Africa will remain neutral during the standoff that exists between the East and West.
By Andrey MaslovDirector of the Centre for African Studies, Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Vsevolod SviridovIntexpertise is a research unit at the Department of African Studies of St. Petersburg State University.
Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, launched in February, followed by the dramatic increase in tensions on the global scene will undoubtedly affect the economic and political landscape in Africa in the medium term, as well as the balance of external powers active on the continent and Africa’s pace of development in key areas.
Along with a significant portion of the Global South, Africa chose to be neutral diplomatically on the topic of conflict. 26 out of 54 African states did not support the UN General Assembly’s resolution to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Eritrea opposed it while 17 other African nations (out of 35 worldwide) abstained. Angola. Burundi. Zimbabwe. Republic of the Congo. Namibia. Senegal. Senegal. Sudan. Tanzania. Uganda. Central African Republic. Equatorial Guinea. South Africa. South Sudan. Burkina Faso (Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cameroon), Cameroon, Morocco, Togo, Eswatini, and Ethiopia were among eight other nations that did not vote. Egypt supported the resolution but is still cooperating constructively with Russia, even though it has stated its support. So far, no country from the African continent joined the sanctions.
Notably both Senegal (and Tanzania) were continental leaders in economics over the past decade and did not join Russia’s traditional business and trade partners to denounce Russia. The statement by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament is no less significant. “the war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.”
Three African leaders have spoken to President Vladimir Putin by telephone since the beginning of the Special Operation in Ukraine: President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa.
So far, according to the official statements, the situation has not changed any plans for the Second Russia–Africa Summit – set to be held later this year. On March 3, Presidential Special Envoy for Africa Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov told the Russian News Agency TASS that “preparations are underway” and “the dates for the summit are yet to be announced.”
The Russian government’s economic and military measures, as well as the sanctions and military conflict that have been imposed to stabilize their domestic markets, will undoubtedly have significant effects on African economies.
Between 2015-2020, Russia and Ukraine accounted for 25% of total African wheat imports.
There have been a number of adverse consequences for the sector. These include a temporary ban on exports of grain, disruption in the sowing season, delays with shipment via the Black Sea routes, as well as delays and possible fertilizer crises that could impact other major suppliers of African wheat to Africa like Brazil and France. This poses a grave threat to food security in many African countries, such as Egypt, Algeria Sudan, Sudan, and Tanzania.
However, different supply disruptions can affect African countries differently. For example, in Nigeria this problem can be solved relatively painlessly: wheat is a commodity with a flexible demand in the country, occupying a market share that’s comparable with other crops, such as corn and cassava.
However, in other areas the situation does not just threaten demand but also poses a challenge to a variety of business projects. For example, large-scale investments into wheat storage infrastructure and other crops. Some of these projects are funded by Russian companies.
A lack of logistic corridors as a result of sanctions and other restrictions is another persistent problem. Russia currently cannot transport huge quantities of grain and fertilizer via Iran or the Caspian Sea.
Africa’s energy market will be one of the most affected sectors. Europe’s decision to abandon Russian oil and gas gives African countries like Nigeria, Algeria and Libya the opportunity to fill the pipeline of hydrocarbons exports. This opportunity seems to be purely hypothetical, as none of these countries have the ability to seize it within five years.
Nigeria is one example of a country that lacks free exports. However, other countries such as Algeria and Libya might be able to trade surplus oil and natural gas. Rising oil prices will lead to an increase in oil product prices. This is another problem that needs to be addressed. Most oil products are imported from Africa, so this crisis will hit those countries that depend on imports of diesel fuel and residual petroleum oils the most.
The euro zone could be in crisis and there will likely be a large outflow of capital. This would also mean that Africa might receive less tech and economic support from the EU.
The future of infrastructure investment projects announced at the EU–African Union Summit in February as part of the ambitious Global Gateway Investment Package is also questionable. Medium-term, West Africa’s economic and social conditions are the most concerning. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit West Africa more severely than other regions. A new crisis that threatens its energy and food security could further disrupt the region’s political system.
Africa’s dependence on other events is confirmed by the recent global crisis. Investing in localized production of key commodities that are crucial for Africa’s economy, such as fertilizers, food, and oil products can counter the risk of destabilization.
In the developing stand-off between the West and the East, Africa will try to remain ‘above the battle,’ metaphorically speaking. It most probably won’t have to step up its budget spending on defense. To achieve that, it just needs to make sure the US-Russia-China confrontation steers clear of the African Continent and to try to maintain its neutral status, remaining united in the process – which is currently an issue, as the recent UN vote has shown.
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