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Side effects: Russia’s sanctions and the opportunities for African countries

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Russia has evaded neighboring Ukraine located in the Eastern Europe. As one of the former Soviet republics looking to climb unto global stage and steadfastly develop the future, it therefore sets ambition to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union. On the other hand, these two directions of its ambitions have angered Russia. As already known, Ukraine is in Eastern Europe and shares a border with Russia. It used to be part of the Soviet Union but became an independent country in 1991.

Under the directorship of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and approved by the both Federal Council and the State Duma, Russian collective made the decision to hold a special military operation in response to the address of leaders of Donbass and Luhansk republics, both in eastern Ukraine. Putin launched the “special military operation” repeating a number of unfounded claims, alleging that Ukraine’s democratically elected government had been responsible for eight years of genocide.

Putin feverishly seeks to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. The results of the waging war on Ukraine, Russia has to suffer from a raft of sanction imposed by various foreign countries including the United States, Canada, Britain, European Union and down to Australia. The results of the waging war on Ukraine.

While the sanctions take its bites and associated snow-balling effects, it has opened huge significant potential opportunities for a number of African countries. In the first place, researchers at Oxford Economics Africa believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could increase wheat prices in Angola and Mozambique, but the rise in oil and gas prices benefits the finances of these two African countries.

“Both Angola and Mozambique have a very limited level of trade with Russia and Ukraine; Angola imports wheat and yeast from Russia, while Mozambique imports a significant amount of wheat and a small amount of refined oil from Russia,” Oxford Economics Africa analyst who follows these two African economies told Mozambique News Agency.

“It appears that, at least for now, Angola is generally benefiting from higher oil and gas prices, which are partially driven by the conflict,” Gerrit van Rooyen said in remarks from Paarl, South Africa. Higher oil prices are positive for government revenues,” the analyst added. If the rise is sustained, “this could increase investment in Angola and lower debt levels faster than previously anticipated.”

“If gas prices remain high due to the conflict, this will be positive for investments in Mozambique’s liquefied natural gas [LNG],” his analysis continues, since “the profits from the natural gas in the Rovuma basin could be greater than the risk of armed extremist insurgency in the region.”

Despite the benefits for the public accounts of the two Portuguese-speaking states, van Rooyen points out that, for the average citizen, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Higher oil and wheat prices could be bad news for consumers, as inflation, which is already high in these countries, particularly in Angola and it is, however, expected to increase more than initially expected.

Monitoring media reports have indicated that a few oil and gas producing African countries have the possibility, if well-exploited, to supply Europe. For example, Algeria’s state energy firm is ready to supply Europe with more gas in view of a possible decline due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sonatrach CEO Toufik Hakkar said the firm was ready to pump additional gas to the EU from its surplus via the Transmed pipeline linking Algeria to Italy. Sonatrach is “a reliable gas supplier for the European market and is willing to support its long-term partners in the event of difficult situations,” Hakkar said, and was reported by the daily Liberte.

Hakkar nonetheless said this would be contingent on the availability of a surplus of gas or liquified natural gas [LNG], but have to fix its “contractual engagements” with the importing partner for the supplies to the European market.

Nonetheless, Algeria could only compensate for the decline in Russian gas supply by offering a maximum of two or three million additional cubic meters. Algeria plans to develop new reserves of shale gas. In January, Sonatrach said it would invest US$40 billion into oil exploration, production and refinement, as well as gas prospecting and extraction, between 2022 and 2026.

Arguments whether Africans can take advantage to increase their business, especially in oil and gas, are still varied. “For Africa it’s a gain, it’s an opportunity, it presents that window of opportunity for African countries to see how they can increase their production capacity and meet the need of global demands of crude oil,” says Isaac Botti, a public finance expert told Voice of America.

However, Africa’s production combined accounts for less than a tenth of total global output. Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil followed by Libya. Other notable producers are Algeria and Angola.

Algerian state-owned oil and gas giant said it would supply Europe if Russian exports dwindled as a result of the crisis, Botti noted and added that it’s a good example for other African nations. “We need to develop our capacity to produce locally, we need to look at various trade agreements that are existing,” he said.

For years African oil producers including Nigeria have been struggling to meet required daily output levels. Many experts, including Botti, worry strongly that African producers may struggle to fit into the big market with increasing global demands for crude oil.

Instead of African business to the United States and Europe, some researchers and experts have shown concern about the level of impact of Russia-Ukraine conflict on Africa. Admittedly, they noted in their separate discussions that the war in Ukraine could further push oil prices up and increase inflation in Africa.

From an African agriculture perspective, the impact of the war will be felt in the near term through the global agriculture commodity prices channel. A rise in prices will be beneficial for farmers, especially for grain and oilseed farmers, the surge in prices presents an opportunity for financial gains.

In his research analysis, Wandile Sihlobo, Senior Fellow at the Department of Agricultural Economics, Stellenbosch University, wrote that some countries on the continent, such as South Africa, benefit from exporting fruit to Russia. In 2020 Russia accounted for 7% of South Africa’s citrus exports in value terms. And it accounted for 12% of South Africa’s apples and pears exports in the same year – the countries’ second largest market.

But from Africa’s perspective, Russia and Ukraine’s agricultural imports from the continent are marginal – averaging only US$1,6 billion – in the past three years. The dominant products are fruits, tobacco, coffee, and beverages in both countries. Every agricultural role-player is keeping an eye on the developments in the Black Sea region. The impact will be felt in other regions, such as the Middle East and Asia, which also import a substantial volume of grains and oilseeds from Ukraine and Russia. They too will be directly affected by the disruption in trade, according to Sihlobo.

There is still a lot that’s not known about the geopolitical challenges that lie ahead. But for African countries there are reasons to be worried given their dependency for grains imports. In the near term, countries are likely see the impact through a surge in prices, rather than an actual shortage of the commodities. Other wheat exporting countries such as Canada, Australia and the US stand to benefit from any potential near term surge in demand.

“The last time we had a windfall from oil prices related to war was in 1991, during the Gulf War. We know it will directly impact the price of crude oil. The revenue may increase, but since we have shifted oil investment to multinational companies, they are more likely to reap greater revenues than the country itself.” Professor Abdul-Ganiyu Garba of the Department of Economics Ahmadu Bello University Zaria said.

“If there is an increase in crude oil prices, it means inflation will grow globally, the cost of most of our imports will also rise, which will transfer to the domestic crisis,” the Nigerian economist added. Commodity prices have skyrocketed in many African countries, making life more challenging for millions of people.

“People start starving once these countries fight because they [global powers] presented themselves to African countries as mother countries,” Dox Deezol, a South African entrepreneur and artist in Johannesburg, told DW.

As a member of BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] — the world’s five emerging economies — South Africa was relatively silent when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. However, the South African government has urged restraint this time.

“South Africa is integrated into the global economy. So the war’s impact on the global economy, as we have seen in the soaring prices of oil and energy generally, will affect South Africa because when the world sneezes, South Africa catches a cold,” Professor Siphamandla Zondi, an international relations expert and head of BRICS studies at the University of Johannesburg, told DW.

It’s not just the oil prices that could impact Africa. For example, there is significant agricultural trade between African countries and Russia and Ukraine. Some say Africa’s trade with Russia and Ukraine could also be at stake. In 2020, African countries imported agricultural products worth $4 billion from Russia. Wheat accounted for approximately 90% of these imports. Egypt was the largest importer, followed by Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Similarly, Ukraine exported agricultural products worth US$2.9 billion to Africa in 2020. Wheat accounted for roughly 48% of this, maize 31%, and sunflower oil, barley, and soybeans accounted for the remainder. The ongoing war could affect supply chains and raise the cost of imports. It is also unclear what effect the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies on Russia will have on Africa-Russia trade relations.

The repercussions of the conflict are readily felt in other economic sectors. Media reports indicated tourism and aviation business are also negatively affected. In terms of education and training, many African governments, ministries and departments struggle to evacuate their students and nationals from the war-torn Ukraine. From basic research for this article, Ukraine has emerged as a choice destination for African students, especially in the fields of medicine and engineering.

According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science, some 180,000 international students study in Ukraine with the largest number from India, followed by Morocco, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Nearly all African foreign ministries have expressed their deepest displeasure over the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and categorically blamed Russia for creating instability in the world.

While looking the future African business to the United States, Europe and Asia, the current Chair of the African Union and President of Senegal, Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, have expressed their extreme concern at the dangerous situation created in Ukraine. They called on the Russian Federation and any other regional or international actor to respect international law, the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine.

The Chair of the African Union and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission urged Russia and Ukraine to establish an immediate ceasefire and to open political negotiations without much delay. It should be under the auspices of the United Nations, in order to preserve the world from the consequences of planetary conflict, and in the interests of peace and stability in international relations in service of all the peoples of the world. Some tough actions are expected from the Security Council of the United Nations.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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South Africa on the right side of history or captured by Cold War allies?

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Authors: Professor Gerrit Olivier and Michèle Olivier* 

A seemingly non-negotiable principle of SA’s foreign policy, is to be on the side of autocrats and dictators and habitually anti-West, irrespective of the issues. Cosy relations with the likes of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam, Sudan‘s Omar al Bashir Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, characterised our foreign policy under all presidents since Nelson Mandela. With the present government being enamoured with a rabid war criminal like Vladimir Putin, we see a continuation of this policy.

Obsessed with a myopic partisan ideology and habitual hop-nobbing with dictators, of course, come at a high price, particularly degrading SA’S erstwhile high international prestige, role and status as well as stunting our all-important economic development. In short, this means that SA’s prevailing foreign policy is totally out of zinc with its intrinsic national interests. 

According to ANC declarations, SA would ’stick to its principles‘ and not take sides in this war in spite of blatantly illegal and murderous Russian war crimes. Hence, it abstained from voting against Russia together with a motley minority of 34 other UN members in the 2 March General Assembly resolution (only 5 states voted against whilst 141 voted in favour). 

The minister of the department of international relations and development (DIRCO), Naledi Pandor, issued a statement demanding Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. This clearly upset the Marxist, anti-West faction in the ANC policy establishment who subsequently prevailed upon president Ramaphosa, to denounce the statement, no doubt to assuage Russian and local communist’s displeasure. 

For many, both inside and outside the country, this was a controversial decision resulting in a rare local public debate about our wayward foreign policy. What emerged was a conflict of opinion between the ideologues and realists in the foreign policy establishment. A hopeful sign, but unfortunately of little consequence in our fossilised ANC foreign policy establishment. 

All along, the ideologues accepted that being in cahoots with war criminal Russia was in SA’s best interests notwithstanding the normative constitutional dictates and founding moral principles concerning respect for human rights, sovereignty, democracy, and territorial integrity. 

What followed was indeed a case study of expedient, if not downright ’Walter Mitty’ diplomacy.  First, president Ramaphosa rushed to telephone Putin, obviously to bask the reflected glory and honour of speaking to the ‘great man’. Afterwards, he subserviently thanked ‘’his excellency president Vladimir Putin‘’ for taking his call.  At the same time, our ’great negotiator’ refused official engagement with the local Ukrainian ambassador as well as with ambassadors of the European Union, our biggest trading partners.

In the latest General Assembly meeting on Ukraine, SA persisted with its pro-Russian pseudo-neutrality but got a humiliating bloody nose after presenting a draft resolution, excluding the country of all blame. No wonder as this resolution was strictly in line with Kremlin propaganda lies casting doubt as to where exactly SA’s UN diplomats got their instructions from. 

Ramaphosa’s aim, it seems, is to push himself forward as facilitator in the conflict, recalling at length in parliament his past experiences a negotiator.

‘Illusions of grandeur’, it may be called, as SA ’s international status and role during about 3 decades of uninterrupted misrule has declined close to being almost insignificant. While most of the world reached out to end the horrible and unthinkable human and material misery inflicted upon Ukrainian people, he offered them naught for their comfort, except portending to be a great negotiator reporting for service.  

Belatedly, after strong criticism he rejected war as an instrument of policy, and signalled his wish to also speak to Ukrainian pres Volodimyr Zelinskiy, impressed perhaps by the latter‘s sterling performances addressing the American senate and the British, Canadian, Israeli, Italian and Japanese parliaments and the  German Bundestag. The pièce de résistance of his kindergarten diplomacy, was to blame NATO for being deaf to earlier warnings against eastward expansion, ignoring the Russian brutal invasions, of inter alia, Finland, Latvia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, in the previous century not realising that NATO membership was their safeguard against future Ukrainian-type of invasions. Theirs was a wise decision.  Indeed, Mr President, ignorance is bliss….!    

Of course, good relations with countries like Russia are important provided they are based on pragmatism and national interest rather than sentimental ideological predilections. However, the ANC still acts as being a captive of the Cold War and, as if it still owes permanent a feudal fealty to Russia at a time when Soviet Union is passe and with communism on the ash heap of history. 

While the world must perforce deal with a totally different and dangerous Putinist Russia, the ANC obstinately refuse to accept that its subservient posture vis-a- vis that country is not in SA’s best interest. Lamentably, the global moral imperatives that saw them to power no longer guide its foreign policy. Like the apartheid regime, Putinist Russia today commits a crime against humanity in Ukraine with the support of the ANC government. 

The war in Ukraine may yet lead to unthinkable consequences for the world at large. What happens there is really a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. Putin does not want a democratic Ukraine at his doorstep exposing his bland authoritarianism and precipitating a ’colour revolution’.  Given the solidarity in the democratic West and the sluggish performance of the Russian forces in Ukraine, he will probably end up losing. SA policy makers are demonstrably  myopic not realising the consequences for being on the side of a war autocratic war criminal war criminal. Like apartheid SA it would probably end up as an isolated global pariah.

An independent SA foreign policy is called for rather than one subservient to the preferences and dictates of Moscow and Beijing. This is the best way in which SA can regain international respect. The way in which it has handled the Ukraine crisis once again laid bare its diplomatic deficiencies, particularly lack of clear headed leadership. This will not change unless foreign policy making is democratised and professionalised rather than being monopolised by a small clique of badly trained  and inexperienced ideologues with the help of a few advocating stand-patters. 

* Michèle Olivier is a consultant of international law

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Reviewing Russia-Mali Strategic Partnership

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After withdrawing from the Joint Military Force of the G5-Sahel group which the United Nations described as “unfortunate” and “regrettable” middle of May, Malian Foreign Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, made a snapshot visit, for the second time under the new military administration to Moscow, intended to review various aspects of strategic partnership deals with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We paid special attention to the practical aspects of organizing deliveries from Russia of wheat, mineral fertilizers and petroleum products that are so much needed by the people of Mali today in conditions of illegitimate Western sanctions,” Lavrov said at a press conference after talks with Diop in Moscow.

The sound pace of military and military-technical contacts between the two countries was noted during the talks, according to Lavrov, and thanked his Malian counterpart for support for Russia’s resolutions at the latest session of the UN General Assembly. Lavrov made to explicit reference to the meeting of the UN Security Council the Western countries that consistently tried to “put their blame at Russia’s door” and to shirk responsibility for the food crisis. 

“It goes without saying that we discussed the situation in Ukraine and around it, including the meeting of the UN Security Council devoted to world food security issues, where the Western countries tried to put their own blame at somebody else’s door. They argued that the crisis, which by and large is a result of their own efforts, allegedly stems from the crisis in Ukraine. Of course, they blamed it entirely on Russia,” Lavrov said.

Russia reaffirms its readiness to render Mali support in raising the fighting efficiency of its armed forces. “We reaffirmed Russia’s readiness as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to further contribute to normalizing the situation in Mali, render Bamako comprehensive support on a bilateral basis, in particular, in the sphere of raising the combat efficiency of the Malian armed forces, training troops and law-enforcement personnel,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

France’s decision together with Western allies to end the anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane and the European special forces mission Takuba does not contribute to restoring security in Mali and the entire Sahel region. Reports say France has approximately 5,100 troops in the region under Operation Barkhane, which spans five countries in the Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

With the final exit and the vacuum created by France, Russia now sees Mali as an excellent conduit to penetrate into the Sahel by pushing the much-criticized Wagner Group that organizes private military for countries in conflict. It is aggressively targeting the Sahel region, an elongated landlocked territory located between north Africa (Maghreb) and West Africa region, and also stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

“There is an obvious danger of the emergence of enclaves of power vacuum where militants of various outlawed armed gangs will feel free at hand and they have already prepared for such acts. This threatens the country’s territorial integrity and we repeatedly told our French counterparts about that,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

On March 2 at the United Nations General Assembly, African representatives and their votes were considered very interesting, and have geopolitical implications for study and analysis. Some 17 African countries abstained from the vote at the UN General Assembly to deplore the Russian invasion of Ukraine while some other 28 countries in the continent voted in favour. Mali was among those that abstained from vote. Eritrea was the only African country that voted against the resolution. It opposes all forms of unilateral sanction as illegal and counterproductive.

“All our initiatives were supported by Mali. We agreed to enhance coordination on the UN platform and in other international organizations. We are determined to work for this in earnest, including in the recently created Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations,” Lavrov assured.

During his first official visit in November 2021 to Moscow, Abdoulaye Diop and Sergei Lavrov, in fact, focused on increasing bilateral cooperation in economic sectors. But particularly significant was Russia’s military assistance to strengthen the position of the new military government and to fight rising terrorism in the Sahel region.

As developments explicitly show, Mali already stands in isolation there as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, the United Nations, and the bilateral and multilateral partners endorse and support the implementation of sanctions and other strict measures to ensure a peaceful return to constitutional and democratic government in Mali.

Mali, a landlocked West African state with an impoverished population, faces increasing isolation from the international community over the political power grab. Even as the African Union (AU), the continental organization, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, both suspended the membership of Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, the ruling military officials are still holding onto political power by delaying the proposed elections in February 2022.

The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and foreign organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) have requested a quick transition to a civilian government. They further urged that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in the Republic of Mali in West Africa.

Moscow is still planning to hold the second Russia-African summit. The “special military operation” approved by both the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) to “demilitarize and denazify” the former Soviet republic of Ukraine has pushed the United States and Canada, European Union members and many other external countries to impose sanctions against Russia.

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Mali’s withdrawal from G5 Sahel, Joint Force ‘a setback’ for the region

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

Mali’s decision on 15 May to withdraw from the G5-Sahel group and its Joint Force is “unfortunate” and “regrettable”, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Wednesday, as she urged countries in the region to redouble efforts to protect human rights, amid protracted political and security crises. 

Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, said the Joint Force was created in 2017 by the “G5” Heads of State – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to counter terrorism in the Sahel “head on”. 

Challenging dynamics 

However, the challenging political and security dynamics in the Sahel – and uncertain outcomes of transitions in Mali and Burkina Faso, in particular – has already slowed Joint Force operations.  The G5 Sahel, meanwhile, has not convened a high-level political meeting since November 2021, while its Defence and Security Committee has not met in over six months. 

Thanks to Commander General Oumar Bikimo, she said, the Joint Force has been able to carry out operations in all three of its sectors since the Council last met in November, despite the absence of Malian battalions.  

How Mali’s decision to leave the G5 and the Joint Force will impact the dynamics in the region remains to be seen.  “It is most certainly a step back for the Sahel,” she said. 

MINUSMA on hand 

For its part, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) will continue to provide support to the Joint Force long as it is mandated to do so by the Council.  It has been working with contractors to deliver life support consumables to the contingents and will honour requests received by the other four contingents outside of Mali. 

Cycle of radicalization 

“Protecting the most vulnerable has become ever more important,” she stressed.  

She cited reports of serious violations committed against civilians – by terrorist armed groups, as well as reportedly by armed and security forces.  

To be sure, uprooting terrorist groups deeply enmeshed or embedded within communities is “uniquely challenging” in the Sahel, she said, making counter terrorism operations immensely difficult to carry out.   

But if civilians fall victim to these groups, “those very efforts are going to be pointless”.  Terrorist operations cause immeasurable human suffering, seriously undermine trust in the State and fuel radicalization. 

Time for a re-think 

“It is perhaps time to rethink our approaches and change the way we do our work” she added.  “We need innovative approaches in the face of the constantly evolving tactics of terrorist groups, whose influence keeps expanding”. 

She noted that for the last five years, the international community, donors and partners have struggled to reach a consensus on the most effective support mechanism for a collective security response in the Sahel.   

And the lack of consensus persists – despite the recognition by all, that the terrorist onslaught in the Sahel constitutes a slow-burning, mortal threat to international peace and security. 

Holistic approach needed more than ever 

“It is now more urgent than ever to act,” she said.   

She called for a holistic approach that honours “the primacy of politics”, addresses the causes of poverty and exclusion, and provides opportunities and fulfilled lives for the many young people in the region. 

The African Union Commission and the United Nations Secretariat will jointly carry out a strategic assessment of security and governance initiatives in the Sahel, she said, with the goal of strengthening support to the G5-Sahel, its Joint Force and other security and governance initiatives in the region. 

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