What began as a Russia-Ukraine quarrel is now threatening international peace and security. The international community is watching unfolding events with concern. The BBC reports that the “latest estimates by the United States government suggests that between 169,000 and 190,000 Russian troops are now stationed along Ukraine’s border, both in Russia and neighboring Belarus – but this figure also includes rebels in eastern Ukraine.”
The central question of whether Russia will invade Ukraine to force compliance with its demand that Ukraine abandon plans to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a membership which is viewed inside Russia as an effort to counter Russia’s influence in the contested region. The question is how the United States and the United Kingdom, along with other European allies, will respond to Russian action in Ukraine. Understandably, the central concern is with the economic, political, and humanitarian impact of such a war on Ukraine and its neighbors. However, the crisis over Ukraine could have an impact beyond the region of Eurasia where Russia and Ukraine are located. Relationships between the United States with its allies on one hand and Russia on the other hand, have been strained by this crisis.
Africa, is already being been impacted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and if Russia invades Ukraine, African countries will continue to feel the impact of the war economically, socially, and politically. This current events instalment will look at two ways in which Africa has been and will continue to be impacted by the Russia-Ukraine crisis; Africa’s role in the United Nations (UN) Security Council, and the likely political and economic impact of a new conflict between Russia and Ukraine on African nations.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council on the crisis
Perhaps the most important current question facing the international community is whether there is just cause for Russian invasion of Ukraine. This question has been central to the recent deliberations of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. The Security Council is made up of only 15 nations, unlike the United Nations (UN) General Assembly which has a membership of 193 that constitute the United Nations. Of the 15 nations belonging to the Security Council five (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States of America) are permanent members of the Security Council. These permanent members have the power to veto any resolution passed by the Security Council. Therefore, the three African members namely Gabon, Ghana and Kenya have no significant influence since Russia being a permanent member can simply veto their concerns. Furthermore, Russia has interests in these African states as a result, Gabon and Kenya abstained from a vote on the Ukraine issue in the United Nations (UN) Security Council on January 31. It becomes a case of national or regional interests for these countries.
Potential Impact of a New War in Ukraine on Africa
It is not easy to predict in advance what the impact of a war on Ukraine may continue to have on African countries. However, it is important to debate about how a war in Ukraine may impact areas of the world that are not directly involved in the conflict, for instance African nations.
1. Potential Increase in Terrorism in Africa
Russia is a major supplier of arms to African states. Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that Africa accounted for 18% of all Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020, with Algeria being the largest recipient. If Russia invades Ukraine, it may scale down shipment of arms to Africa and thus have an impact on the fight against terrorism. There are concerns that the United States and European partners may limit spending on fighting terrorism in Africa as they try to balance their contribution to NATO to contain aggressive Russia if it attacks Ukraine. This may leave some Africa states vulnerable to terrorists attacks.
2. Reduction in Aid and Trade
The Russian administration has been reluctant to provide information about the possible economic cost of a war with Ukraine. However, latest figures shows that Russia’s central bank reserves now stand at $640 billion, a record. That pile is equivalent to 17 months of Russian export receipts, and continues to grow, thanks to the recent increase in oil prices.
Although these figures shows Russian President Vladimir Putin can afford the many costs both direct and indirect of a new war in Ukraine, in the long run the resources may deplete and crowd out any existing aid resources to other nations. Russia’s foreign aid reached a recent high point of $1.188 billion in 2017, according to the World Bank. Furthermore, many experts believe that the high cost of the war will have detrimental impact on the Russian ,Ukraine, United States and allies economies.
The threat of a reduction in Russian, United States, United Kingdom and European aid and investment in African countries as a result of a possible weakening economies if an invasion occurs is real. Moreover, a significant reduction in trade, investment, and direct aid will have a devastating impact on many African economies that have been struggling to overcome the impact of the Coronavirus in the past two years.
How will this impact African countries?
The United States and allies have threatened massive economic sanctions on Russia if it goes ahead with an attack on Ukraine. A weakening Russian economy will likely result in a reduction of imports from abroad. A reduction of trade with Russia, if it occurs, will have a devastating impact on African economies that are dependent on exports.
On the other side of the coin is the fact that Russia is a major crude oil and gas supplier in the world. On February 14, oil prices hit their highest level since 2014, reaching $95.56 a barrel due to tensions over whether Russia will invade Ukraine. A rise in fuel costs will certainly result in rapid increases in the prices of staple foods which harm citizens of African countries and reduce their access to cheap food. Food and other shortages have historically caused community tensions and unrest in Africa. Furthermore, reports suggest that Russia and Ukraine provide up to 30 percent of global wheat production. Most African countries rely on such imports to supplement inadequate local production.
For example of how this impact is already being felt, last week the Zimbabwean government ordered the Grain Millers Association to increase wheat imports to beef up local supplies in case there is disruption of supply chain. This is a clear sign how the Ukraine crisis can have an impact on production, labour markets, trade and transport and have serious implications for food security and nutrition for poor and vulnerable groups in places like Africa.
Africa at bottom of priority issues
One of the strongest fears among African leaders and war experts is that a conflict in Ukraine will shift the attention of the world on that region lessening Africa’s visibility in the global conversation. Africa is confronted with many political, social, and economic problems to say the least. Solutions to these problems require an international approach between African states and well established countries in Europe, North America, and Eastern Asia. A prolonged conflict in Ukraine will result in African issues being placed further in the periphery of the global consciousness.
In conclusion, as the crisis deepens, it increasingly has the potential to become a catalyst for war and instability in the region and worldwide. Already vulnerable communities are becoming even more vulnerable as a result of the secondary impacts of the crisis. Therefore the unprincipled, self-centered approach leading to conflict in Ukraine will be destructive not just for regional stability but also for United States and allies, China, India and Russia’s own self-interests. Any further inflammatory rhetoric and action is extremely irresponsible, dangerous and an unnecessary cost for Europe and for places like Africa. As a result, both sides have a moral obligation to deescalate the situation out of a sense of humanity and responsibility.
Finally, formal peacebuilding and conflict transformation initiatives should not ignore or marginalize issues that arise through the prism of geopolitical developments that took place in the region following the collapse of the Soviet Union and post-9/11 developments which resulted in the intervention of external actors in Africa. That said, there is no doubt that United States and the West on the other hand and Russia as a whole have vital interests in Africa. If Europe and Russia avoid conflict, it does not mean that conflicting interests in Ukraine and Africa have simply disappeared. In today’s interlinked world, stability in Europe can mean more stability at home in Africa and make the world a better place for us all.