African nations must base their foreign policy on their national interests and not on past ideological ties

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• GUILLAUME GUMÈDE

RUSSIA’S WAR on Ukraine, which has negatively affected the economies, political stability and investment attraction of most African countries, underscores that these countries must pursue individual foreign policies.

This should be a policy that safeguards their own political and strategic interests, to ultimately ensure that such support stimulates domestic economic growth, employment and stability.

This means that African countries must stop associating themselves with industrial and emerging powers on the basis of the past, the ideology and the personal connections of the leaders. On the contrary, they must give priority to their national development and their democratic and peaceful interests in these diplomatic relations.

Nineteen African countries have always supported, or are perceived to have supported, Russia in its war against Ukraine, based on the past support of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) for independence and liberation of Africans during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid periods – even though this often came at the expense of their national economies, public finances and stability.

The war has had a direct and disproportionate impact on the livelihoods of the poor. It has led to higher food, energy and transport prices, an increase in the cost of living and pressure on public finances already under pressure. And that is holding back economic growth.

In addition, because of the war, foreign investors are likely to inhibit new investment in South Africa and other African countries.

In times of global uncertainty, investors often shift their positions from emerging markets. Western governments are likely to divert development funds to Eastern Europe. This will affect essential services provided by many NGOs in Africa.

FOOD SECURITY AND RESOURCES

A collapse in global economic growth could lead to a sharp drop in demand for some African commodities, which would reduce the incomes on which many African countries depend. The war also causes food price hikes, food shortages, energy increases, soaring cost of living and loss of income for many African countries.

Even if the war ends soon, the destruction of Ukraine – one of the world’s breadbaskets – and the continuation of Western economic sanctions against Russia – the world’s third largest oil producer, largest gas exporter and sixth largest coal producer – only aggravates this situation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said this month that more than a quarter of Africa’s population – 346 million – faces a food security crisis “that is causing millions of families to skip meals every day, an alarming hunger situation which is likely to worsen in the months to come”.

Hardline religious organizations and populist and separatist groups could take advantage of increased political instability in African countries caused by a protracted war between Russia and Ukraine.

Combined with a food crisis and dwindling development funding, this could lead to a new wave of mass popular uprisings, coups and terrorist insurgencies across the continent, as well as migration away from local conflicts.

African countries can also experience devastating food riots – hunger makes people less tolerant of autocratic, incompetent and insensitive governments.

African countries that support Russia are more likely to be isolated by Western powers and investors, sabotaging their attempts to attract new investment and ultimately undermining their national economic growth.

This comes at a time when these countries desperately need new resources to fight poverty and unemployment and to stop their rapid deindustrialization.

‘ENGAGED IN WIDENESS’

African countries have also backed Russia on the grounds that the country is an adversary of American and Western powers, which many African leaders oppose relentlessly because of their domination of global institutions, the economy and markets.

More recently, Russia has provided troops to support autocratic African leaders: countries supported militarily by Russia have tended to support the country in return.

Russia has recently sold military hardware, nuclear power and technology, and invested in oil and gas developments in Africa, often using loan programs, in which Russia acts both as a seller and financial – locking the recipient of Russia’s largesse into the Russian political sphere.

Western powers have isolated Russia internationally, launched sanctions against it and confiscated the assets of key Russian political leaders, oligarchs and figures associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The problem now is that countries perceived by Western nations, global investors and ordinary citizens as aiding and abetting Russia could suffer collateral economic damage.

This could cause negative market sentiment and a pullback from investment, just when there is a desperate need to raise post-Covid-19 growth levels to fight poverty and unemployment and reverse deindustrialisation.

OPPORTUNITIES

The world has now become a multipolar world, moving away from the dominance of the US-led world order – which reigned in the post-Cold War era – to one where power will be more evenly distributed among regions and countries of the world.

Foreign policy is likely to become more complex and must be more strategic and closely linked to national economic interests, political stability and the interests of constitutional democracy.

That said, the Russian-Ukrainian war also offers opportunities for many African countries. African oil and gas producers could take advantage of global oil and gas shortages caused by the war.

However, African oil and gas producers need to ensure stable supply, invest in infrastructure and fight corruption. Non-oil and gas producers should step up renewable energy generation – the competitive advantage of many African countries.

African countries need industrial strategies that diversify their manufacturing and agricultural production to strengthen agriculture and produce the products they need but currently import.

They also need to trade more with each other and look for alternative markets for the products they traditionally export to Russia and Ukraine, and the products imported from these countries, such as wheat and vital inputs like fertilizers.

The crucial point is that African countries must link their foreign policy to their strategic national economic interests, political stability and investment attraction – rather than basing it on mere ideology, leadership relationships or corrupt interests. .

*This article is an abridged and edited excerpt from a new report, “The Russian-Ukrainian War: Impact on South Africa, Fellow BRICS Members, and Africa,” published by the Inclusive Society Institute, via dailymaverick.co.za

* William Gumede is Associate Professor at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand and author of “South Africa in Brics”

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