The war in Ukraine is hurting Africa – it’s time to take sides

by MMC
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The leader of the September 2023 issue of New African magazine, written by the publisher Anver Versi and entitled “Is Russia a true friend of Africa? encouraged me to offer some thoughts that I think might be useful to policy makers on the continent in the future.

In his speech, Versi raised two very critical points that have existential impacts on Africa, its future development trajectory and the plight of its burgeoning young population.

He pointed out that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, set in 2015, have lost their way halfway (only 12% have been achieved) and that by 2022, more than 20 million people and at least 10 million children were facing severe food shortages in Africa. .

“ECA calculates that Africa’s annual food import bill, which stood at $15 billion in 2018, will increase from $43 billion currently to $110 billion by 2025,” he writes.

According to UNCTAD, developing countries face a $4 trillion annual financing gap to achieve the SDGs, and this gap will only increase because of the war in Ukraine. These are very worrying figures for a region that is still very young in its development trajectory and which needs all its resources, including its human resources, to function at maximum in order to progress on the development ladder as required. the UN SDGs.

Ending hunger is at the top of the priority list because without adequate nutrition, no development is possible. Instead, there is a real possibility that the continent will sink into a vicious vortex and all the impressive development it has achieved so far will be erased.

This distinct possibility has caused me – as I am sure many other people within and beyond African borders – sleepless nights.

I am also aware that as a result of the economic blows suffered by many African countries during the Covid pandemic lockdowns, several countries are in debt distress. They are forced to devote a very significant part of their resources to servicing the debt.

In addition, they find themselves unable to borrow as the series of crises tightens financial flows and interest rates continue to rise. While rich countries can borrow between 1 and 4 percent, on average, poor countries have to pay more than 14 percent for their loans. This means that their ability to purchase food for their populations has been significantly reduced. Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s Bridgetown initiative could help Africa address these challenges.

Versi also claims that one of the most important causes of Africa’s current cost of living crisis, “which many see as a black swan – unexpected and in this case caused not by uncontrollable factors such as epidemics or climate change, but by human choice” – that was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.”

He says that while many African countries that see the war as a purely European issue “have no dog in the fight”, what should concern us all is “the impact of the war on the critical security situation food of Africa. And in this case, we have a dog in the fight.

Versi may be cautious in its approach and I would like to go further.

What concerns me is the impact of the war on the development of Africa and, more immediately, the critical situation in terms of food security.

Before the war, Ukraine and Russia exported more than 36 percent of the world’s wheat, about 50 percent of its vegetable oils, and 28 percent of the world’s fertilizer supply. These form the cornerstone of nutrition and food production.

Ukraine provided 12% of Africa’s food needs, while Russia’s contribution was around 32%, meaning that almost half of Africa’s grain imports came from the region.

Broken food chains

Since the 2022 war, food supplies from Ukraine have all but disappeared while Russian exports have become unreliable due to the demands of war. This is a major blow to the global food supply chain and has sent prices skyrocketing. As always, the burden falls heaviest on poor countries, many of which are in Africa.

Following considerable diplomatic pressure and behind-the-scenes negotiations, the two countries agreed on the Black Sea Grains Initiative (BSGI), which allowed agricultural exports from three ports in the southern Odessa region. Ukraine, and allowed both countries to continue exporting via the Black Sea and the Ukrainian Sea. Azov. Some grain from Ukraine was exported by land.

This allowed struggling countries and food aid NGOs to provide some relief to millions of people in Africa and lower global food prices.

Less than a year later, Russia withdrew from the agreement. Both countries have threatened each other at their ports, further disrupting supply chains.

Russia then bombed Ukrainian ports and, reportedly, granaries, further impacting global food prices. In Africa, the impact was felt immediately with the surge in food prices. The economic crisis leads to an escalation of social unrest.

Faced with risks of large-scale famine, the African Union has urged Russian President Putin to revive the OIOS to help alleviate the suffering caused by its withdrawal.

Instead, Putin, speaking to some 17 African heads of state who attended the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in July this year, said he would fill the Ukrainian supply gap and promised to ship 50,000 tonnes of grain aid to Burkina Faso. Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea and the Central African Republic – the countries he says need help the most.

He boasted that Russia had enjoyed a bumper harvest. One would have expected him to promise a much larger quantity of grain to Africa and use the opportunity to revive the BSGI and bring some economic stability, particularly to the developing world .

It’s time to choose

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia is likely to last a long time. Unless we play our role and call for action.

Some countries, such as Kenya, have engaged in positive relations with Ukraine. President William Ruto was keen to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky in New York during the United Nations General Assembly – UNGA 2023.

He pledged his support for the Ukrainian cause and revealed that his counterpart was committed to creating a grain hub in the port city of Mombasa.

But some countries have shown strong support for Russia, perhaps out of a sense of loyalty or to ensure their energy supplies are not compromised.

Africa must take a stand and I believe it will be in the interest of the continent to put pressure on Putin to end this war of choice as soon as possible.

There is a moral case to consider. Russia invaded Ukraine. there is no doubt. Africa, having lived through the bitter experience of being invaded itself, cannot side with an invader, whatever the excuse given.

The trade of Russia (apart from cereals) and other countries is negligible compared to that of the West. The West is the largest investor in Africa; Russia has virtually no investments to report. The G7 pledged to spend 0.07% of its annual GDP on aid and many countries have achieved this, far surpassing Russia’s aid.

I fear that some African countries do not see clearly where the continent’s interests lie – whether economic, moral or in terms of security – and allow themselves to be pushed into situations that will become even more uncomfortable as time goes on. pass.

Africa is going through a major crisis on all fronts: it needs strong and reliable friends with whom it can negotiate on an equal footing. Russia is not a friend and the sooner Africa realizes this, the better for all of us. not

Tebogo Khaas is the founder and president of Public Interest SA. Public Interest SA NPC is a leading advocate for ethics, social justice and transparency in South Africa. Made up of dedicated people from diverse backgrounds, the Public Interest SA team works tirelessly to promote ethical citizenship, solve pressing societal issues and contribute to the betterment of our world.

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