The Impacts of Russia’s War in Ukraine on African Countries

Authors: David L. Dambre and Bema D. Yeo*

This article discusses the effects of the war in Ukraine on African countries, including food and fuel price hikes, disrupted trade, reduced development finance, and social safety net spending. The war has exacerbated an already existing pre-COVID food security crisis that was piling up due to extreme climate events like droughts and floods (Shalal and Savage, 2022). According to Human Rights Watch (2022), many African countries rely heavily on imported grain to meet the growing demand of their populations. The war in Ukraine has triggered on average a shortage of 30 million tons over 100 million tons food imported across Africa (Hoije 2023). The World Food Program (WFP) and other organizations measure the extent to which countries rely on imported goods by calculating the share of a country’s supply of commodities from imports, referred to as Import Dependency Ratios. Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, and Tanzania have wheat ratios above 90, indicating that almost all their wheat supply came from imports, with the rest from local production. In 2019, the share of the supply from the Black Sea region ranged from 30 percent in Nigeria and Uganda to 60 percent in Tanzania. See the figure below.

Data sources: USDA and Observatory for Economic Complexity

This, combined with the disruption of production efforts caused by the pandemic, has led to soaring food prices in many countries. In addition, the war has disrupted Russia’s trade relations with African countries and forced them to look for alternative fuel sources, leading to further increases in fuel and fertilizers prices. According to Hoije (2023), African farmers need approximately $65 billion in loan annually to cover the food shortage. The protracted COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption of global supply chains have negatively affected African countries’ recovery efforts. This includes reduced development finance, tight fiscal space for social safety net spending, and decreased educational opportunities due to disrupted education systems. Furthermore, the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine will likely continue hampering African countries’ economic recovery for some time (Sen, 2022). The conflict has affected food supply, production, and prices, disrupting supply chains in several African countries. This has been exacerbated by the effects of climate change, which have increased the cost of food production and worsened disruption to already conflict-affected regions such as the Sahel (Adibe, 2022). As a result, wheat and sunflower products have become more expensive, as well as oil prices have. Along with wheat price soaring by 40%  in some countries, the war has also caused increased crime and disruption to oil supplies due to reduced imports from Russia, further compounded by the effects of COVID-19 on economies (Soko and Sakor, 2022).

As a result, seeing food prices and war-induced price increases have been observed in African countries. This has generated growing frustrations, grievance, and anger among citizens and governments (Resnik, 2022). According to Van Weezel (2016), unaffordable stapple food for the mass can create a collective grievance that can potentially lead to civil unrest. Furthermore, Van Weezel asserts that the correlation between conflict and food price is driven by the dependence of low-value food imported. Ukraine’s food crops are an important food security source for African countries, especially in East Africa. This is because much of their imports occur through the Black Sea, which is close to Ukraine. In addition, due to the popular culture of corruption, some African importers have had to purchase Ukrainian wheat instead of its traditional suppliers in Russia because of the Western sanctions on Russia (Welsh, 2022). As the war rages on in Ukraine, the effects on food security in Africa are glaring as its wheat imports have declined, and the cost of crops and fertilizers have increased significantly due to disruptions in trade routes. This has sparked protests across East Africa on social media as citizens voice their discontent with rising prices and lack of food security (Soko and Sakor, 2022).

Imports have been Significantly Affected.

The conflict in Ukraine has had a profound effect on African countries as it has curtailed food exports from Russia and other countries in the region (Human Rights Watch, 2022). This has resulted in higher food prices, extreme price shocks, and decreased access to essential food staples for many African countries that depend imported food. In addition, the war has caused disruptions to global commodity markets and commodities across Africa (Coles, et al. 2023). Food crops are particularly affected by the war as fertilizer is needed for growth and production; vegetable oil imports have been disrupted due to trade flows being diverted from Africa towards Russia’s Black Sea ports (Welsh, 2022). Additionally, fertilizer commodities are being re-directed away from African farmers who rely on them for crop production. Exports of wheat have been particularly hard hit, with supply chains being disrupted, leading to increasing prices and a lack of availability of wheat fertilizer used by farmers (Soko and Sakor, 2022). The consequences of this disruption are felt across various African countries as crop producers struggle with rising prices due to supply chain disruptions and lack of access to essential commodities such as oil, wheat fertilizer, and other crops.

African countries are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the Ukraine-Russia war as they rely on imports, particularly wheat, for food and energy (Welsh, 2022). As the conflict has weathered agriculture markets and caused prices of food products to skyrocket, African countries have been hard hit by economic shocks (Cinar, 2022). This is especially true in North Africa, where countries rely heavily on critical imports from Russia, such as fertilizers and steel (CISIS, 2022). The increased prices have further exacerbated the effects of the Ukraine crisis on African states. Since 2014, wheat prices, in particular, have risen substantially due to the disruption of shipping routes in the Black Sea (Sen, 2022). This has significantly impacted farmers across Africa, who cannot afford fertilizers needed for production. 

The figure from Refinitiv Elkon above illustrates that the increasing food prices and supply disruptions due to Russia’s war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic have affected global markets, driving global food security chain disruption (Human Rights Watch, 2022). From 2018 to 2019, world commodities began to rise (UNDP, 2022). However, global commodities catapulted from the beginning of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has caused reduced agricultural production and affected exports from African countries. The Russian War in Ukraine has greatly impacted the global fuel supply chain, which has increased prices for agricultural fertilizers and other commodities needed for production. The reduced availability of Russian fertilizers, a major supplier to the African market, has continued to drive commodity prices higher across other global markets.  The disruption of Russia’s war in Ukraine has significantly impacted global food security, particularly in Africa, where many people rely on imported commodities for sustenance (Coles, et al. 2023). Low agricultural production coupled with increased commodity prices has severely impacted farmers’ ability to produce sufficient food, thus affecting food security in the region. Furthermore, this disruption is likely to continue as long as tensions between Russia and Ukraine remain high – further increasing strain on global food chains and driving prices higher for essential commodities across other markets worldwide (Soko and Sakor, 2022).

The effects of the conflict have had a profoundly destabilizing impact on several African countries (Schlein, 2022). Skyrocketing energy prices due to the blockade have caused food, fuel, fertilizers, and other commodities to soar, thus increasing the cost of living and inflation (Human Rights Watch, 2022). This has hit most vulnerable households the hardest, with high food and fuel prices making life difficult for those already struggling to survive. The imported inflation caused by soaring fuel prices has further increased the impact of this crisis on African countries, resulting in an increase in inequality between rich and poor households (Adibe, 2022).

This has been especially serious in African countries already facing significant economic and social problems (Cinar, 2022). The war between Russia and Ukraine which began in 2014, has exposed many African states to the devastating impacts of a conflict now entering its sixth year (Adibe, 2022). As well as the primary effects of the Russo-Ukrainian War, there have been serious secondary impacts from the conflict that have been felt by African countries. 

*Mr. Bema D. Yeo is a doctoral student in Global Security at the American Military University and a U.S Army Veteran. Native of the Ivory Coast located in West Africa, he received both his B.A and M.A. degree in Transportation and Logistics Management. His research interests are theoretically framed by realism, leadership, and constructivism and narrate the complexity of international relations and cooperation among stakeholders, the adjustment of leadership and interactions in light of changes in the international sphere, global security challenges with climate change with a focus on Sub-Saharan African Countries. Mr. Yeo is a freelancer and self-employed

David L. Dambre
David L. Dambre
Mr. David L. Dambre is a doctoral student in Strategic Intelligence at the American Military University and a U.S. Army Veteran. A native of Togo, he received his B.A in Political Science and M.A. in International Relations and Conflicts Resolution from the University of Texas at Dallas and American Military University respectively. His research interests are theoretically framed by Constructivism and narrate the advancement of regional and international societies, International Relations, intelligence sharing, and cooperation practices within the military to military and military-civilian alliances, with a special focus on the West African region, African politics, and U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Dambre published his memoir titled “Renegade: Defying my Father’s Opposition to Working for the Pentagon” IN 2022.