Africa and the Russian Aggression against Ukraine – A Blog Series

By Prof. Dr. Ulf Engel, Institute of African Studies

How have African states and their continental organisation, the African Union (AU), responded to Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine? Have they developed a sense of unity – or are historic trajectories along Cold War lines playing out? Moreover, does their reaction offer insights into the yet again changing world order? And what are the repercussions of the war on Africa in economic and social terms? These are some of the questions that I will take up in a series of blogs over the next two weeks.

Part 1: How have African states responded to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine?

Part 2: What does the African vote in the emergency session of the UN General Assembly on Ukraine mean for German African relations?

Part 3: What is the economic fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine for Africa?

Part 4: The plight of African students in Ukraine

Part 5: Critical choices on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine: Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa

– 1

How have African states responded to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine?

7 March 2022

On 24 February 2022, two days after President Putin had officially ordered troops into the Ukrainian territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, which were already occupied by breakaway “rebels”, and on the very day when the Russian Federation also started invading the rest of the sovereign and independent state of Ukraine, the African Union (AU) issued a not outright unequivocal statement. The Chair of the African Union, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed “their extreme concern at the very serious and dangerous situation created in Ukraine”. They called “on the Russian Federation and any other regional or international actor to imperatively respect international law, the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine” (though the “any other”-part remained rather opaque). The statement further urged an immediate ceasefire and negotiations “under the auspices of the United Nations, in order to preserve the world from the consequences of planetary conflict, and in the interests of peace and stability in international relations in service of all the peoples of the world”. The spectre of a possible global escalation of the conflict beyond the Ukraine and the region was clearly seen early on.

On 26 February the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), at its 8979th meeting, discussed a draft resolution, submitted by Albania and the United States as the penholders on the issue. The text rejects, in the strongest terms, the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine as a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. It furthermore calls for an immediate ceasefire and the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine. In terms of conflict resolution, the draft resolution calls upon the conflict parties to abide by the Minsk agreements and to work in relevant international frameworks, referring to the so-called Normandy Format (France, Germany, Russia) and the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). The draft resolution, of course, was vetoed by the Russian Federation – while China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. Among the 11 states supportive of the condemnation of the Russian aggression were the three African non-permanent members of the Council (or the A3): Niger, Kenya, and Tunisia.

United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City, Image: Patrick Gruban, cropped and downsampled by Pine

To rally international support for Ukraine and circumvent another Russian veto, the United States organised a UNSC vote in favour of an emergency session of the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This instrument dates to the Korea war when the Soviet Union blocked the UNSC from functioning according to the UN Charter. It led to a change of the United Nation’s proceedings (3 November 1950). And it was only used ten times since. The emergency session vote is more politically symbolic, and legally non-binding. In a vote on 27 February 2022 the same 11 UNSC members that had supported the initial UNSC draft resolution (S/RES/2623 (2022)) condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine also voted in favour of this new move; Russia opposed and China, India and the United Arab Emirates again abstained.

In the end on 2 March 2022 141 out of 193 member states came out in favour of a motion which reaffirms Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity (UNGA A/ES-11/L.1). The resolution demands that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” Five countries voted against this resolution, including the Russian Federation, fellow aggressor Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria; 35 member states abstained and 12 did not participate in the debate to avoid being seen as taking sides (which seems short-sighted, anyway). 

How have the African member states voted? First of all, there was no unity among AU member states. 28 states supported Ukraine’s cause (including the A3), while 26 chose one way or the other or did not. Eritrea objected the resolution, a group of 17 states abstained and 8 African countries chose better not to show up at the meeting at all (see table 1, below).

Table 1: UNGA 11th emergency session. Vote on resolution A/ES-11/L.1, 2 March 2022


(28 out of 141 votes)

Benin, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Chad, Comoros, Côte d‘Ivoire, Djibouti, DR Congo, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mauretania, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tunisia, Zambia


(1 out of 5 votes)



(17 out of 35 votes)

Algeria, Angola, Burundi, CAR, Congo, Equatorial-Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe

No show

(8 out of 12 votes)

Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Morocco, Togo

Note: The resolution was co-sponsored by 94 member states, among others, by Botswana, DR Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, and Niger.
Source: UN Digital Library. URL: (accessed: 6 March 2022).

How can this voting pattern be explained? What are the commonalities among the groups of African states which did not condemn the aggression? And what is their rationale?

To start with those eight countries which relinquished their right to be heard and vote. The no-show policy of some African (and other) states at the UNGA has a long history, often related to votes which could potentially antagonize the former colonial master, in this case France, or other key donors and security providers. But this tactical stance also is a response to the transparent voting culture in the United Nations where every vote is recorded, and minutes of meetings are published so that really everyone interested can read them. In contrast, deliberations at the African Union are closed, untransparent and minutes (if existing) are not open to the public. So, in principle no one knows the views of AU member states as expressed at the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government or the AU Peace and Security Council. In this sense, deliberations at the UNGA are a moment of truth.

Second, there is a bloc of 17 AU member states which abstained. This includes Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. What these countries have in common is a special form of governance, i.e., national liberation movements in power with – in most cases – a poor record of political and economic governance. They all emanated from the armed struggles against apartheid and colonial oppression by white minority regimes in Southern Africa, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, or have served as the main interlocutor for the struggle (i.e., Tanzania which used to host the Liberation Committee of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union). The ruling parties of these six African countries form a club which used to meet on a regular basis to harmonise policies (though the last meeting seem to have taken place in 2013). But there is a clear bond which relates these parties and their governments to the support that they have received from the Soviet Union and her allies during “the struggle” (ok, in the case of Zimbabwe this is slightly more complicated as the ruling ZANU PF was not supported by the USSR, but ZAPU – yet this is another story).

Interestingly, save for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) none of the countries which are currently hosting a UN peacekeeping mission has supported the resolution. The Central African Republic CAR, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan abstained. Regarding the civilian and military missions under European Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) the picture is more complex. Hosting countries supportive of the resolution include Libya, Niger, and Somalia; countries not supporting the resolution are Mali and Mozambique.

And save for Niger all countries which have recently seen a coup d’état or an attempted putsch chose not to support the resolution: CAR, Mali and Sudan abstained, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo avoided to take part in the UN meeting. This would imply a “bad governance” angle as an explanatory. In many cases there also is an overlap with interventions of the notorious Wagner Group – a private-military company linked to the Kremlin and the Russian network of oligarchs. Wagner operations create “plausible deniability” for Moscow, but nevertheless further the foreign policy agenda of the Putin regime on the African continent. The Wagner Group protects autocratic presidents, fights “dissidents” or insurgencies, and in return gets its share of licences for natural resource extraction (e.g., gold): CAR, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, to name but a few of the group’s clients. Admittedly, most of these situations call for further close inspection (see also part 5 of this blog, on the critical choices on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa, forthcoming).

And of course, one can also safely assume that Western governments have exerted pressure on some of those AU member states which voted in favour of the resolution (for a related discussion, see part 2 of my blog, on German African relations after this vote). In this context it is also noteworthy that the West (NATO, European Union) presents the UNGA vote as an overwhelming rejection of the Russian aggression, counting the abstentions in favour of its position, while those abstained, claim the opposite. Needless to say, that 141 out of 193 votes still is a huge majority of states in favour of upholding international law.

To conclude on this first of a series of blogs on Africa and the aggression against Ukraine, the 2 March vote taken in the emergency session of the UN General Assembly not only reveals the extent of African support for the UN’s principles, shared values and international law, or lack thereof, but it also draws attention to a number of severe default positions which divide the members of the African Union. This is also reflected in the (fairly few) African media reports which have portrayed the topic from a perspective of “Africaness”. And as such it shows how difficult the process of developing “common positions” of and by the African Union really is. The idea of a common African foreign and security policy still is a utopia.

– 2

What does the African vote in the emergency session of the UN General Assembly on Ukraine mean for German African relations?

9 March 2022

On Sunday, 27 February 2022, German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in parliament a major revision of the country’s foreign policy doctrine. Because of the ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine important principles of Germany’s post-World War policy orientation were abandoned – most importantly its previous attempt of fostering close economic relations with Russia to make it more receptive to German / European foreign policy values, the provision of defensive arms to non-NATO countries in conflict, and restraint regarding own military spending levels. And the policy change may not stop here.[1] As a side-effect that hasn’t received much attention yet, bilateral relations between Germany and a number of African countries may be up for substantial changes, too. Why could this be the case?

Image: Adobe Stock

At the emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) held on 2 March 2022 a resolution was adopted in which the Russian aggression was condemned in very clear words (UNGA A/ES-11/L.1). 141 out of 193 member states also insisted on Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and emphasised the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. Five countries voted against this resolution, 35 abstained and 12 did not participate in the vote. As discussed in my last blog on this issue (7 March 2022), 28 out of the 54 African UN member states supported the resolution, one country (Eritrea) rejected it, 17 abstained from the vote and 8 did not participate in the session.

The “new realism” (for lack of a better word) entering Germany’s foreign policy may well also lead to a review of bilateral relations, beginning with this voting pattern. When it comes to Africa, development assistance plays a major role in defining the substance of bilateral relations. The responsible ministry, the BMZ (or Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), follows a staggered approach in its support to what is still called the “developing countries”. Globally, 61 countries enjoy privileged relations with Germany (in addition, those Least Developed Countries not falling into this category are supported through multilateral, mainly European forms of cooperation).

First, there is the group of 43 “bilateral”, “reform” and “transformation” partner countries. 

  • With 29 “bilateral partners”, the BMZ is pursuing long-term joint development aims.
  • In the context of “reform partnerships” a small group of seven countries is substantially supported in the introduction of market-based economies and democratic reforms.
  • And the “transformation partnerships” are targeting another seven countries in the EU neighbourhood on the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. 

Second, there is a group of eight countries falling under the category of “global partners”. Here, the BMZ aims at cooperation to solve key global challenges and shared transnational aims. And third, there are ten “nexus and peace partner” countries. In these cases, development assistance is meant to address the structural causes of conflict and the causes for people fleeing from these countries. It is also designed to support stability and peace processes in partner countries. 

From a “new realism” perspective is might be interesting to have a closer look at how the vote at the UNGA emergency session correlates with the special partnership status enjoyed in bilateral German African development assistance relations (see table 2). And I am certain that this kind of rethinking of how Germany engages with African countries is taking place right now, both in the BMZ but also the Foreign Office.

Table 2: Correlating German development partner status with African voting behaviour in the UNGA emergency session, 2 March 2022 

Status | Vote Yes (28 out of 141 states)Abstention(17 out of 35)No show (8 out of 12)
Bilateral partnerBenin, Egypt, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, ZambiaAlgeria, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, UgandaBurkina Faso, Cameroon
Reform partnerCôte d’Ivoire, Ghana, TunisiaSenegalEthiopia, Morocco, Togo
Global partner South Africa 
Nexus and peace partnerChad, DR Congo, Libya, SomaliaCAR, South Sudan, Sudan 

Note: Eritrea does not fall under any partner country status. Therefore, the country’s “no” vote is not registered here. Sources: BMZ 2020. ‘Reformkonzept “BMZ 2030”. Umsteuern – Umdenken’. Bonn: Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung; and UN Digital Library. URL: <> (accessed: 7 March 2022).

34 out of 54 African states enjoy one or the other preferential status under the German African development assistance regime. Half of them have either abstained from the vote or not participated in the assembly meeting. Particularly important in this respect, is the vote of the “reform partners” Ethiopia, Morocco, Senegal, and Togo as well as the only African “global partner”, i.e., South Africa. In addition to the three reform partners which have voted in favour of the resolution (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Tunisia), these countries are considered by German decision-makers to be the most important partners on the African continent. 

The question sooner or later to re-emerge in the German policy debate on Africa is the following: To what extend do bilateral partners support the values Germany stands for? And should non-support have consequences regarding the scope and intensity of bilateral development assistance? This is a déjà vu of similar debates on the introduction of politically conditionality in German African relations (although at the beginning of the 1980s there was no majority in the European Union to complement the economic conditionality of the Bretton Woods institutions this way). In the past decades German governments have not paid so much attention to this question, despite the odd cases of a “political dialogue” on human right and governance standards under articles 96–97 of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP states from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. Outside this multilateral track many bilateral relations were nurtured substantially – despite negligible returns in terms of the German normative political agenda. 

This is different from the way how the United States have approached this question. Since 1984 the Department of State is closely monitoring the voting behaviour of fellow UN member states (in terms of voting coincidence with the US).[2] The allocation of foreign aid is closely related to these voting patterns. Countries whose voting coincides to a high degree with that of the US are rewarded, while others see a reduction of foreign assistance. The current rethinking of German foreign policy, and by extension development assistance, may very well buy into the same logic of monitoring more precisely and taking decisions on an evidence-based approach – linked to redefined strategic and normative interests, or the “new realism” turn. 

To discuss but one example, the “global partner” state of South Africa.[3] Even though in foreign affairs the country has lost its moral compass since the years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency (not speaking about state capture and all current domestic challenges), Germany still considers South Africa to be a, if not the major bilateral partner on the African continent. If one looks at voting coincidence between Germany and South Africa at the UN General Assembly it seems that regarding common values, but also strategic interests, South Africa is not an easy partner for Germany: During the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (2020–2021, with 103 of 341 resolutions that were voted on by 9 September 2021), overall voting coincidence between the two countries was only 60.19 percent. Although this is an increase compared to the 74th UNGA session (2019–2020, 51.89%), the two governments are still far apart on issues such as arms control and Middle East policy, human rights, and the design of the international (economic) order.[4]

How will these questions be addressed under the “new realism” in German foreign policy? And how will African states respond to it? In any case the Russian invasion of Ukraine clearly will serve as a catalyst for a fundamental transformation of German foreign policy, possibly also vis-à-vis the African continent. 


[1] However, with more temporal distance to this speech, one may see a change of German foreign policy towards a “new realism” already beginning before 27 February 2022. This is, for instance, suggested by Gaskarth and Oppermann who discuss the re-emergence of a realist tradition in Germany’s discourse already last year. See Jamie Gaskarth and Kai Oppermann 2021. ‘Clashing Traditions: German Foreign Policy in a New Era’, International Studies Perspectives (22): 84–105. Similar observations were made by German think tanks who argued that the new German government coalition would “need to redefine the scope of Germany’s responsibility in world politics”. See Günther Maihold et al. (eds.) 2021. German Foreign Policy in Transition German. Volatile Conditions, New Momentum. Berlin: German Institute for International and Security Affairs (= SWP Research 2021/RP 10). 

[2] US Department of State 2021. Report to Congress on Voting Practices in the United Nations for 2020 Section 406 of Public Law 101-246 (22 U.S.C. 2414a). Washington DC: US Department of State. Interestingly, this annual report flags out two categories particularly relevant to the US government, i.e., votes which are generally “important” and votes which are “Israel-related” (for an overview on African votes as opposed to other world regions see p. 60). See also the excellent Al Jazeera website “How has my country voted at the UN?“, with data for the period 1946 to 2018. URL: <> (accessed: 7 March 2022).

[3] See also my forthcoming blog on 15 March 2022 on the critical choices some African governments, such as South Africa, were taking on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

[4] Own calculations based on the UN Digital Library.

– 3 –

What is the economic fallout of Russia’s war in Ukraine for Africa?

In the West, the economic implications of the sanction’s regime imposed on the Russian Federation after its invasion of Ukraine on our own countries are discussed. Day by day, the consequences are becoming more obvious. Within a just few days the German stock exchange index DAX has plummeted to early COVID-19 crisis levels, German car manufacturers had to stop production lines because crucial supply chains were interrupted, and energy prices are soaring. The disruption of Russian gas and coal deliveries to Western Europe is on the horizon. But what are the economic consequences of the war for African countries? In this blog I will discuss two dimensions: food exports and their likely impact on political stability, but also chances arising for African energy exporters amidst a reorientation of European energy importers.

Ukraine and the African continent

When the USSR still existed, Ukraine played a major role in Moscow’s Africa policy. It exported grain and heavy industrial goods, provided military training to the Southern African liberation movements, and offered university training to thousands of Africans, especially in medicine and engineering. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the close bonds at first came to a standstill. However, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, trade between Ukraine and the African continent was steadily recovering from the post-Cold War low. Exports to the continent have grown from a mere $210 million in 1996 to $4 billion in 2020. However, Ukrainian foreign direct investment on the continent is negligible (South Africa is the only destination worth mentioning); arms exports are low (ironically in 2020 Ukraine reported the export of portable anti-tank guided missiles and missile systems to Chad and Morocco). Today, Ukraine maintains diplomatic missions in ten African countries, with a cluster in the Maghreb (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia) and otherwise scattered across the major players on the continent (in East Africa Ethiopia and Kenya; in West Africa Nigeria and Senegal; and in Southern Africa Angola and South Africa).

Wheat stability: Egypt

Image: Adobe Stock

In contrast to the West, for African countries the most important economic dimension of the Russian war is not the energy sector, but food security – especially regarding wheat, maize, and sunflower oil. Ukraine is the world’s fifth biggest wheat producer. In 2020 the country was the source of 9.4 percent of global wheat and 13.5 percent of global maize exports (Russia: 20.7% and 1.1%, respectively).[1] In Africa the main buyers of Ukrainian wheat are Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ethiopia (Egypt is also the main buyer of Ukrainian maize). The extent of dependency on Ukrainian wheat supplies varies: Egypt is purchasing 10.7 percent of its wheat imports from Ukraine (2021), Morocco 14.6 percent (2020) and Ethiopia ca. 15 percent (2020) – but in the case of Tunisia Ukraine accounted for 47.4 percent of all wheat imports (2019). In the past Ukrainian wheat exports to Africa had benefited from Russia’s tight supplies and export restrictions. Nevertheless, Russia is still the major wheat exporter to Egypt, to name but one example.[2]

Against this background, the war is aggravating an already existing food security crisis in north-eastern Africa, especially in Egypt. The military regime of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is facing an existential dual food security and budget problem. In August 2021 the government had to increase the price for subsidized bread which was kept at 5 piasters since 1988 (while the current real cost is 65 piastres).[3]Following an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2016, after which subsidies for electricity, water and fuel subsidies were substantially reduced, bread has remained the single most important subsidy for 66.7 million low-income Egyptians which are granted access to food through state-issued ration cards. The annual consumption of bread is estimated at between 150 and 180 kilograms per capita (in contrast to a global average of 70 to 80 kilograms). And state subsidies amount to $5.6 billion per year![4]

In early 2022, and just before the Russian invasion, a staggering 23 percent of Egypt’s wheat imports came from Ukraine (another 43% from Romania and 29% from Russia). On the eve of the Russian invasion a bushel (or 60 lb) of wheat was traded on the Chicago Board of Trade, one of the oldest futures and options exchange, at $7.95 – by 7 March the price had increase by 63.5 per cent to $12.51 (though yesterday it eased to $10.43).[5] The war prompted a special meeting of the Egyptian cabinet on the question of wheat imports. Being supportive of the UNGA emergency session resolution condemning Russia, Egypt is currently trying to diversify the sources of its these imports beyond the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Alternative producers could be the United States, France, Canada, and Argentine. 

Historically in the MENA region, food insecurity and especially price hikes for bread have been associated with popular uprisings (the latest in 2018 in Jordan). In Egypt, the IMF bread riots of 1977 are still infamous. Hundreds of thousands protested a price hike; the military quelled the protests, killing 79 and injuring 556 people. And clearly today’s military rulers in Egypt are pretty much aware of the threat to regime security which could emanate from further price increases of the country’s staple food.[6]

But the current changes in the global wheat market after the Russian aggression against Ukraine are not just affecting Egypt. Because of years of climate-induced environmental change, and after three years of drought, countries in East Africa are also extremely vulnerable in the current situation (e.g., Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia). 

LNG dreams: Mozambique

Conversely, the way this war is changing the global energy architecture may benefit a particular group of African countries – those exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). They may see an increase in German and other country’s demand for LNG as these states are struggling to reduce their dependency on the Russian Federation. Germany, for instance, is currently relying on three major sources of natural gas: the Russian Federation (in 2020: 55.2%), Norway (30.6%), and the Netherlands (12.7%). These figures, however, are fairly dynamic. In 2019 the composition was: Russia (50.7%), Norway (25.4%), and Netherlands (21.4%).[7]LNG is a viable option to reduce dependency on Russia natural gas. 

Image: Adobe Stock

Potentially the African group of LNG producers includes Mozambique, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and some others. Currently the main global LNG exporters are Australia, Qatar, and the United States, followed by Malaysia, Algeria, Russia, and Nigeria. But when it comes to future potential, the biggest proofed reserves of LNG can be found in Nigeria, Algeria, Senegal, and Mozambique. Major LNG projects are already operated, or about to start soon, off the coast of Lindi in Southern Tanzania (with an investment by Shell and other companies of $30 billion), off the coast of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique (led by ExxonMobil, with an investment volume of another $30 billion), with another $20 billion project on the Afungi Peninsula in the Cabo Delgado Province, in the Niger Delta river region (the $20 billion Ogidigben Gas Revolution Industrial Park run by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation), and in the offshore Etan and Zabazaba oil fields off the Niger Delta (with an $13.5 billion investment by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, Eni and Nigerian Agip Exploration).[8]

Whether this is an opportunity or another resource curse for African countries is a different question. Previous experience shows that in most cases African national elites have colluded with multinational companies in natural resource extraction, causing displacement and alienation of local populations, and failing to invest profits into areas of production. Mozambique is a case in point.[9] The huge gas fields in the Rovuma Basin off the northern coast of Cabo Delgado have caused a bonanza with international multinational companies (including Russia’s Gazprom) coming to the poverty-stricken country.[10] Initial hopes were high. But then in October 2017 a homegrown Jihadist insurgency started destabilizing the whole province. For decades the state had neglected this part of the country, grievances – especially among the unemployed and uneducated youth – had increased to a point where they became an easy prey for violent extremists (by now boosted by experienced Jihadist fighters coming from the eastern DR Congo).[11] As a result, most multinationals have frozen their investments, and Rwanda as well as the regional economic community, SADC, had to send troops to Mozambique to fight the insurgency (btw, this was after a brief and unsuccessful deployment of the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries in Cabo Delgado in 2019).[12]

To conclude, the foreseeable diversification of Western gas imports will be directly linked to severe social and political effects on the African continent. And in addition, it should be clear that the LNG perspective for African countries, such as Mozambique, will only work for the next two or three decades or so (also depending on when these projects really start to deliver): Though may be more resilient than other carbons, ultimately LNG will be out phased and substituted by renewable energy sources. The European countries which are trying to uncouple from Russian gas imports are also trying to decarbonize their economies – latest by 2050. And, finally, African LNG exporting countries could learn a negative lesson from Russia: They should not just cash-in the profits arising from LNG exports and continue an economic model which has no future, but strategically invest into different forms of industrialization and a sustainable post-carbon economy – also to address the structural causes of conflict within their own societies, as in Cabo Delgado. 


[1] For some of the facts see Marina Leiva, “Which countries are most exposed to interruption in Ukraine food exports?”, Investment Monitor [London], 4 March 2022. URL: <> (accessed: 8 Mach 2022).

[2] See Andrew R. Sowell and Bryn Swearingen 2022. “Wheat Outlook: February 2022”, WHS-22b, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 11 February. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). The latest update of the “Wheat Outlook” will be published today. 

[3] Al-Monitor [Washington DC], 9 August 2021. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). 

[4] The National News [Abu Dhabi], 7 March 2022. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). 

[5] See URL: <> (accessed: 10 March 2022). 

[6] See Leyla Dakhli and Vincent Bonnecase 2021. “When ‘Adjusted’ People Rebel: Economic Liberalization and Social Revolts in Africa and the Middle East (1980s to the Present Day)”, International Review of Social History 66 (special issue S29).

[7] See Statista [Hamburg]. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). 

[8] Energy Capital & Power [Cape Town], 22 July 2021. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). 

[9] See, for instance, Padil Salimo 2018. “The politics of LNG. Local state power and contested demands for land acquisitions in Palma, Mozambique”. In: J. Schubert, U. Engel, and E. Macamo (eds.) Extractive Industries and Changing State Dynamics in Africa. Beyond the Resource Curse. Routledge: London, New York NY, 89–111; and Amigos da Terra Internacional 2020. “Do Eldorado Do Gás Ao Caos. Quando a França empurra Moçambique para a armadilha do gás”. Amsterdam: Friends of the Earth International. 

[10] See Daily Maverick [Johannesburg], 18 September 2020. URL: <> (accessed: 8 March 2022). 

[11] See João Feijó (eds.) 2021. “How is Cabo Delgado?”. Maputo: Observatório de Meia Rural. 

[12] Daily Maverick, 15 and 29 November 2019. URL: <>; and <> (both accessed: 8 March 2022). 

– 4 –

The plight of African students in Ukraine

14 March 2021

Like many other people, African students are trying to flee from Ukraine. Many have been trapped, some have experienced blatant acts of racism when inhibited from leaving Ukraine or refused entry into safe neighbouring European countries. In this fourth part of my blog on Africa and the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine I am interested in the fate of African students struggling to escape from the reanimated bloodlands. By 6 March 2022, more than 10,000 international students are said to have managed to flee from Ukraine; exact numbers and nationalities are not known.[1]

In 2021, Ukraine hosted 76,000 foreign students, among them roughly a quarter coming from African counties and half of them from India. The biggest African student communities in Ukraine are from Morocco (c. 8,000), Egypt (c. 5,000), Nigeria (c. 4,000), and Ghana (c. 1,000).[2] Like in Soviet times, many of the students are enrolled in medical, engineering and – this is post-Soviet reality – business programmes. Why study in Ukraine in the first place? Universities enjoy a degree of international reputation, programmes are affordable, many courses are offered in English, living costs are comparatively reasonable, post-studies residency is an option, and Ukraine can work as a gateway to the European Union.

Image: Adobe Stock

Getting out

Initial concerns of African students as the Russian aggression was building up before 24 February 2022 included their safety and student status: Some students reported that their request to move courses online as the crisis loomed were not met. Also, at this stage leaving was not an option as course instructors threatened to fine students missing class. Many universities only seem to have moved classes online the day before the Russian invasion.[3]

            All flights out of Ukraine were disconnected on 24 February 2022. Two days later, the 25-year-old Algerian Mohammed Abdel Monaim Talbi was the first student from Africa to die in this war; he was killed in Kharkiv during a Russian bombardment.[4] Belatedly, on 2 March the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a hotline for international students.[5] Soon it became clear that African students, as much as any other internationals, better had to get out of the country quickly. However, fleeing Ukraine like hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians turned out to get complicated. Reportedly, most African governments had no position on the fate of their nationals in Ukraine. While in the wake of the invasion Western countries called on their subjects to leave Ukraine, it seems no African government has done so. Representatives of the Nigerian student union in Ukraine said that they did not even get a response on this issue from the Nigerian embassy in Kyiv.[6] Some African states, for instance Angola, refused nationals who had “irregularly migrated to Ukraine” to be evacuated.[7]

And increasingly African media outlets reported of instances in which Africans had to grapple with physical threats, racial discrimination, and conflicting information while trying to leave Ukraine. These acts of racism were committed by Ukrainians, either fellow refugees or border security. Africans were barred from bomb shelters, were refused at knifepoint to enter trains to Poland – or selectively removed from trains –, they had to queue at border posts in “racially” separated lines, and so on.[8] The Nigerian presidency stated on 24 February: “There have been unfortunate reports of Ukrainian police and security personnel refusing to allow Nigerians to board buses and trains heading towards the Ukraine-Poland border”.[9]

Getting into

This ordeal did not end on the Ukrainian side of the borders to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary Romania, and Moldova – even though the European Union had waived all visa restrictions for African refugees from Ukraine.[10] Many Africans were racially profiled when claiming their international right to cross the border to safety. While waiting for hours at minus temperatures before being allowed to cross the Ukraine/Hungary border, Hungarian border control reportedly offered food to white refugees, while withholding it from black African groups.[11]

In a keynote address at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on 28 February South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, was “shocked this morning to get a message that African students trying to get through the Poland border were being pushed to the back of the line because they are black and being denied entry in the queue position in which they were in. And this just goes to prove that we continue to suffer the awful plight of racism”.[12] In response to these reports, on the very same day the current chair of the African Union, Senegal’s president Macky Sall, and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued a joint statement in which they expressed their irritation. They recalled that all people had the right to cross international borders during conflict. Sensing acts of racism they stressed that African citizens “should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine, notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity”.[13]

On 2 March, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, at a press conference stated: “There should be absolutely no discrimination between Ukrainians, and non-Ukrainians, Europeans and non-Europeans. Everybody is fleeing from the same risks.”[14] The following day Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted that foreign citizen fleeing Ukraine should be assisted equally – acknowledging, for the first time, the racial discrimination on the border: “Africans seeking evacuation are our friends and need to have equal opportunities to return to their home countries safely”.[15]

Getting home

Following the main railway lines and motorways in and around Ukraine, the key nodes of the newly emerging topography of escape routes from Ukraine include Krakow and Warsaw (Poland), Bucharest (Romania), Budapest (Hungary) as well as Chișinău (Moldova). From there Berlin (Germany) and Vienna (Austria) – places with a certain density of African embassies and well-established flight connections to the African continent – become secondary nodes (in the case of Berlin, which is not exactly what one could call a hub in this respect, via Frankfurt/Main).[16]

In many countries bordering Ukraine unlikely alliances of African actors quickly emerged: embassies worked together with national chapters of student associations, but also the Church of Pentecost, and other religious bodies, as well as humanitarian NGOs to organise accommodation and food before flights back home could be arranged (e.g., Ghana in Hungary). On 1 March 2022, Ghana was the first African country that managed to evacuate students fleeing from the war.[17] It was also the first African country to successfully evacuate most of its c. 2,000 citizens from Ukraine, including the vast majority of the student population. Ghana also arranged for some of her students to continue their studies in Romania. In other cases, for instance South Africa, even finding a varsity back home seems to be a challenge.[18]

A Janus-faced Europe

One final observation. In the past decade EU member states have shown two different faces to refugees. On the one hand – especially during 2015, but also in 2021 – many member states refused to open their borders to refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, respectively (and they also pushed back many migrants from Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean). Although some few countries accepted hundreds of thousands of refugees, many others refused to do so. On the other hand right now EU members states collectively are displaying a great sense of hospitality to refugees from Ukraine.[19] And despite all previous controversies they managed to set up a joint mechanism for the distribution of refugees upon entry across the Union. This solidarity is unmatched and must be applauded unequivocally. However, there remains a stale taste of hypocrisy and double standards. It seems that African students (and any other persons of colour) fleeing from war-torn Ukraine were shown the EU’s first face of a xenophobic defence union.


[1] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) [London], 4 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[2] In addition, there are of course several other African non-student nationals in Ukraine. However, exact figures are difficult to find. Many news reports simply copy from each other; official figures are scant. The website of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science is still available but displays no information on international students. See here (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[3] BBC [London], 4 March 2022. See footnote 1.

[4] Al-Fanar Media [London], 4 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[5] see here: visitukraine (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[6] See African Argument [London], 3 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[7] Deutsche Welle [Bonn], 3 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[8] Representative for many reports see African Argument [London], 3 March 2022 (see footnote 4); and Daily Maverick [Johannesburg], 3 March 2022. (both accessed: 12 March 2022). See also the @AfricansinUkraine or @BlackForeignersInUkraine with comments and visuals of this experience.

[9] Al Jazeera [Doha], 28 February 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[10] The East African [Nairobi], 2 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[11] Daily Maverick, 4 March 2022. (accessed: 4 March 2022).

[12] See China Global Television Network (CGTN)[Beijing], 2 March 2022. Interestingly this part of her speech was as not reproduced in the version shared on the department’s website: Department of International Relations and Cooperation [Pretoria], 28 February 2022. (accessed: 11 March 2022).

[13] AU Press Statement [Addis Ababa], 28 February 2022. (accessed: 28 February 2022).

[14] UN News [New York NY], 1 March 2022. (accesses on 2 March 2022).

[15] Cable News Network (CNN) [Atlanta GA], 2 March 2022. (accessed: 4 March 2022).

[16] University World News (Africa edition) [London], 3 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[17] Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) [Accra], 1 March 2022. @GTVBreakfast.

[18] Daily Maverick, 13 March 2022. (accessed: 13 March 2022).

[19] See the European Commission’s website: „Information for people fleeing the war in Ukraine“, 12 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

– 5 –

Critical choices on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in some key African states: Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa

15 March 2022

Critical choices

Coming back to the topic of my first blog in this series. On 7 March 2022, I looked at the vote during the emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 2 March 2022 which condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. 141 member states voted in favour of this resolution, among them 28 African. One African country sided with the Russian no vote – Eritrea. Among the 35 abstentions, 17 come from African countries. And out of the group of 12 countries not participating in the vote, 8 were from the African continent.

Image: Canva

In the following I will review the critical choices three African countries had to make on the question of Russia’s war of aggression: Kenya which was supportive, South Africa which abstained, and Ethiopia which preferred not to show up at all. A closer look at the reasons for their votes reveals some of the challenges of navigating today’s global politics and defining an African country’s position vis-à-vis situations that are not of their own making, but which by default they cannot escape from.[1]

For all three countries the war against Ukraine is rather untimely. Kenya is in the middle of a critical presidential succession race. South Africa is still struggling to develop a coherent foreign policy which is at the same time value based and aligned to a peer group that has yet to be clearly defined (SADC, Africa, BRICS, G20?). The domestic struggle within the ruling party and the fallout of years of state capture under the Zuma administration doesn’t help in this context. And Ethiopia is in the middle of a war with itself which has considerable implications for the Horn of Africa.


The East African country has endorsed the resolution condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine in the UNGA emergency session on 2 March 2022. The country not only is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the period 2021–2022, but it also serves on the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (2019–2022). In recent years Kenya has developed a more active foreign policy and international visible profile.

After Russia’s recognition of Ukrainian Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UNSC, Martin Kimani, on 21 February delivered a well-crafted statement which soon went viral. Rejecting the Russian move in no uncertain terms, and reviewing the colonial history of the African continent and its post-colonial acceptance of colonial borders, Kimani stated:

Image: Canva

“We believe that all states formed from empires that have collapsed or retreated have many peoples in them yearning for integration with peoples in neighbouring states. This is normal and understandable. After all, who does not want to be joined to their brethren and to make common purpose with them? However, Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression. We rejected irredentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious or cultural factors. We reject it again today.”[2]

The Kenyan position on the Russian aggression was guided by legal principles, a clear understanding of Africa’s post-colonial trajectory, and passion.

Usually voting in the Council is less controversial as one might assume. During the time Kenya has been a non-permanent UNSC member (since 1 January 2021) 64 resolutions and one draft resolution came to a vote.[3] In most cases all Council members amicably managed to agree on the content (i.e., 15–0–0). Only on 11 resolutions some Council members did not vote “yes”. In this respect, Kenya’s voting coincidence with the United States is 98.48 per cent, with China 87.88 per cent and with Russia only 84.85 per cent.[4] Yet this does not mean, that Kenya’s interest can simply be explained through a geo-political lens. In the case of Russia’s war, Kenya’s vote, first and foremost, is based on principles of multilateralism, international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all UN member states, and peaceful conflict resolution.

South Africa

Abstaining in the UNGA emergency session on 2 March 2022, South Africa certainly did not match Western expectations (the country had also abstained in the UNSC vote condemning Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014). The vote was preceded by an internal debate in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and government on how to position the country in this conflict. On 24 February 2022 the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) called on its website on Russia “to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine in line with the United Nations Charter”.[5] It also urged “all parties to approach the situation in a spirit of compromise, with all sides respecting international law”. A compromise over territorial integrity? And then South Africa backpaddled.

The following day president Cyril Ramaphosa opined that: “Some of us were very disappointed when the meeting between President Biden and President Putin did not happen. Because if that meeting had gone ahead without any conditions, I’m sure we would have avoided the calamitous situation that is unfolding now”.[6] During the UNGA emergency session on 1 March South Africa’s Permanent Representative, Mathu Joyini, argued:

Image: Canva

“South Africa is of the view that this armed conflict, like all others, will result in unnecessary human suffering and destruction with global ramifications. … We urge all parties to approach the situation in a spirit of compromise, with all sides upholding human rights, abiding by their obligations under international law and international humanitarian law. … A diplomatic solution to the problem should address the security concerns of the parties”.[7]

Nowhere did the Permanent Representative criticise Russia’s invasion or called for Russia to pull out of Ukraine. Brazil was the only member of the BRICS group of states (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that joined the international condemnation of the Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, former president Jacob G. Zuma (2009–2018) felt the need to defend his old buddy Vladimir Putin. On 6 March he described the Russian president as “a man of peace”.[8] And he repeated Putin’s justification for the aggression, i.e., the “threats posed by the US” and “NATO’s eastward expansion” (yes, this is the same president who fired his minister of finance in December 2015 because Nhlanhla Nene refused to endorse a huge nuclear deal with Russia’s Rosatom which would have oiled Zuma’s corrupt networks with billions of Rand; and it’s the same president whose country in March 2011 approved in the UNSC of the establishment of a no-flight zone in Libya). To Zuma it appeared “justifiable” that Russia was “provoked”. He furthermore inferred that “without the Western powers backing Ukraine, the impasse between Russia and Ukraine could be resolved quickly and amicably”.[9] But then he also believes that these Western forces, in an alliance with the “white monopoly capital” faction in his own party, had removed him from power in 2018.

South Africa’s divided ANC elite is in a tricky position. According to the South African Communist Party (SACP,) which is part of the governing ANC tri-partite alliance (together with the trade union federation COSATU), NATO is the “primary aggressor” in this conflict. Because of historic bonds to the Soviet Union during the liberation struggle, the country’s current role in the BRICS alliance (in which South Africa is by far the weakest part), but also the permanent crisis of the politically organised left in South Africa, the country’s leadership wants to steer a course between appeasing Moscow and not alienating the West at the same time.[10] Good luck.

After a call with Putin on 10 March, president Ramaphosa issued a statement in which he indicated that he was asked to mediate in the conflict (without disclosing who had invited him). Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, immediately expressed her concern: “I believe negotiations are between two sides. And two sides must confirm the negotiator. I’m worried when the negotiator doesn’t call ‘war’ the war.”[11]


Image: Canva

The East African country did not attend the UNGA emergency session on 2 March 2022, as did seven other African countries. Referring to his own ongoing war between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the north of the country, it was only a day later that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called “upon all parties involved [in the war in Ukraine] to exercise maximum caution in engagement and refrain from further exacerbating a sensitive situation”. He further expressed Ethiopia’s “sincerest wishes for peace to prevail as all concerned parties explore peaceful alternatives to the current status quo.”[12]

Clearly missing the point, and using a historically wrong analogy, the 2019 Nobel peace prize winner constructed a conflict in which both parties had their share of blame to take. If I remember correctly, it was the Russian Federation which waged a war of aggression against Ukraine, and not the other way around. Ethiopia’s struggle to position herself, of course, must be read against the experience of two years of war within the country. The former darling of the West has been severely criticised for the way the federal army and the regional special forces have handled their fight against the TPLF, including gross human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.[13] Especially the United States have become very critical of the Ethiopian government. Effective 1 January 2022 it had terminated the country’s access to the rather lucrative 2000 African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) under which preferential trade access is granted to the US.[14] From an Ethiopian government’s perspective, during the war, especially in 2021, the United States had become a supporter of the TPLF. In its effort to fight off the TPFL (which by now is contained pretty much to the Tigray region, despite some incursions into neighbouring territories such as Afar and Amhara), the Ethiopian government nowadays relies on a rather unusual set of partners, including China, Turkey, Iran, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.


This is the last blog of a series of five in which I discussed some of the implications of the Russian war on Ukraine for African countries. It illustrates, I suggest, the intricacies of today’s global condition and the challenges for randomly chosen African countries to align themselves with a global order which is not entirely of their own making. Nevertheless, at the same time African agency is very much visible in all three cases (see also my second blog on this issue, 9 March 2022). However, in the case of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine this agency is not a collective one, as aspired by the founders of the Organisation of African Unity and its successor, the African Union.

[1] For a pointed comment on Namibia’s abstention in the UNGA emergency session see Henning Melber, “Namibia’s abstention on Russia violates its foreign policy principles”, The Conversation [Melbourne], 6 March 2022. (accessed: 6 March 2022).

[2] The Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya United Nations Security Council 2021–2022. ‘Statement by Amb. Martin Kimani, during the Security Council Urgent Meeting on the Situation in Ukraine’, New York, 21 February 2022. (accessed: 22 February 2022).

[3] S/RES/2561 (29 January 2021) to S/RES/2624 (28 February 2022).

[4] Own calculations, based on UN Digital Library. URL: <> and <> (both accessed: 12 March 2022).

[5] DIRCO Media Statement [Pretoria], 24 February 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[6] Daily Maverick [Johannesburg], 6 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[7] DIRCO Media Statement, 1 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[8] Daily Maverick, 7 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022)

[9] Independent Online (IOL) [Johannesburg], 7 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[10] For a detailed account of bilateral relation see the excellent report in Daily Maverick, 8 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022). Somewhat along the lines of my argument also Keith Gottschalk who stresses the importance of the ANC’s history to understand the vote. The Conversation, 11 March 2022. (accessed: 14 March 2022).

[11] Daily Maverick, 12 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[12] Addis Standard [Addis Ababa], 3 March 2022. (accessed: 12 March 2022).

[13] See OCHCR/EHRC 2021. Report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)/Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Joint Investigation into Alleged Violations of International Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Law Committed by all Parties to the Conflict in the Tigray Region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Geneva, Addis Ababa: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. (accessed: 3 November 2021).

[14] See here (accessed: 12 March 2022).

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
recentglobe (2022, 11. März). Africa and the Russian Aggression against Ukraine – A Blog Series. Global Dynamics. Abgerufen am 19. Mai 2024, von

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