Africa’s relationship to the Ukraine-Russia war is complicated, but as developments in the conflict could impact economies and harm the most vulnerable people on the continent, it’s important to be aware of.
With countries in Africa already struggling to recover from the impacts of a deadly pandemic, as well as a worsening climate crisis that is driving Africans deeper into poverty, their foreign relations with both Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly hit the continent. The main question (that doesn’t yet have a full answer) is, how hard will the hit be?
There are many ways in which African countries’ relationships with the eastern European nations at war will impact the continent, and these can be broken down into two main categories: economy, and vulnerable citizens — although both categories are deeply interlinked.
The economic impact of the war on Africa has a lot to do with imports — which we’ll explore a little further on in this article — but also national investments on both ends. For instance, South Africa has billions of dollars worth of investments in Russia, and similarly, Russia has a good chunk of investments in South Africa.
When considering vulnerable citizens, the immediate impact is already being felt by African people and students caught in the war in Ukraine. Reports of racism and discrimination shown to Africans who were seeking safety from the violence shook the world just days into the ongoing war. The not-so-immediate impact will be on citizens who are actually on the African continent, and will likely see an increase in food insecurity — because Ukraine and Russia are both major exporters of oil, wheat, and corn. Another area to be wary of in this regard is Russian military forces in Africa that are assisting some governments with managing insurgencies.
3 Key Facts to Know About the Russia-Ukraine War’s Impact on Africa
- Roughly 20% of students in Ukraine are African, and have reportedly experienced racism and discrimination on the ground.
- African economies are linked to Russia and Ukraine through food imports and tourism.
- Food prices and global food insecurity will likely increase without adequate access to wheat, corn, and oil imports — deeply impacting North Africa, with Egypt alone importing 70% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.
Who Is Most Affected and Why?
Citizens and Food Security
The immediate affect of the war is being felt by African citizens on the ground who have reportedly experienced racism and discrimination while trying to flee the country. You can learn more about that here.
A growing concern coming as a result of the conflict is its impact on food security and hunger rates, both globally and within Ukraine.
As the need for humanitarian aid grows in Ukraine and its neighboring countries, following an influx of asylum seekers, so does the demand for access to food. Close to 500,000 people have fled Ukraine so far, and the World Food Programme is currently working to assist around 3.1 million people in need of food in and around Ukraine.
Globally, food prices are expected to soar and hunger is expected to increase, as both Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of cereal grains and vegetable oil. On the African continent, the most impacted region is likely to be North Africa; it is a region that is highly dependent on Russia and Ukraine for cereal grains like wheat and corn, and will be affected significantly by not being able to import grains.
Russia and Ukraine collectively supply roughly 30% of the world’s wheat, with Ukraine being the fourth-largest supplier of wheat and corn in the world. The war will hinder access to these grains, harming African countries that are reliant on that access to feed their people, countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Algeria.
Due to the north of the continent currently experiencing the worst drought in decades, and some nations not having the industrial ability to support their populations with locally-sourced food, these countries have come to depend heavily on food imports from Russia and Ukraine to keep citizens from experiencing disastrous hunger rates.
Regions across Africa that are already on the verge of famine are also at risk, as aid agencies depend on wheat and cereal grains for famine relief. Countries on the continent that have been identified as hunger hotspots by the UN — as they are on the brink of famine — and need access to such relief foods include Madagascar, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Chad, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to Egyptian news platform Enterprise, Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat, and depends on Russia and Ukraine for 70% of its wheat supply. The country’s people were already facing economic strain and limited access to food as a result of Russia adding taxes onto its wheat exports, and now with access to the grain in danger because of the war, Egypt’s food security and economic and political stability are at risk.
The country’s government uses imported wheat to make subsidized bread, and many families deeply rely on this bread. In fact, expensive bread was part of the reason that the country saw an uprising in 2011.
Cereal grains and corn are not the only concerning factors when it comes to how the war will affect Africa and its citizens. The increased price in oil, which jumped dramatically to its highest price since 2014 after the announcement of Russia’s invasion, will impact the price of transport and subsequently bump up the price of groceries and other products across the continent, further digging into the pockets of people living in poverty on the continent — and pushing more people into poverty.
Russia is also one of the world’s biggest exporters of fertilizer, and the war has resulted in a sharp increase in its price. This has the potential to knock some of Africa’s countries’ food systems, particularly those that are largely dependent on agriculture to not only feed citizens, but also to manage their economies. This also has the potential to increase food prices, further cementing food insecurity on the continent.
Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Peter Munya, highlighted this issue when he addressed the country’s parliament on March 1, where he noted that the country gets most of its fertilizer from Russia and China, and the price of fertilizer could dramatically increase without a subsidy in place.
Looking at tourism, Egypt may not only experience a knock on its stability because of access to food, the country is also incredibly reliant on Russia for tourism — in fact, the eastern European country helped to boost the tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic. Tunisia is also a go-to tourism destination for Russian holiday-goers.
How Does This Relate to the Mission to End Extreme Poverty and Its Systemic Causes?
The war’s impact on Africa directly affects the UN’s Global Goal 2, which aims to eradicate global hunger. The lack of access to grains and the increasing food and oil prices also have the potential to push African citizens deeper into poverty. Not to mention, global food prices are already the highest they’ve been since 2011, meaning that the war can only make things worse for food security and economic stability on the continent.
Russia’s invasion in Ukraine will also affect Global Goal 8, which calls for sustainable economic growth and employment, for African countries. This is not only because of the war’s potential impact on agriculture, linked to access to fertilizer, but also because of Africa’s need to service its debts.
According to the New York Times, the conflict will likely have a turbulent impact on the global economy — increasing interest rates and lowering access to credit. What does this mean for African countries? Governments that need credit to manage their debts will have to spend a lot more than anticipated to service them. This will have a knock on effect on the rest of the countries' needs, as it has the potential to limit essential national budgets allocated to things like health care (Global Goal 3), education (Global Goal 4), employment, and other public investments. These same national budgets, and African economies in general, have already been strained by the pandemic.
In a nutshell, hunger rates are expected to rise and African economies will likely be pushed further away from recovering from the economic-knock dealt to them by the COVID-19 pandemic. Both have the potential to push African citizens deeper into poverty.
What Action Can We All Take to Help?
Global Citizen has released a statement condemning the war in Ukraine, and is calling for global solidarity — for the world to stand with Ukraine. Bringing the war to an end as soon as possible will decrease the risk of impacts on global economies, particularly vulnerable economies in Africa.
You can join us in taking action to call on the international community and global corporations to support the United Nations’ urgent Ukraine Crisis appeal — calling on governments and businesses around the world to help meet the $1.7 billion in funding needed to support vulnerable citizens in Ukraine. Take action by sending a tweet calling for global humanitarian support.
You can also discover more ways in which you can meaningfully help citizens in Ukraine and neighboring regions here, including by donating to support humanitarian organizations' work, taking action with Global Citizen, joining peace protests, and staying informed on the conflict as it develops.