Russia-Ukraine Crisis: Its Impact and Implications for Southern Africa


By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

This article attempts to contribute to the discussions on the evolutionary political confrontations and contradictions between Russia and Ukraine, its impact on and implications for Southern Africa.

Historically, both Russia and Ukraine attained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet era in 1991. It has embarked on territorial expansionism, annexing neighbouring former Soviet republics. Its annexation ambitions started with Georgia, then Crimea and now Ukraine. That, however, Russia considered itself a superpower and hopes to lead the emerging new world order.

After these several months, Russia’s “special military operation” approved by the Federation Council and the State Duma (legislative chambers) and which began on February 24 has had a tremendous impact on Africa.

As already known, it has pushed the United States, European Union (EU) and a few Asia-Pacific states to impose draconian sanctions on Russia.

This article helps to understand the impact, some of the implications and future directions by looking specifically at the Southern African region.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a regional political-economic organization made up of 16 member states, with a population of approximately 395 million compared with Russia with approximately 145 million.

The SADC collectively aims at, among others, promoting sustainable social-economic development that will ensure poverty alleviation and enhancing ultimately the living standards of the people in Southern Africa. Despite differences in approach to politics in individual states, the group cooperates on issues of security in the region.

The Russian Federation maintains friendly bilateral relations practically with all these southern African states: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The diplomatic rhetoric is that it has uniquely supported the struggle for political liberation particularly in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. And further to that, Russia claims to have a common understanding, solidarity and trusty position with African friends on important issues on international platforms including at the United Nations.

African representatives and their votes were considered very interesting. 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. Among those in the SADC bloc abstaining from vote include South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Russia-SADC Economic Scenario

The Southern African countries are struggling to overcome multiple challenges that have originated due to the endless Russia-Ukraine crisis. But a careful study and analysis show that prior to the February 24 crisis which unfolded in Ukraine, Russia indicated strong preparedness and high interest to broaden cooperation in economic sectors in Africa.

In efforts to reposition itself to become a major partner, the following priorities as an economic strategy in the region were jointly put forward during the Russia-SADC meeting held back in September 2019:

– Prospecting, mining, oil, construction, mining, purchase of gas, oil, uranium, and bauxite assets (Angola, Namibia and South Africa);

– Construction of power facilities: hydroelectric power plants on the River Congo (Angola, Namibia, and Zambia,) and nuclear power plants (South Africa);

– Creation of a floating nuclear power plant, and South African participation in the international project to build a nuclear enrichment centre in Russia;

– Railway construction (Angola);

– Creation of Russian trade houses for the promotion and maintenance of Russian engineering products (South Africa); and

– Participation of Russian companies in the privatisation of industrial assets, including those created with technical assistance from the former Soviet Union (Angola).

Of course, there are disparities in the level of development and cooperation between Russia and individual states in Southern Africa. At least during the past few years, Russia has notably strengthened relations with most of them. For example, it has leveraged into exploring lucrative platinum projects at Darwendale (Zimbabwe).

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov launched this $3 billion project back in 2014, after years of negotiations, with the hope of raising its economic profile in Zimbabwe. Few other anticipated projects have sprung up in Angola, DRC, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

While COVID-19 impacted development progress, there are currently signs of disarray caused by restrictive foreign exchange policies and continuing inability to determine funding sources for Africa. Russia has been engulfed with crisis and worse under serious sanctions, bilateral agreements might take years to realize fully in most Southern African countries.

Our research shows that ten SADC member-states have diplomatic offices in the Russian Federation: Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Impact of the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, many African countries rely on Russia and Ukraine for wheat imports. Russia is a major supplier of fertilizers to 15 African countries. Reuters news agency reported that Africa is suffering from disruptions in food supply and soaring prices of basic goods and risks “disastrous consequences” if the situation endures.

This position was supported by African Union Chairman Macky Sall during a conversation with philanthropist Mo Ibrahim at the Ibrahim Governance Forum, far ahead before he travelled to Sochi, Russia. That Sochi trip discussed measures which could alleviate the escalating problems related to the food and agricultural inputs and further reviewed strategic solutions within the context of Russia-African relations.

Despite the assurance of reversing the situation offered at the Putin-Sall-Faki meeting, the Russia-Ukraine never-ending crisis still flushing up commodity prices worldwide. Africa’s economy is currently worsening, a direct primary result of rising energy costs. This economic instability further generated social discontent and tension among vulnerable impoverished groups across the population. Some have asked for wage indexations as well as increments in pensions and unemployment payments.

Local South African media have reported, during the previous months, about workers protesting against inflationary prices in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. There have been sharp currency fluctuations throughout the southern African region.

Southern Africa depends on some imported goods, such as agricultural produce and fertilizers, from Russia and Ukraine. In terms of negotiations, much has to be done in order to reach comprehensive agreements to free movement of these to Africa’s market.

Experts suggested in separate interviews that it was necessary to implement the memorandum between Russia and the UN on exports of Russian agricultural products and fertilizers.

Arguably, there are indications that Washington and Brussels’ anti-Russian sanctions do not apply to foodstuffs and fertilizers. While some explain further that there are still obstacles to banking settlements, insurance and carriage of cargoes at shipping terminals due to Western sanctions.

From our analytical position, first, as African countries face continued uncertainty, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) interventions are necessarily seen only as short-term solutions. And second, in an article published by the French Press Agency (AFP), says negotiations between the AU leadership and the Russian president illustrate the importance of enhancing bilateral relations.

While African leaders are attempting to build international solidarity and alliances aimed at achieving genuine peace and global security, and for an emerging new order, it is also important to initiate a new reform drive to transform agriculture and industry throughout Africa. African financial institutions, such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), urgently have to prioritize investing more in food production in the continent.

Highly commendably, the initiative, the Feed Africa strategy for Agricultural Transformation in Africa (2016 to 2025), is to move the continent to the top of export-orientated global value chains where it has a comparative advantage. This aims at making Africa a net exporter rather than an importer of basic agricultural products and contributing to eliminating extreme poverty in Africa and ending hunger and malnutrition in Africa by 2025.

Our research shows the bank’s efforts have brought home $1.5 billion for the African Emergency Food Production Facility. It has been advocating for expanding social protection programmes, strengthening economic resilience and responsiveness to shocks of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The African Development Bank Group is Africa’s premier development finance institution.

Emerging Economic Prospects

Despite the negative impacts and consequences, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has simultaneously opened doors (opportunities) for Africa. Europe has seen potential supplies of energy especially gas from the region. As Mozambique is gradually emerging as an exploration hub, it is attracting investors from Europe. Meanwhile, leading energy companies such as TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum (BP), Shell and Eni are already working in the region, seeking alternative supplies in light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi and stanch member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has spearheaded multiple initiatives and partnerships with international partners to boost security and ensure project resumption. As a result, the European Union recently announced a plan to increase financial support for Mozambique while energy majors TotalEnergies, ExxonMobil and Eni are focused on getting projects back on track.

Mozambique is increasingly stepping up efforts in the production of liquefied natural gas and consequently becoming one of the suitable reliable suppliers to Europe. While it might not replace Russia which cuts its export of gas as a reciprocal action against European Union members, Mozambique seeks ultimately to earn some revenue from its natural resources.

In late July, the outgoing EU Ambassador to Mozambique, Sánchez-Benedito Gaspar, argued that natural gas from Cabo Delgado was among the alternatives in Europe’s plan to diversify energy sources in the face of constraints caused by Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

“Mozambique’s gas, with the presence of large European multinational companies, now has an even more important and strategic value,” Sánchez-Benedito Gaspar said in an interview with Lusa, Mozambican News Agency, in Maputo. According to the diplomat, Europe came to the conclusion that “it cannot trust its old partner (Russia, among the world’s biggest gas exporters), which is authoritarian and uses gas as an instrument of war,” and is making efforts to secure alternative sources.

With an approximate population of 30 million, Mozambique is endowed with natural resources. With the untapped huge resources, if it is strategically well-managed and exploited in the southern states – Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa, it will possibly be making energy poverty history in the southern region and possibly entire Africa.

The Puzzling Politics

From the political perspective, a majority of African leaders have in principle endorsed multilateralism, and also reminded respect for territorial sovereignty, independence and human rights. Reference has been made to non-interference in nations’ internal affairs that brought to the fore the general principles on which the Non-Alignment Movement organization was created.

South African President Ramaphosa called for promoting international peace and security by advocating inclusive dialogue and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

“We must safeguard the principle of multilateralism. We need a United Nations that is fit-for-purpose and clear in its benefits to all humanity, especially in times of insecurity and crises,” the President said late June.

Nearly all the experts contacted for this article have the same arguable points, especially regarding safeguarding and walling (fencing) to be used by key powers as “political playing grounds” in the Southern African region. Despite the contradictions, the experts acknowledged the fact that western hegemony and “rule-based order” be halted, and make way for the new emerging world order.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, however, informed about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and this will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. It was last updated in 2013.

The development of a comprehensive partnership with African countries remains among the top priorities of Russia’s foreign policy, Moscow is open to its further build-up, Lavrov said in an Op-Ed article for the African media, and originally published on the ministry’s website in late July.

The Future Roadmap

We have seen the extent African leaders express political sympathy for Russia. For Russia to regain a part of its Soviet-era influence, it has to address its own policy approach, this time shifting towards new paradigms – implementing some of those bilateral agreements; secondly to promote development-oriented policies and its strategic efforts have to be more practical, more consistent, more effective and result-oriented with African countries.

In the context of building post-Soviet relations, Russia has to attempt to create a new model of template for itself, and for what it often refers to as “non-Western friends” in the crucial geopolitical changes occurring now in order to bring them into its armpit from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

African leaders, under the auspices of the African Union, have to design a broad roadmap. Significantly it is necessary to adopt “a collective voice and approach” for the continent.

On other hand, a major rethink is urgently required in the current evolutionary processes of the new world order. The first drastic step is for Africans to identify their weaknesses, understand the fact that it is endowed with huge natural resources and, therefore, work together in complete harmony by pulling their own large-scale resources to fund the development agenda.

From our analytical perspectives, it is now time for Africa and its youth to stand up and defend its history and riches. And the significant challenge is the need for the adoption of a unified strategy to avoid being used as a pawn in global power games. This should be the continental task for the SADC and the African Union.

Specifically, South African Development Community leaders have to follow the same line of procedures for the region. In the process of seeking additional support and whatever contributions from foreign partners and foreign investors, either government or private, these have to fall within the roadmap as re-emphasized during the 42nd summit of the South African Development Community.

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