Nowhere are the economic consequences of the Ukraine war felt more clearly than in Africa. In order to stop the hunger crisis, Senegal’s President Putin personally asks to deliver grain again. A meeting that is symbolic of the dependencies in a globalized world.
For millions of people in Central Africa, the situation was already precarious before February 24th. But since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, a domino effect has been triggered that has turned the world market upside down. Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest wheat exporters, accounting for almost a third of global demand. With Russia blocking Ukrainian ports and thus exports across the Black Sea, world grain prices have skyrocketed.
What you notice in your wallet when shopping in Europe means for people in Africa – but also in Syria and Yemen, in Lebanon and Afghanistan – that they don’t know what to eat the next day. According to the United Nations, almost 1.4 billion people could be affected by food shortages as a result of the Ukraine war.
With the goal of stopping the looming famine, the President of the African Union (AU) and Senegal, Macky Sall, made his way to Moscow on Friday to personally ask the Russian President to deliver grain again. A meeting that illustrated the dependencies of a globalized world like no other: Africa needs food – Vladimir Putin’s allies.
AU President with Putin: One hand washes the other
The fact that ‘one hand washes the other’ was particularly evident at the joint press conference in Sochi: “We are leaving here very calm and happy about our exchange,” emphasized AU President Sall at first. He has the impression that Putin – whom he referred to as his “dear friend Vladimir” – is “dedicated” and “aware” that “the crisis is causing serious problems for economically weak countries such as those in Africa”.
But Sall went one step further, publicly repeating one of the Kremlin’s favorite arguments: that Western sanctions against Russia had made things worse. He therefore loudly called for the export restrictions on Russian wheat and fertilizers to be lifted – and thus played into Putin’s diplomatic cards.
Up until now, Western heads of state and government had only accused the Russian president of being responsible for the global food crisis. “Russian troops are bombing Ukrainian fields, preventing sowing, plundering food stocks, blocking Ukrainian ports and thus raising food and fertilizer prices,” criticized EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was even clearer: “Russia is not only waging its brutal war with tanks, rockets and bombs. Russia is waging this war with another terrible and quieter weapon: hunger and deprivation.”
Ukraine cuts grain exports in half – Chad declares a state of emergency
Just last week, the Grain Union of Ukraine gave a bleak outlook: Given the war of aggression, this season’s grain harvest is likely to be 40 percent lower. Despite blocked delivery routes, occupied areas and mined fields, the country will be able to export some. According to the association, however, only half – ten instead of 20 million tons – of normal grain exports can be expected.
The Ukrainian President himself is even more critical of the situation. The blocked amount of grain intended for export from Ukraine could triple by “autumn,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in Kyiv on Monday. Between 20 and 25 million tons of grain are currently blocked, “this number could rise to 70 to 75 million tons by autumn,” says Zelenskyj.
The example of Chad already shows how dramatic the consequences of the export ban are for Africa: The East African country has now sounded the alarm and declared a food emergency. The head of the ruling military junta, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, referred to the “constant deterioration in the food and nutrition situation” and warned of the “growing danger to the population” if humanitarian aid was not provided.
Russia’s Africa relations are paying off
But Putin will not unnecessarily jeopardize the long-standing relationships with many African countries. With targeted investments, Russia has developed into a key player on the continent in recent years. The Kremlin is now not only regarded as Africa’s largest arms supplier. The government in Moscow actively supports authoritarian regimes such as those in Angola, Mozambique and the Central African Republic (CAR) – and stands with them in the fight for more independence from the USA.
“These friends and allies that Russia needs it can find on the African continent, so it wants to cultivate those relationships well,” Pauline Bax, Africa expert at the International Crisis Group, told the New York Times. And the efforts are already paying off for Putin and his warmongering in Ukraine.
Russia has managed to almost completely silence critical voices about its invasion of Africa – but also in Asia and Latin America. In April, the United Nations General Assembly voted 93 to 24 to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. But most African nations either voted against or abstained, including countries like Senegal, which is usually seen as a regional peace broker.
A glimmer of hope called Odessa
After all: After his visit to Putin, the President of the African Union also wants to hold talks in Ukraine. “Yes (…), I will also travel to Kyiv,” Sall confirmed to journalists at the weekend. This is “important to contribute to a return to peace”.
And another piece of news at the beginning of the week gives cause for hope: According to a media report, the Russian leadership has agreed a scheme with Kyiv and Ankara to release grain deliveries from the previously blocked port city of Odessa. “In the sovereign waters of the neighboring country, the Turkish military will take over the mine clearance and they will also accompany the ships to neutral waters,” the Kremlin-affiliated daily Isvestia described the planned process on Monday, citing government circles. More details are to be clarified on Wednesday during talks in Ankara between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart.
One thing is certain: For the people of Chad and many other starving regions of the world, the grain can’t come fast enough.
Sources: NY Times, Guardian, DW, with DPA and APF footage