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This paper discusses the responses to the conflict in Ukraine from across Africa and explores some of the ways crisis in Ukraine has and will continue to affect the continent.

Reports of mistreatment of African nationals leaving Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February prompted an exodus of thousands of African nationals, many of whom were students, into neighbouring countries.

Some African nationals reported encountering difficulties when trying to leave Ukraine, saying they were mistreated or discriminated against because of their race and nationality. The African Union said it would be “shockingly racist” if Africans are singled out for unacceptable dissimilar treatment. Nigeria’s President Buhari called for everyone seeking to leave to be treated with dignity and without favour.

Reports of Africans being treated differently to Ukrainians when seeking to escape the fighting has also been reflected in some of the commentary on refugees.

Political response to the invasion

Politically, the response has varied across the continent. The African Union expressed its “extreme concern” shortly after hostilities first began. ECOWAS, the West African regional grouping, condemned the invasion.

At the United Nations, the three African non-permanent members of the Security Council – Kenya, Gabon and Ghana – voted for the draft resolution calling for Russia to immediately cease hostilities. Russia vetoed that resolution. Over half the countries on the continent supported the subsequent UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces. 17 countries abstained and Eritrea voted against the motion.

Impact of the conflict on Africa

As in the UK, the rising cost of living has been affecting many countries across Africa, a situation further exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said rising global food prices will disproportionally affect those in Africa: “food costs account for 17% of consumer spending in advanced economies, but 40% in sub-Saharan Africa.” Africa is a major importer of wheat from Russia and Ukraine; as many as 25 countries import more than one third of their wheat from the two countries. Domestic agriculture production will also be affected by rising fertiliser and fuel costs.

It is not just food prices that are affected. Rising fuel costs are driving up the cost of transport, production and supply across a range of industries. One South African based bank suggests supply chain disruptions could push up the price of cars, televisions and computers. 

 “Unprecedented hunger challenge” in 2022

There were already millions of people in need of food assistance across the continent for a variety of reasons. The World Food Programme said the world is facing an “unprecedented hunger challenge” in 2022. Further price increases or food shortages may exacerbate already precarious situations.

Some NGOs are worried donors might divert aid funding from countries in Africa to assist with the response in Ukraine. The World Food Programme said it has already had to reduce rations for refugees and other vulnerable populations across East Africa, because of funding levelling off from stretched donor nations and rising food costs.

A potential driver of unrest?

Rising food prices have been one of the drivers of unrest in several countries in recent years. In Sudan, for example, protests driven in part by the rising cost of living and deteriorating economic situation eventually led to the removal of long-time leader President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

More recently, soaring costs of living prompted thousands of Moroccans to rally in the capital and other cities in February 2022. Morocco is a major importer of Ukrainian wheat.

Potential benefits for African industries

Some commentators suggest African energy producers could benefit from Europe and other countries seeking to reduce their dependency on Russian energy supplies. They point to the European Commission’s goal of making Europe independent from Russian fossil fuels “well before 2030”. Danielle Resnick, of the US-based Brookings Institution, said some countries are sensing long-term growth opportunities for their energy sector. Jakkie Cilliers, of the South African based Institute for Security Studies, suggests the energy crisis could benefit Africa’s renewable energy industry.

Other industries may also benefit from sanctions imposed on Russia. South Africa is a major producer, along with Russia, of platinum and palladium, which is used in electronics and by the automobile industry.

A shift in geo-politics?

It is far too early to say what the longer-term ramifications of the conflict will have. Much will depend upon the outcome.

Russia has strong connections across the continent, from mining connections to the use of private security contractors, such as the Wagner Group. Ebenezer Obadare, the Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa Studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, suggests Russia appears to have “tapped into an ascendant anti-Western current in Africa” that predates the Ukrainian conflict. Peter Fabricius, of the South African based Institute for Security Studies, suggests some countries may “feel reluctant to be drawn into an apparent resurrection of Cold War in which many African countries were mere proxies”.

Robert Kabushenga, a Ugandan political commentator, told the BBC’s Africa Daily that, rather than frame the discussion in terms of which side African countries should support, it is time for Africa to ask what is in its interests.

Further analysis of issues relating to the current crisis in Ukraine can be found at:Ukraine crisis.

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