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Should the Russian invasion of Ukraine be a concern for Africa?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine for many could be considered an unprovoked act of aggression and as a consequence, will be a humanitarian catastrophe. It has caused the biggest international crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Ukraine is fighting on its own and bravely resisting but will not be able to stop Putin’s war. As at the beginning of March, a massive Russian attack is being launched on Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing to neighboring states.

The Western world has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, has closed their airspace to Russian aircraft, and has frozen Russian assets within their jurisdictions. A United Nations Security Council resolution strongly condemned Russia’s invasion and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops immediately and provide safe access for humanitarian relief support.

Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, vetoed this resolution. Eleven member countries voted in favor. China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. (Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway are the other non-permanent members of the Security Council.)

South Africa’s response to this development was a bit of a fiasco. Initially, it condemned the Russian invasion when International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor issued an “unusually strong” statement calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. Media reports then said President Cyril Ramaphosa was unhappy with this statement because it contradicted South Africa’s policy.

Pretoria tried to patch up relations with the Kremlin. It was reported that President Ramaphosa even blamed US President Joe Biden for the invasion. He suggested that if Biden had agreed to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin unconditionally days before Moscow’s attack on Ukraine, it would have been averted.[1]

Africa should be very concerned about what is happening in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of a much smaller sovereign state posing no threat to its own territorial integrity may be considered an outright act of aggression. These actions violate the basic principles underpinning the international legal and political order, including those adhered to by the African Union. And it will cause major disruptions in global trade and commerce.

Notwithstanding, Africa has to act or react with caution. A careful understanding of history and the circumstances that led to the disintegration of the USSR is very crucial in decision-making. Africa has to take a non-aligned stance and the African Union has to call on its member states to speak as one person and refrain my being sentimental. Without putting a right or wrong on any of the parties, it is important for Africa to stand as a mediator for peace instead of trying to score points that will not benefit her, but boost the ego of all the parties concerned.

Vladimir Putin’s intentions are not known but this crisis will have serious long-term consequences. International relations will not be “normal” again. The European order which came about after the end of the Cold War is under threat. African Governments will face serious economic disruption and new political challenges. They will come under pressure from different quarters and will have to adopt appropriate responses and policies.

The Covid pandemic has left the global economy with high inflation and jittery financial markets. Aftershocks from the invasion of Ukraine are expected to worsen both. The severity of this new crisis will depend on how long the war in Ukraine lasts and how punitive steps against Moscow are escalated. The international military conflict itself could worsen. The fact that Putin has put Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert is extremely worrying. Russia might also increase cyber-attacks. There may be a massive refugee crisis.

It has been noted that a “prolonged conflict, tougher Western response, and disruptions to Russia’s oil and gas exports would deliver a bigger energy shock and a major blow to global markets.

A worst-case outcome would see Europe’s gas supply cut off, triggering a recession, while the US would see significantly tighter financial conditions, a bigger hit to growth.”[2]

Countries everywhere will feel the impact of commodity-price spikes, for staple grains like wheat, and also for energy. There will be price volatility, disrupted grain supplies (Ukraine is a major producer), of oilseeds and fertilizer.

By the 2nd of March, the price for Brent crude oil had breached US$ 110, with further increases imminent.[3]


In order to survive this regional political conflict that has a great potential of becoming global, Africa has to concentrate more on its economic reforms, build its local transformation industry, come out of the dollar dependence, and start thinking of modernizing its army. This will give her more leverage and enable her to talk on a common table and negotiate on a win-to-win basis.

An example worth taking is the country of Cameroon. Her policy of non-alignment and non-indulging in the internal affairs of friendly states or disputes between states has awarded her an influential place among the international community making her voice heard in international geopolitics. This has shielded Cameroon from international political crisis and projected her to the center stage of international conflict management.

[1] article

[2] Bloomberg 24 Feb 2022.

[3] article

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