African economists are sounding the alarm over an impending and likely catastrophic drop in trade volumes between the continent and its warring partners if Russia’s widely condemned incursion into Ukraine is not short-lived.

Russia and Ukraine are key players in global agricultural trade, with the two countries accounting for a quarter of global wheat exports, including at least 14% of maize exports in 2020, and 58% of global sunflower oil exports the same year. , analysis show.
Trade between African countries and former Soviet neighbours, especially Russia, has flourished in recent years, with Russian exports to the continent valued at $14 billion a year and imports from Africa at around $5 billion. dollars per year.

But those gains are set to erode rapidly, analysts worry, signaling a serious disruption to food conditions in Africa if Russia’s military operation in Ukraine persists.

“Three months away from hunger”

Parts of Africa could be plunged into famine within three months if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine persists, says Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at South Africa’s Chamber of Agricultural Affairs.

“In the short term, within three months, the conflict will affect the food supply primarily from a price perspective,” Sihlobo told CNN.

“As net importers of commodities like wheat, which influences bread and cereals, sunflower oil and maize, African countries are quite exposed to some of these supplies coming out of Russia and the EU. Ukraine: There will be challenges if the war continues for more than three months — because usually countries usually keep stocks of supplies for three to five months.”

Sihlobo explains that the war in Ukraine also comes at a bad time for Africa given the current experience of severe drought in its eastern sub-region, which has taken a hit on food prices.

“Food prices are already high now. If the war spreads, there will be millions of Africans who will go hungry. We already expect millions of people to go hungry in the drought-affected areas, so the ongoing conflict will escalate this,” he said.

Africa’s largest economies such as Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Kenya are major importers of Russian agricultural exports, exposing them to further food price spikes if trade is disrupted.

Sihlobo adds that sanctions targeting Russia could also complicate exports from Africa.

“Africa exports fruits and vegetables to Russia and Ukraine. Seven percent of South Africa’s citrus goes to Russia, 14% of South Africa’s apples and pears go to Russia. Egypt and Tunisia also export fruits and vegetables to Russia. country is that with all the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and European countries, it influences the financial services sector… even if the logistics will not be immediately affected, it will disrupt the payment system of all country exporters to Russia,” he told CNN.

Development economist Ndumiso Hadebe agrees that “Africa is likely to see disruptions in supply chains that relate to goods and services that are exported and imported between Russia and Africa” as Russia is slammed with a barrage of sanctions by critics of his invasion of Ukraine.

take sides in the conflict

Hadebe told CNN that Africa’s largely muted response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict could give way to a more direct stance on the parties involved in the war if the fighting escalates.
Only a handful of governments on the continent spoke out in the aftermath of the attacks, the African Union urging Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“There will be significant pressure from the perspective of multilateral relations, as African countries may be forced to take a stand on the unfolding conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and this may negatively or positively affect relations between the ‘Africa and Russia in the future,” says Hadebe.

For Russian academic Irina Filatova, taking sides will not benefit Africa.

“It will not be in Africa’s interest to take sides. I think Africa can try to stay neutral,” said Filatova, an expert on Russian and African history.

Beyond agriculture, Russia is extending its influence in African states beset by insurgency by offering alternative military solutions to those offered by its Western counterparts, which are often determined by human rights considerations. man.

Russia has signed up to 20 military cooperation agreements in Africa, including agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, two of Africa’s most populous countries.
Russian mercenaries have continually been the subject of allegations of human rights abuses in the Central African Republic and other parts of Africa where they have been contracted by regional governments to fight local rebels.

However, Russia has denied links to private military contractors such as the Wagner Group, which is accused of the abuses.

Hadebe told CNN that the arms trade is “one of the main features that have defined the commercial relationship between Russia and Africa”.

“Russia is the biggest arms exporter to sub-Saharan Africa in particular.”

Africa accounted for 18% of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

According to Filatova, Russia’s prospects of doubling down on its interests in Africa may be higher in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine.

“Russia will be much more interested in maintaining relations with African countries than it has been so far… It has already started to develop these relations but in the situation of global isolation by the Western world, she will certainly try to maintain relations with Africa,” she told CNN.