top of page

The Impact of the Russo-Ukraine War on Africa

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Africa Analyst

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whilst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly devasted the local region, the secondary impact of the war on the African continent is seldom reported on and less understood. Despite the geographical distance, there are several important relations between the states, including the $4 billion p/a worth of goods exported to the continent from Ukraine every year.

Crucially, as this article will cover, this includes grain in substantial quantities. ISS African Futures, in its own studies, projects that Africa’s economic growth is unlikely to meet comparable standard-of-living improvements for the next 20 years, which is a prospect that has been worsened by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Africa has been deeply affected by the war economically, socially, and strategically, and this impact is heavily underemphasised in the West.

The most noticeable impact of the Russo-Ukraine war on Africa is related to the economy; the rising fuel, fertiliser, and food prices, combined with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, are all factors that have exacerbated the economic instability in the continent. The result of these factors is the devastation of African lives through food shortages and inflation. The UN’s Global Crisis Response Group has predicted that a cost of living crisis will arise in Africa as a result of Russia’s invasion, and with rising fertiliser prices reinforcing the cost of food and oil, Africa may find itself in a vicious cycle. This cycle appears to be akin to that of Europe, but, crucially, Africa lacks the means to mitigate it.

The biggest example of economic devastation which faces Africa as a result of the war is the loss of the grain deal. For several African states, the dependence on grain and wheat imports from Russia or Ukraine is a concern because of Russia’s blockading of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which has prevented wheat export. As of 2020, fifteen African countries import over 50% of their wheat products from the warring states, and six of these countries (Eritrea, Egypt, Benin, Sudan, Djibouti, and Tanzania) import over 70% from the region.

Before the war, Akinwumi Adesina, the head of the African Development Bank (AfDB), stated that around 283 million people were already suffering from hunger, which is not eased at all by the fact that both Russia and Ukraine constitute almost 30% of global wheat exports. Kenya is an example of a state that is struggling to cope with the rising prices of food - as of 2021, it imports around 1/3 of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, which has begun to cause outrage across the country. This is the case across East Africa, where most states are facing extremely volatile political circumstances that are worsening the rising food prices. For example, in Ethiopia, the food insecurity resulting from the Russo-Ukrainian War is worsened by the civil war.

The case is similar in the west of the continent, where the states around Lake Chad and the Tri-border area (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger) have been equally affected by political instability. The Food Crisis Prevention Network has warned that 38.3 million West Africans will need food aid this summer due to the damages caused by the war, which demonstrates that Africa has a whole has been devastatingly impacted. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently revised its global food price monitoring index as a result, marking the current rate of price increases as the worst since its inception in the 1990s.

However, some states have responded to food insecurity by withdrawing and turning to become more self-sufficient. Ghana, for example, has decided to stop exporting food to their neighbours - a policy which Matthieu Le Grix, the Head of Agriculture, Rural Development and Biodiversity at AFD recommends, with the notion of food sovereignty becoming prominent in Africa since the Russo-Ukrainian war, and financial adjustments are being made to become more flexible to emergencies. This war has pushed African countries to support food production in their own states and reduce commodity imports.

However, these efforts are unlikely to mitigate the damages which the war has caused or heal the economic repercussions that the continent is currently facing. The worst consequences of the conflict in Ukraine may yet to come – as long as the war continues, and as long as grain isn’t being exported, food prices will rise. The UN warns that the situation in Africa will continue to deteriorate, in this event.

The Russo-Ukraine war has equally devasted North Africa. The invasion has dramatically inflated commodity prices, which has shifted the economic balance in the region, rewarding hydrocarbon exporters like Algeria and Libya but has made states like Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco more energy-dependent. While some states have managed to take advantage of the war, the general trend in North Africa is that of economic deterioration. For example, Egypt has had to turn to the IMF for help and Tunisia is facing many political and economic dilemmas. Even the states that appear unscathed like Algeria are facing the economic repercussions of the war because of the higher oil and gas revenues, which is limiting development all across this region. The economic impacts of the Russo-Ukraine war are unprecedented, causing inflation and monetary tightening, with its damages affecting long-term economic planning.

Despite the war, the Kremlin has demonstrated interest in setting up trading deals with North African countries like Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. This is because Russia views these countries to hold a lot of economic potential, which is evident by the presence of the Wagner Group in states like Libya and Algeria, which dates years before the war. As recently as August 2023, Putin hopes to grow a free trade bloc encompassing both North Africa and the Eurasian Economic Union, and his efforts have persisted throughout the invasion. Historically, Russia’s trade with Africa has been concentrated in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia and with the relationship amounting to $18 billion in 2022 alone, this was a mutually beneficial economic relationship which Russia fostered. However, due to this war, there is a possibility that the risks outweigh the advantages.

One of the benefits that would come out of this free trade bloc is that it would allow North Africa to import Russian grain and fertiliser at a much cheaper rate. Such an economic relationship with a powerful state like Russia would guarantee that other sectors in the region would grow, like tourism for example, and become a lot more stable. From a foreign policy perspective, North African countries would be able to gain an understanding of Russia and influence policy to the benefit of national interests as well. Especially considering how economically devasted the region became as a result of the Russo-Ukraine war, North African states are entertaining the possibility of joining this trading bloc in the hopes of generating more economic stability, and in order to prevent further atrocities in the future.

However, this trading deal comes with plenty of risks which the war has also exacerbated. As much as working with Russia in such a close manner comes with benefits, this trading bloc is likely to create interdependencies and a hierarchy which can be exploited, and thus it is a partnership which requires a lot of trust. Additionally, deciding to team with Russia comes with the risk of Western sanctions, which the Russo-Ukraine war has demonstrated can be extensive. Although trade deals require a lot of planning to actualise, an alignment with Russia can be a fearful enough endeavour to reconsider this positionality. As the Russo-Ukraine war is the backdrop to this decision-making process, North African states are hesitant to enter a trading deal with a state that is responsible for much damage in their own countries, as well as the invasion of Ukraine.

Food insecurity is also exacerbated by the fact that some African states did not recover from the pandemic before the Russo-Ukrainian war started. COVID-19 has also affected the food supply in Africa, especially in regard to wheat and sunflower products. The current estimation is that, between 2018 and 2020, Africa had to import $3.7 billion worth of wheat from Russia and $1.4 billion from Ukraine. This means that, even before Russia invaded Ukraine, the cost of food in many African states had already reached a ten-year high because food production and supply chains were disrupted by COVID-19, and climate change. Given that this is the context which existed before 2022, food security in Africa is evidently doomed to worsen by the Russo-Ukrainian war.

As a result of the rising food prices in Africa, the cost of fertiliser is also increasing as a result of the Russo-Ukraine War, which is aggravating food insecurity on the continent. The cost of fertiliser, due to sanctions imposed on Russia (the world’s biggest exporter of fertiliser), has limited the ability to export food to Africa because yields have not been high enough to do so. It is estimated that, between February and March of 2022, the price of urea fertiliser rose by 32%. For a nation such as Cameroon, which imports about 44% of its fertiliser, as of 2021, this is a substantial price increase.

Due to this high reliance on imported fertiliser, similar to the dependence on wheat imports, the lack of fertiliser affordability in agriculture and food production in Africa is exacerbating food insecurity and escalating costs. For example, in Mauritania, the high fertiliser prices are set to produce low agricultural output and lead to AFD intervention. Unlike food shortages, which can be resolved through foreign aid and donations, the decline in fertiliser imports could threaten food production in Africa for years to come.

The Russo-Ukrainian war has also caused high inflation and surging energy prices in Africa. For example, in Nigeria, the inflation rate has reached 20.52% as of August 2022, which is the highest rate it has been since 2005. The rising price of oil on global markets, which has also induced a spike in Europe, has caused a crisis in African states that were debating the prospect of fuel subsidies. Like in Zambia, which agreed to fuel subsidies from the IMF, the rising cost of oil is likely to make such reforms even more unpopular than they were when decided upon.

The situation is worsened by the fact that Russia holds several energy deals in Africa through state-owned companies like Gazprom and Lukoil, which affects the amount of resources which remain designated for Africa and are not redirected for the war. This has created resource scarcity and inflamed the rising oil prices on the continent even further. Not only do the skyrocketing energy prices promise long-term implications, such as possible geopolitical realignment away from Russia, but these prices are likely to lead to widening inequality and deeper poverty only worsened by the food insecurity and instability that the continent already suffers.

However, the current climate in which Africa finds itself due to the invasion of Ukraine also holds opportunity. Some countries are sensing a chance to eliminate their dependency on Russian oil and gas because of the European Union’s decision to do so. Tanzania, for example, is experiencing a growing Western interest in the country’s gas reserves. Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s president, has confirmed this growing attention in the sixth largest in Africa and is considering a business model to negotiate with energy companies, potentially attracting around $30 billion in foreign investment.

This is an opportunity which other African countries are also attempting to grasp, such as Senegal, which has 40 trillion cubic feet of natural gas - production is set to start soon to pursue energy diversification across the continent. Other than natural gas, the sanctions on Russia may possibly introduce new natural resource exporters in Africa. Like South Africa, which is the second-largest producer of palladium after Russia, states may experience a higher demand as a result of the war, which would undoubtedly be economically beneficial for the states in question. Similarly, as an exporter of gold, South Africa is also facing the opportunity to strengthen and become a bigger player in the sector, which is demonstrative of how the Russo-Ukrainian war is bringing a change to the continent.

As the war continues, there are several concerns about how Africa may continue to be affected by the current political climate, and the invasion of Ukraine could present a difficult test of pan-African solidarity. Recently, institutions such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have begun to demonstrate conflicting views on how to handle continental issues such as the rising number of coups and insurgency. An example of this would be how states like Mali and Niger have featured protests waving Russian flags, whilst the AU has condemned the coup within each prospective state. This is demonstrating that the Russo-Ukrainian war is forcing African leaders to break out of a neutral position and align with one of the warring countries.

South Africa’s neutrality, perhaps due to its membership in BRICS, has aggravated European and Ukrainian diplomats who had hoped that their influence would direct the continent to fall against the invasion. It was only after the invasion that the South African government did take a stance, calling for Russia to stop its forces. Interestingly, Nigeria has neither condemned the war nor shown support for either country, indicating how wavering unity is among African countries. Generally, African countries show interest in building relationships between both the West and East. However, in the aftermath of the war, it is uncertain how African states will continue their relations with external partners and one another as the geopolitical context of the war shifts and informs relationships on the continent.

The overall impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war on Africa cannot be concluded, yet as the war continues, the eventual end will undoubtedly affect the distribution of power in the international system. Although African states have had some benefit from the shift of global markets away from Russia due to the sanctions, the immediate effects on African livelihoods have been devasting for food security, inflation and the rising costs of daily necessities like fertiliser and oil. There are worrying implications for Pan-African solidarity and it is unlikely that African states will remain neutral and multilateral. Though as fighting continues, and as Africa loses its resources such as imports and aid, the most devasting impact has been the food shortages across the continent and this is only set to worsen.


bottom of page