Africa is no-more a far flung bystander to the changing global balance of power unfolding in Ukraine. The collateral damage of the superpowers proxy war, is now weighing heavy on Africa, along with other least developed economies in Asia and Latin America.
While two of the world’s breadbaskets, Russia and Ukraine are at war, the rest of the world could not find alternative sources of food markets, especially for wheat and agricultural inputs like fertilizers, not to mention fuel.
As the war enters its fourth month, no shipments could leave the warring countries.
Chad has already declared a food emergency and Egypt, which is left with a food reserve that covers only three months, is in fear that the food crisis might lead to a political one. Almost all African countries have faced a surge in inflation and supply shortages, with food shortage crisis hitting countries to some extent.
In Ethiopia, the Ukraine war is also estimated to cost the government 98 billion birr in additional expenditure. The price of fertilizer imported from Ukraine and Russia doubled, forcing the government to allocate 15 billion birr in additional subsidy for farmers. Kenya also imports close to 65percent of wheat and fertilizer from the warring countries.
It is to resolve this collateral damage that, Macky Sall, President of Senegal and current chair of the AU, and Moussa Faki, chair of the Africa Union Commission traveled to Russia to meet with President of Russia, Vladimir Putin last week.
The top AU officials visited Putin on the hundredth day after Putin launched a special operation in Ukraine. The three talked for three hours, finally agreeing to find a new route for shipments to leave via Turkey, as Odessa and other ports in the black sea area are impacted by the war.
Putin, on his part stressed Russia had nothing to do with the global food shipment blockade, blaming it on sanctions by the US and EU, for tying up global trade with Russia. The US was fast to hit back at the AU, issuing a statement that the sanctions on Russia had nothing to do with the blocked on food shipments.
The US further claimed Russia is stealing wheat from Ukraine. Russia’s representative in the UN left a UN meeting this week, when his western counterparts accused Russia of causing a global food crisis.
The African delegates said Putin is at least committed to resolve the problem and ensure food shipment to Africa.
Yet, commentators stress that Sall and Faki’s visit in one of Putin’s resort palace in Sochi, is not only about a food blockade. Experts on this side of the argument say the visit amounts to Africa showing a solidarity and support for Russia, as opposed to the wests’ campaign against Russia and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated attempts to have Africa on his side.
“Firstly, the visit is a gesture, a positive sign that the AU is finally caring less about the west’s pressure. Of course, the west is still pressuring the AU and member states to denounce Russia. But AU now understands that the west wants only Africa’s 54 votes in the UN to punish Russia in the UN Security Council,” said a political expert working at the AU, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“Putin also knows everybody wants Africa only temporarily, just to get a vote. That is why the AU and Russia are seeking a long term relationship. The war in Ukraine begun because the US and its allies gambled to weaken Russia by bogging it down into a proxy war. As much as the west is trying to isolate Russia, they are being isolated by Russian allies themselves,” added the expert.
Apart from Africa, emerging powers like India are also publicly opposing the US and EU’s efforts to order countries to isolate Russia.
Putin said Russia is always a friend and ally of Africa, including opposing the west’s actions during the colonial era. Sall and Faki also told Putin how the west was pressing the AU to break its neutrality and join hands to condemn Russia.
Most African states abstained during the UNSC voting in March.
Other experts view the visit as finding a means to solve the food blockade and of having no political tribute.
“Africa has been cautious about the Russo-Ukraine war. African states have been saying ‘we do not have to cut our relationship with Russia just because western countries are at loggerheads. Africa must not be affected by a problem of the superpowers.’ Africa has been neutral so far and it does not need to pick a side now,” said Constantinos Bruhtesfa (PhD), who formerly served at the UN and AU at higher official positions.
The food crisis is a real problem for Africa, says Constantinos.
“The food supply crisis will bring a major calamity in Africa, unless Russia finds a way to end the blockade for shipments. Of course, the global food supply crisis is exacerbated by the US and EU sanctions on Russia,” said Constantinos.
“Many African countries have no foreign currency reserves to shift markets and buy from other countries with higher prices. All the international institutions are echoing the food crisis ahead, but none are trying out a peaceful solution for the war,” added Constantinos.
Putin believes there can be sovereignty without self-sufficiency. No matter how the AU tries to stick to its foundational principle of ‘noninterference’, Africa’s poverty is dictating terms of international relations. Odd enough, Africa relies on other continents for basic consumption items, despite 60 percent of the global arable land being in Africa.
Africa’s weak and almost nonexistent disaster preparedness is also another issue. Most African governments cannot survive a major global crisis by their own capacity and structures well placed ahead of crisis. The west has also contributed to the current crisis, by overlooking how their roles in the Ukraine war could spill over to poorer countries like Africa.
“How long will Africa remain to be dependent on outsiders for survival? Why does Africa have to wait for Russia and Ukraine to get its food supply? This war must be a turning point for Africa, to become self-sufficient, at least by feeding itself,” added Constantinos.