How the War in Ukraine May Impact Africa

This quick take is part of our Crisis Crossroads series, which highlights timely analysis by CSIS scholars on the evolving situation in Ukraine and its security, economic, energy, and humanitarian effects.

Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty

On February 22, Macky Sall, chair of the African Union, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, called on the Russian Federation to “respect international law, [and] the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine.” This position reflects the charter of the African Union, which has upheld and protected the colonial borders of member states since the inception of the organization, then the Organization of African Unity, in 1963. For Africans, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises the specter of irredentism and secessionism that caused several conflicts, including the Ogaden War and the partition of Sudan.

Food Security

Beyond territorial integrity and national sovereignty concerns, a protracted war in Ukraine would affect Africa in other ways that can either be disastrous or offer new economic opportunities. For instance, both Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of food commodities such as wheat, soybeans, and barley to African countries. In 2020, the combined value of this trade was estimated at $6.9 billion. A disruption of this supply due to the fighting would drive up the prices of commodities and exacerbate food insecurity across Africa.

Opportunities for the Oil and Gas Sector

On the other hand, as the European Union and the United States impose sanctions to deny Russia access to European oil and gas markets, oil-producing African countries could seize on the opportunity. They could circumvent Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pressures and increase their production, which would increase state revenues. With soaring prices, oil companies might expand prospection operations. Mauritania and Senegal, which have undertaken substantial natural gas prospection, might be encouraged to move to the exploitation phase. However, should Russia manage to sell its oil to China, African suppliers may suffer. China is the main buyer of African oil and would bargain for lower prices.

Security in the Sahel

France built a robust coalition of Western powers and donor countries to support international stabilization efforts in the Sahel, including the Sahel Alliance. The United States is a key contributor to these initiatives. Now, as these countries focus their resources on the war in Ukraine, they may reduce their contributions, which would further destabilize the Sahel.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is director and senior fellow of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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