Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday with explosions heard across the country. Despite international condemnation, Russian troops attacked Ukraine on multiple fronts from Belarus, Russia and Crimea in what experts say could be the start of war in Europe over Russia’s demands for an end to NATO’s eastward expansion.
For a long time, there had been tensions between Russia and Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, but the situation started getting worse in early 2021 when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged U.S. President Joe Biden to let Ukraine join NATO. Russia didn’t like this, and started sending troops near its Ukraine border for “training exercises” in spring last year and later increased it.
At least 137 people (civilians and soldiers) have been killed in Ukraine since Moscow launched the offensive in the early hours of Thursday morning. The UK also estimates that Russia has also lost 450 personnel.
On Thursday, South Africa joined other countries in calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, calling for a peaceful resolution of the escalating conflict.
“Armed conflict will no doubt result in human suffering and destruction, the effects of which will not only affect Ukraine but also reverberate across the world.
“No country is immune to the effects of this conflict. As the UN Secretary-General has indicated, the conflict will have a huge impact on the global economy in a moment when we are emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, and so many developing countries need to have space for the recovery,” South Africa said in a statement by its Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
Indeed, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could affect many African states in many ways. Russia has been increasing its presence on the African continent in recent years and supporting it through aid, trade, military training, among others. It’s uncertain how the latest conflict could affect the relationship between the continent and Russia.
What experts however agree on is that Russia’s tensions with the West amid the Ukrainian conflict will affect the availability of resources and aid that many African countries rely on. Dzvinka Kachur, a researcher at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, told VOA that the current situation is also going to create a long-term distraction from and attention from the sustainable development goals.
“So we can expect the budgets of states around the world will be gearing towards more militarization and not the developmental goals.”
Peacekeeping support on the continent will also be affected as countries will focus more on the Ukraine crisis and pay little attention to pressing conflicts on the continent such as the tensions in Mozambique, Ethiopia and the Sahel.
What about food? Northern African countries that import grains from Ukraine will be affected by disruptions in supply and price. The price of bread is also likely to go up as Russia and Ukraine supply about 30% of the world’s wheat. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Algeria could be heavily affected as they rely so much on wheat.
Figures show that in 2020, African countries imported agricultural products worth $4 billion from Russia. Ninety percent of this was wheat, with major importing countries being Egypt Sudan, and Nigeria. Also, out of the $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products Ukraine exported to the African continent in 2020, about 48% of this was wheat.
With Russia being among the top consumers of its tea, Kenya is also worried that the latest conflict will negatively affect its tea industry, which is the East African country’s top foreign exchange earner.
Then there is oil. Countries like South Africa which rely on imported oil and gas may see prices increasing very steeply. The cost of transport is likely to rise for people as a result and this will affect the prices of goods.
“It becomes a double whammy of potentially higher food prices globally and higher energy prices pushing up inflation. And when central banks respond by hiking interest rates, it becomes a triple whammy,” Charlie Robertson, global chief economist at Renaissance Capital, told BBC.
But some analysts say that the current situation may also be good for oil and gas producing countries on the continent. As Europe would have to find alternatives to Russian gas, it would turn to Africa and this would be the time for African states to “move in, and get new deals done quickly,” the editor of Africa Confidential, Patrick Smith, said.
What is also worrying is the number of African students stranded in Ukraine at the moment. Apart from many Africans traveling to Ukraine to work, there are those who go there to study thanks to the European country’s affordable tuition fees and its ties with Africa. Currently, Morocco, Nigeria and Egypt are the African countries with the most students in Ukraine, with Morocco having about 8,000 students and Nigeria with 4,000.
Now, many are concerned about their safety. Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is putting in place measures to keep its nationals in Ukraine safe and to “facilitate the evacuation of those who wish to leave” as soon as airports re-open. Ghana has also asked its nationals to “shelter” in their homes or in government-designated shelters.
Meanwhile, the African Union on Thursday condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine and called for an “immediate ceasefire”. It further called on Russia to “respect international law, the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine”.