said in a statement.
The African countries with the most students in Ukraine are Morocco (8,000), Nigeria (4,000) and Egypt (3,500). They constituted – as the pan-African publication Quartz points out – almost 20% of all foreign students studying in Ukraine in 2020.
The Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had “received with surprise” the news of the Russian incursion, and that measures were being taken to ensure the safety of its citizens in Ukraine and “to facilitate the evacuation of those who intend to leave”. as airports reopen.
A Nigerian medical student in Ukraine, Fatima Halilu, told the BBC she left Kyiv almost two weeks ago.
“All my friends are still in Kyiv. They look lost, lost and confused,” said the 18-year-old.