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How the Russia-Ukraine war impacts Africans

As Russia bombarded key cities in Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of civilians attempted to leave the country. Many were welcomed by neighboring governments in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania. But according to multiple reports, some nonwhite people fleeing Ukraine, including Nigerians and Indians, were prevented from escaping the war zone.

Several videos shared on social media appear to show Africans being blocked by Ukrainian security forces from boarding trains out of Ukraine in order to, according to Africans fleeing, make space for Ukrainians first.

Around 20 percent of Ukraine’s foreign students are Africans. Moroccans make up the largest group with 8,000 students, Nigerians are second with 4,000 and Egyptians are third with 3,500. In one video viewed over two million times, a crowd of Nigerian students can be seen pleading with armed border guards. Some kneel on the ground shouting, “We are students. We don’t have arms.”

At least two foreign students—one from India and another from Algeria—were killed during a Russian bombardment on Sunday of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Racial bias. The contrast is not lost on those familiar with the Syrian and Afghan refugee crises. Criticism was leveled on European politicians and journalists for how they described Ukrainian refugees by denigrating refugees from elsewhere. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told journalists earlier this week that his country would welcome Ukrainians because “these are not the refugees we are used to … these people are Europeans,” he said. “These people are intelligent. They are educated people.”

In a rare emergency special session on Monday of the United Nations General Assembly on Ukraine, Secretary General António Guterres urged taking in those seeking safety to be “extended without any discrimination based on race, religion or ethnicity.”

Comments by an Al Jazeera English presenter also came under fire after he said, “These are prosperous middle-class people … they look like any European family that you would live next door to.” The channel issued an apology for a “breach of professionalism.”

Governments M.I.A. African students recount being pushed, beaten and dragged off public transit by Polish and Ukrainian border forces. Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said in a video statement that once airports reopened, his government would assist with the evacuation of Nigerians. But with Ukrainian airspace closed, Africans pointed to the lack of proactive intervention by some embassies and the African Union.

Two weeks prior to the Russian invasion, the Moroccan government called on citizens to leave Ukraine, while the head of the Egyptian community in Ukraine, Ali Farouk, said the Egyptian embassy was coordinating the return of Egyptian students. After facing backlash for not helping its citizens, Ghana’s government announced Friday it would arrange transport of Ghanaian nationals, including over 1,000 students out of Ukraine.

The first safe evacuation was confirmed by the National Union of Ghana Students on Saturday, and those evacuated arrived in Accra on Tuesday. Yet some Ghanaian students I’ve spoken to said they have yet to receive any help and were waiting on the outcome of a meeting in Accra convened by Ghana’s government and parents and relatives of citizens stuck in Ukraine.

The fallout from the Russia-Ukraine war will impact all Africans at home and abroad. Tough economic sanctions imposed on Russia including the removal of key Russian banks from the SWIFT financial system, measures against Russia’s central bank, and the barring of business transactions in dollars will directly impact African trade.

North Africa’s food security. African countries imported agricultural products worth $4 billion from Russia and $2.9 billion from Ukraine in 2020 at a time of soaring prices in global markets. From Russia, about 90 percent was wheat. “Since 2014 Russia has considerably diversified its economic partnerships with African countries,” Tatiana Smirnova, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre Franco Paix in Conflict Resolution and Peace Missions at the University of Quebec, told Foreign Policy.

Egypt imports nearly 85 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and it is Russia’s top African trade partner. Russia has invested around $190 million in developing special economic zones in Egypt’s Port Said. The country issued a new global tender for wheat on Saturday and said reserves could last nine months. In Tunisia, already struggling economically, the agriculture ministry said it was looking elsewhere for wheat supplies.

Still, there are some African countries who will gain. Oil prices have surged past $100 a barrel, the highest level since 2014. A Russian oil embargo would benefit the economies of Nigeria and Angola. Ethiopia with its large wheat fields could have stood to gain from supply shortages but its own production has been disrupted by civil war.

“If you were to look five years back, they were on the trajectory of being an impressive player in Africa’s grain markets,” Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, said.

Proxy wars. Perhaps not wanting to be drawn into a proxy war, few African countries have issued an official response to Russia’s aggressions. Kenya, Gabon, Ghana, and Nigeria have spoken out against the escalating conflict. Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations made a rousing speech at the United Nations Security Council comparing the Ukraine conflict to the colonial legacy in Africa.

While South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, historically a key Russian ally in the BRICS group, appealed for a “mediation process” to bring the hostilities to an end, South Africa has also asked that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Russia has been expanding its military support in Libya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Mozambique with advances in Mali in fighting rebels and jihadist insurgents. The second Russia-Africa summit was scheduled for October to November this year in Addis Ababa. As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the deputy leader of Sudan’s junta, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti” Dagolo, led a delegation to Moscow to strengthen closer ties between the two countries. (Russia has gold mining concessions in Sudan.)

One of the important sanctions against Moscow was on high technology imports to Russia, noted Smirnova. “This will have an impact on relations with Africa. I think that Russia will continue to search for markets specifically in countries that could provide minerals for electronic components like cobalt,” she said. It is likely Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world could push it closer to countries such as Mali, which has been ostracized from much of Africa; the Central African Republic; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a mineral essential for electronic products and vehicles.

Adopted from Foreign Policy (.com)

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