Picture: PACOME PABANDJI (AFP/File) – In a previous report, the UN said 42% of Central Africans were in urgent need of food in order to head off a humanitarian tragedy brought on by the ongoing violence.
By Thabang Leshabane
A great proportion of African communities have over the decades relied on grain as an imperative source of food and sustenance.
In fact, the heavy reliance on the production and distribution of grain as well as wheat is what has kept many of these communities thriving, sustained and alive.
While the African continent boasts arable land and a healthy agricultural sector, it however continues to tussle with the intricate challenge of exporting most of its grain.
For instance, wheat exports to Africa from France previously amounted to 3.6 billion U.S. dollars per annum while exports from Argentina recorded a value of nearly two billion U.S. dollars.
On the other hand, Russia, which is also a major exporter of fertiliser needed in large-scale farming, exported 60 million tons of grain in 2022 with plans afoot to export millions more in the future.
But these ambitious goals by the Russian Federation and other entities are seemingly being thwarted not only by the scourge of climate change but by sanctions imposed on Russia led by the United States amid the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
In simple terms, the current tensions that have seized global geopolitics are deliberately putting food out of the mouths of millions of families and possibly starving them to death.
Let’s assess this sentiment objectively.
In February 2022, Russia embarked on a special military operation in Ukraine. This in turn prompted the western countries to attempt a complete economic blockade of Moscow in a bid to render the Russian Federation helpless and dually cripple its economy.
Some African countries, and the African Union on a larger scale, have boldly pursued a non-aligned stance over the Russia-Ukraine conflict while the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(Nato) member countries have taken a definite side, boldly exerting pressure, influence and going as far as to punish those who don’t toe the line and show sheer solidarity with the Ukraine.
What has this move by Nato meant for Africa and her regions?
The repercussions have been dire and evident in the soaring food prices following the Russia and Ukraine grain deal which has since lapsed. This deal would have allowed for a smooth transition of grain along the Black Sea.
Thus, the high cost of food supplies and accessibility have seemingly left many countries such as Nigeria in a state of limbo with some experts going as far as to articulate a disturbing reality of hunger that has rapidly gripped countries reliant on food imports.
It is estimated that about 149 million Africans are facing acute food insecurity and that this equates to a level 3 risk category of 3 or higher in Crisis, Emergency, and Catastrophe as per the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale.
Furthermore, about 122 million of those facing acute food insecurity are said to be in countries experiencing conflict.
It should be noted that when Russia and Ukraine agreed on a deal – brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022, Russia’s intentions were of noble intent given that the AU has sought stability and has called for a peace deal to be brokered between Russia and Ukraine urgently for the benefit of the continent.
WIth little doubt, Moscow’s relations with the continent were solidified in the first Russia-Africa Summit held in Sochi in October 2019.
At the outset of this Summit, Russian Federation leader Vladimir Putin laid bare clear rules of engagement and what relations the Summit would be premised on.
Putin has been unequivocal in his call for absolute state sovereignty.
In adopting this approach, the Russian leader was advocating for transparency and showcasing that his country was determined to offer aid and carry out trade deals with all African countries without imposing political allegiance or certain conditions as means to pressurise, intimidate and blackmail them into becoming submissive.
To be frank, there has been a great degree of pressure imposed on African countries particularly over the Ukraine and Russia conflict by the West.
For instance, South Africa’s foreign diplomatic wrangle with the US Ambassador is to be considered.
It is still worthwhile to establish what really was the motive and intention behind the remarks uttered by US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety over the docking of the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town in the Western Cape province in December 2022.
Brigety was firm in his conviction that the ship in question was in fact loaded with armament supplied to Russia by South Africa which has been viewed as “too lenient and too cosy with Russia.
Although no evidence was found of weapons aboard the Lady R by an independent panel set up by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brigety’s remarks were far-reaching even on a diplomatic level.
Was this some bullying tactic by the West or an effort to take South Africa to task over its non-aligned stance over the Russian-Ukraine conflict?
Russia’s expansion in Africa has seemingly been intimidating for the West. This expansion should however not be viewed in stark isolation as countries such as China, the US are also increasing their respective investments and prompting their due influence on the continent as well as strengthening trade and diplomatic ties with many African governments.
Therefore, Russia looking beyond Europe’s southern coastline to develop alternative trade and services is not to be frowned upon.
Perhaps the overarching question at this juncture, where African countries face a crippling and devastating food insecurity crisis, is what concrete commitments are being made by Russia, the US, Ukraine and Nato-members towards the development and advancement of Africa?
Putin recently pledged that his government would provide free grain in the next three to four months to six African countries namely Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea.
The distribution of grain in Africa should by no means escalate into a political and popularity contest between Russia and West nor is it in the interest of US President Joe Biden and the collective West and Europe to exercise power over Russia.
Soaring food prices across the world present a catastrophe that will affect every sector of society in the long run and this is why Nato-driven politics and the purist approach by the West should be ended to avoid poverty and hunger, particularly in Africa
*Leshabane is a consultant with 20 years experience in the media industry.