2022 Yearender: War in Europe, tsunami in Africa

Mostafa Ahmady
Tuesday 27 Dec 2022

Mostafa Ahmady sums up all that has been wrong with the world in the past year.


The Russian offensive on Ukraine has been raging for almost a year now, disrupting a Europe that has been stable and prosperous for decades, and sending shockwaves across the globe. Africans with no vested interest have been hit hard too. Though many African countries boast huge water resources, they have failed to be self-sufficient in terms of food and basic products, and the result is that the war is taking a heavy toll on economies from Egypt to Nigeria, from Ethiopia to Malawi.

Africa, which is still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on vital sectors like tourism, is heavily dependent on supplies of cereals and fertilisers from the two warring sides: Ukraine and Federal Russia. 

The war is not the number one reason behind these adverse effects, however. Western sanctions on Russia and the interrupted supply of grains stocked in Ukraine, because of the closure of key ports necessary for African trade with both countries, have played their part too. That is why both the Chairperson of the African Union Moussa Faki, and the current chair of the continental bloc, President Macky Sall of Senegal, have repeatedly called for the “suspension” of sanctions on cereals and basic commodities coming to the Continent, particularly as more than 280 million people in Africa are deprived of “nutritious food” needed to keep them alive. 

African countries would also be receiving over a barrel due to Russia’s threat to cut down oil supplies to the global market over a Western cap on oil barrel produced in Russia. This would add greater pressures on the already depleted foreign reserve of African countries, wrecking social havoc in large parts in the continent.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, already battling a fierce and ruthless insurgency in the East, had to increase fuel prices to $1.70 per litre. And this is a country where nearly 64 per cent of the people, according to the World Bank, live on less than $2.15 a day. Even for an oil-producing country like Nigeria, things have gone past reason. The West African power suffered the worst floods in a decade, which left 1.5 million people homeless, and it saw food inflation rates jump to 23.72 per cent in October 2022. 

The rising costs of fertilisers, mainly imported from Federal Russia, have, moreover, curtailed the ability of average farmers in Africa to cultivate their lands, where millions rely on their own produce for food self-sufficiency, selling the surplus in the local markets just to live from hand to mouth. In Ethiopia, despite abundant water resources, farmers in the lowlands have complained of the inability to cultivate vast swathes due to a twofold increase of the price of fertilisers. This threatens a quality yield of income-generating crops meant for export, and further exacerbates the food crisis in the Horn of Africa nation. 

Egypt, the largest importer of wheat worldwide, has seen market disturbances that shook the relatively fixed price of basic goods and daily staples. The country, with 65 million people – almost two thirds of its population – dependent on subsidised commodities, and amid foreign currency scarcity, is finding it hard to make ends meet. The government had to allow a free fall of its already devalued currency, the Egyptian Pound, against foreign currencies in order to secure a $ nine billion package from the international credit lender, the World Bank.

Even when Egypt secures the tough, conditional loan, it will still need to seek other finances to pay for its heavy external debts, now standing at $157.8 billion based on the country’s money regulator, the Central Bank of Egypt. 

Gloomy as it looks, the Russian war on Ukraine may be a wake-up call for African countries. An inter-African collective effort is needed now more than ever to look into the possibilities of translating African mechanisms aimed at promoting intra-African trade on the ground. Viable measures needed to be taken now by all respective African economies if they want to survive. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the world’s largest free trade area, is instrumental in achieving that end. Officially launched in January 2021, the pact has yet to go into operation. Africans need to get to the root of the problem and boost intra-African trade which can surely stand as their firewall against disasters hitting them one after another.   

It was good to hear from the AfCFTA secretariat that a pilot project came online when Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, shipped, under the pact, locally manufactured car batteries and tea to West Africa’s economic power, Ghana. Though a baby step, the deal can be built on for similar deals involving the whole continent.    

Ethiopia, which this rainy season has acted to expand the cultivation of wheat, on which the country is not heavily dependent, compared to Egypt, thanks to the home-grown teff grains, may be mulling export to the North African power in exchange for a surplus of electricity produced here. Egyptian investors also need to consider cultivating rice, a vital daily staple for Egyptians, in the Horn of Africa nation, thanks to available water resources and cost-effective production. That way Africans can “swim together” instead of sliding down a slippery slope.  

But as Africa has been hit by two external crises, the Covid-19 and the Russian war on Ukraine, coupled by the severe impact of climate change, it is time that the West, China and international finance institutions wrote off some debts, which African countries obtained mainly to ease the aggravating impact of these crises. Morally speaking, to say the least, it is unfair to continue milking African raw materials like copper, cobalt, cacao, titanium, uranium and black sand, and giving Africans, in return, the short end of the stick. 

To keep their head above water, Africans too need to work on manufacturing more and more of these materials, otherwise no one else will step in to help out. The continent is graced with all it takes to be self-sufficient, but before doing that, there is a crying need to unshackle itself of poor governance, bureaucracy and corruption. Time is ticking!

* The writer is a former press attaché in Ethiopia and an expert on African and international affairs.    

*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly      

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