Burkinians protesting and carrying Russian flags after military staged a coup in the country/ AA

By Faridah N. Kulumba

More than a year since Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24 last year, the rumblings of tanks and jackboots continue to echo as far as the African continent.

The war could not have come at a worse time for the second-most populous continent, which was already reeling from the economic and social disruptions caused by the Covid pandemic.

The conflict shows no signs of ending. So do the woes of Africa’s fragile economy – heavily dependent on imported food grains and energy.

The sharp increase in gas and oil prices due to the war contributed to a corresponding rise in the prices of other commodities, indicating that the economic disruptions would continue to haunt Africans for a long time.

Fuel to the fire

Uganda is one of several African countries still suffering from the effects of the conflict, which broke out just a month into the country fully reopening its economy after months of a pandemic-induced lockdown.

The first commodity to be hit by the conflict was fuel. One litre of fuel that cost $US 1.2 rose to $US 2 in March-December 2022.

Though fuel prices have since decreased slightly to $US 1.5 per litre, Ugandans could still feel the lingering effects.

Uganda does not control commodity prices unlike Kenya or Rwanda because of its liberal economic policies. So the government could not intervene in the fuel prices. This laissez-faire policy also prevented hoarding and shortages.

Some politicians in Africa have attributed the suffering of Africans to the sweeping sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries.

In Kenya, the war in Ukraine also disrupted the export-import supply chain following the sanctions on Russia. This led to a sharp rise in the cost of fuel, with a ripple effect on the prices of food and other locally manufactured products.

The blockade of exports, estimated at nearly Ksh 10 billion ($US 7.5 million) annually, followed major container and shipping lines temporarily suspending cargo shipments to and from Russia in response to the sanctions.

Almost two months after the start of the Ukraine conflict, Kenya faced an unprecedented fuel shortage. The crisis led to several oil marketing stations shutting down. Subsequently, prices of goods too went up sharply.

In June, Kenyan manufacturers complained about high currency conversion rates due to a dollar shortage. The liquidity crisis was attributed to the ongoing war, which resulted in severe strains on the country’s forex reserves.

Food security

The African continent, like many other regions of the world, is heavily dependent on Russia and Ukraine for its wheat requirements.

The Ukraine conflict and subsequent economic sanctions on Russia disrupted the supply chain, leading to a severe crisis in many countries.

Kenya – which imports 30 percent of its wheat requirement from Russia and Ukraine – faced severe shortages due to alledged hoarding.

Many other African countries also depend on imported wheat. Cameroon, Djibouti, Burundi, Togo, Senegal, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Rwanda, Togo, Libya, Mauritania, and Namibia import 50 to 70 percent of their wheat.

While Madagascar and Egypt consume 70 to 80 percent of imported wheat, Somalia imports more than 90 percent. Eritrea was the most affected because it imports 100 percent of its grain from Ukraine and Russia.

Ironically, Eritrea was one of just five countries to vote against the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex four regions in Ukraine.

Ethiopia did not take part in the voting. A day later, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that conflicts in his country clearly show how communities, families, livelihoods, and the economy can be shuttered by war.

“While the material consequence of war can be thought to be easily replenished, it is the lasting impact on the fabric of society that scars nations,” Abiy said.

Food security is crucial to Africans, and the shortages created by the war are a bigger challenge to countries still struggling with drought caused by climate change, conflict and the effects of the Covid pandemic.

As most African countries depend on agriculture for sustenance, the war in Ukraine also affected the import of fertilisers from Russia. Ghana, for one, imports 50 percent of its fertiliser from Russia.

Life-saving diplomacy

Last year, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided humanitarian food and livelihood assistance to most affected African countries.

This followed Türkiye’s impressive grain diplomacy that saw Russia and Ukraine signing an agreement on July 22 last year to assist over two million starving Ethiopians. Thanks to Türkiye’s diplomacy, more than 23,000 tonnes of grain were delivered by WFP to support Ethiopia.

Also, through their campaign dubbed Pan-Africa Zero Hunger Initiative, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) supported some severely affected African countries, one of them Senegal, with humanitarian assistance.

Senegal imports over 50 percent of its grain and wheat requirements from Ukraine and Russia.

This war has unveiled the necessity of strengthening African economic structures instead of focusing entirely on the security and defence sectors.

It is high time African decision makers revitalise regional partnerships and organisations such as the African Union, the East African Community, the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS), and others to promote sustainable development and integration of their economies.

The war in Ukraine is still raging, and the cost of living in African countries is still high. This will continue to affect the development of many countries in the continent.

TRT Afrika