How the Russia-Ukraine War Impact African Cities

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has occurred in a highly polarised world between the West and the East. The polarisation is so much so that even experts cannot agree on what to call it; it is a highly political affair, a very sensitive one. What has made the Russia-Ukraine war so pivotal is the involvement of two major world powers USA and Russia. In an interconnected world, the Russia-Ukraine war severely impact cities across Africa.

Food Shortages

While African cities were already experiencing food shortages because of droughts, floods and the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is heightening the food shortages. Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of food globally, particularly wheat as leading wheat producers.  Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of food globally. Their export amount to about 12 percent of the food that is traded in the world, export that African countries rely on. In 2020, African countries imported $4 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia and $2.9 billion worth from Ukraine. The surge in wheat prices can lead to food inflation, which is becoming as evident as Bloomberg reported a 57 percent increase in wheat futures.

If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine persists, food supply to Africa will be significantly impacted. Addressing such disruption depends on the suppliers’ ability to seek alternative sources of food to import. Such alternatives may come at a higher cost coupled with the disruption in the shipping industry as Russians and Ukrainians make up 15 percent of the global shipping workforce. As shipments from the Black Sea ports came to a halt, food prices began to soar globally. Food shortages particularly wheat and the subsequent increase in the cost of food in African cities impact negatively the cost of living across Africa. Countries such as Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria and Kenya are major importers of wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

Energy Crisis

African cities are predominantly suburban. Most people who live in cities and towns commute to work either using public transport or private. This suburban nature of African cities makes them highly vulnerable to the oil market fluctuations even to the point of become a security threat to African countries. Other than the use of fuel for transport, oil and gas also power industries across Africa, rom agriculture sector, mining to manufacturing sector in cities across the continent. Russia is a major exporter of oil. The sanctions that were imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the energy sector with oil prices reaching a record high since 2014. Fuel prices across Africa are increasing making the cost of transport more expensive and eroding incomes of households who are recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. Commodities exporters such as Nigeria and Angola could benefit from the surging oil prices. However, as countries in Africa are importers of petroleum transport costs in cities is negatively impacted by the soaring oil prices. Countries that are commodities exporters particularly gas could gain from the war as Europe seeks to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, countries such as Algeria, Senegal, Nigeria and Tanzania could benefit from more gas exports which improve their standards of living in cities.

Conflict in Cities

Food and energy crises are not the only drivers of unrest and conflict in cities across Africa. West Africa, particularly Francophone Africa has been a battleground for world powers seeking control. Through the years, France maintained military dominance in  West Africa fighting terrorism in Francophone  countries and having influence on its leaders and affairs of cities. This dominance has changed in recent years. Russia has been increasing its footprint in Africa such as in Libya, Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan. As it increases footprint in regions formerly dominated by the West, particularly France, this has put  some African cities on the verge of more conflict, a manifestation of world powers fighting for influence. The war in Ukraine has heightened this contestation between the West and Russia, which could also spill over to Russia’s increasing influence in Africa.

What Now?

The effects of Russia-Ukraine war on cities across Africa have demonstrated the extend of vulnerabilities of African cities to global volatilities. The threat can push African cities to become more resilient such as in improving their own food security. However, issues of energy dependency are less likely to change. The suburban nature of African cities is both a curse and a blessing to African governments. Other than the vulnerability to fuel market volatilities, fuel consumption is a major source of revenue for governments in countries without fuel subsidies. As some commodity-exporting African countries tend to benefit from the war, there are low prospects for a reform in the energy sector away from the energy dependency.

Isaac Muchineripi
Isaac Muchineripi
Isaac Muchineripi is the executive director of the African Urban Institute. He is a researcher and regional and urban planner with extensive experience working with governments across Africa on urban transformation.

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