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COVID’s Aftershocks: How will Putin’s war reverberate across Africa?

A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for the implications of Russia’s war on Ukraine for Africa and the COVID response. From food and oil prices to refugees, racial bias, and diverted attention of leaders, the effects will ripple across African countries.

Top news

Non-linear: Russia’s devastating war against Ukraine is a watershed moment. As we watch the bravery of Ukrainians standing up to Putin’s aggression, Europe and the US have implemented the most draconian sanctions on a G20 country in history. The Russian ruble fell 30% on Monday, prompting the Russian central bank to increase interest rates to 20%. Half of Russia’s central bank’s foreign reserves are held in countries that have imposed freezes on its assets, meaning the country is highly likely to default on its debts. No one knows what Putin will do next, but the economic and social aftershocks for Africa have many layers.

Africans last: African, Asian, and Middle Eastern students fleeing the conflict have faced racial discrimination at Poland’s border. Videos showing Africans being pushed back from trains and border crossings have gone viral on social media, while others have succumbed to the cold. This prompted the chair of the African Union and African Union Commission to urge all countries to respect international law and show the same empathy and support to all people fleeing war notwithstanding their racial identity.” Africans make up 20% of Ukraine’s international students, including 8,000 Morrocans, 4,000 Nigerians, and 3,500 Egyptians.

Unconscionable bias: Media coverage of the conflict has also caused an uproar over racially biased viewpoints. “This is not a developing, third-world nation, said one reporter, as the EU promised to accept all Ukrainian refugees (the right thing to do, for all refugees). Trevor Noah exposed the double standard in reporting while the Foreign Press Association of Africa called out the glaring lack of dignity afforded to black and brown-skinned victims of conflict.” Over 1 million people have fled Ukraine according to the UN and this week the EU humanitarian commissioner said eighteen million people will be affected in humanitarian terms.

Soil rich: Ukraine is a global agricultural powerhouse, with an area of cultivated land larger than the entirety of Italy, and 25% of the world’s total volume of super-fertile black soil. The country ranks first in sunflower oil exports, is the second-largest producer of barley, and the fourth-largest producer of potatoes – and it is just beginning to assume its role as an agricultural superpower. Aside from the immediate effects on food security, the disruption in the supply of agricultural feedstocks could have aftershocks for other agricultural production. In early February, Russia banned the export of nitrate fertilizer, to prioritize domestic production.

Breadbasket: Ukraine and Russia together supply 34.1% of the world’s wheat. Those exports go through the Black Sea, where port terminals are now closed. This is already resulting in increases in food prices, which were already at their highest levels since the 1970s according to the UN, but could also lead to physical shortages, not least for the humanitarian response for refugees. The UN’s Vegetable Oil Index was at its highest level ever in January. With Ukraine the world’s top exporter of sunflower oil, buyers are switching to palm oil, which along with Soybean oil, hit record highs on futures markets this week. Palm oil is a staple for cooking in West Africa, but also comes with a devastating environmental cost. Yep, the aftershocks have many layers.

Dependency ratio: Prior to the war, food prices were already at their highest in a decade due, in part, to COVID-related supply chain disruptions. Last month, Morocco saw large protests because of food and fuel prices. Egypt depends on Russia and Ukraine for 70% of its wheat and bread subsidies currently eat up 2% of the government’s budget. We must not forget that such conditions preceded the Arab spring protests in 2010.

Transition time: Europe is dependent on Russia for 40% of its natural gas (one of the reasons why sanctions are tricky). That will now change, which could stoke demand for gas from Algeria, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Senegal. But a lack of infrastructure could undermine plans for those countries to become a viable alternative to Russian gas. A smarter option would be to accelerate the transition to clean energy, which could also be an opportunity for Africa’s industrialisation.

Degrees of crisis: Deaths from floods, droughts, and storms were 15 times higher in highly vulnerable regions that include West, Central, and East Africa according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report. A temperature increase of even 1 degree Celsius will wreak havoc on Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems. In a world of 2-degree warming, Africa’s biodiversity risks plummet. Rich countries have yet to hit their $100 billion annual commitment to help less wealthy countries address climate change. ⌛

Exported evil: Russian mercenaries are an increasing presence in Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Madagascar, and Mozambique, extending Russia’s influence in the region. Linked to numerous human rights violations and escalating wars, mercenaries this year have moved out of the Central African Republic to Ukraine. Their presence hides behind the secretive Wagner group, thought to be led by Russian oligarch and friend-of-Putin Yevgeny Prigozhin. 👀

Fence sitting: The ability of African countries to openly choose their partners may become more challenging as they face pressure to take sides in the war in Ukraine. On Wednesday, African countries accounted for nearly half (17) of the 35 countries that abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine, while another 8 African countries didn’t vote at all. 141 countries voted in favor of the resolution, with Eritrea joining Russia, North Korea, Belarus, and Syria in opposition.

Drawin’ out: G20 commitments to help vulnerable countries respond to COVID with IMF Special Drawing Rights are moving at a snail’s pace. The group is just over halfway to its $100 billion commitment, with European countries taking an ultra-conservative position. Ukraine has bid for some of these reallocations and others have called for measures to stop Russia from cashing in its SDR holdings ($24bn). Elsewhere, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development sanctioned Russia and Belarus, the World Bank stopped it’s programs there, but a joint statement from the IMF and World Bank forgot to mention…Russia. 🤔

Unequal under the law: The World Bank’s Landmark Women, Business and the Law report exposes that nearly 2.4 billion women of working age globally don’t have the same economic rights as men and 178 countries have legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation.

Danke Schoen: On Tuesday, the German government proved it can manage more than one crisis at a time, announcing a $1.5 billion pledge to the COVID response. At a G7 ministerial meeting, the government committed $1.22 billion to the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator and $253 million for ‘supporting measures’, assumed to be bi-lateral funding for vaccine deployment. The ONE Campaign’s president, Tom Hart, said: “This is exactly the type of leadership we need to see if we want a genuine global recovery that ends the threat of COVID for all of us.”

The numbers

  • 70%: The proportion of Egypt’s wheat imports that came from Ukraine and Russia in 2019 [OEC]
  • 5 million: the number of children who have lost a caregiver to COVID-19 [University of Oxford]
  • $30 billion: the estimated cost of supporting refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, which may put pressure on aid budgets [Center for Global Development]

Other reads

  • 70%: The proportion of Egypt’s wheat imports that came from Ukraine and Russia in 2019 [OEC]
  • 5 million: the number of children who have lost a caregiver to COVID-19 [University of Oxford]
  • $30 billion: the estimated cost of supporting refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, which may put pressure on aid budgets [Center for Global Development]

More reads

  • The Africa Policy Research Institute is tracking the implications of the conflict on Africans in real-time. [Africa Policy Research Institute]
  • The UK’s harboring of illicit money is a global security threat. [Royal United Services Institute]
  • Putin has reignited the conflict between tyranny and liberal democracy. [Financial Times]
  • Increased transparency of debt is critical for ensuring a post-COVID economic recovery. [IMF]
  • The next wave of COVID-19 could be faster and deadlier than Omicron. This is the perfect window for African countries to get ready. [African Arguments]

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