Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta meets with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame on February 3, 2022. Photo credit: President Kagame press office

Kenya feels the heat from Russia-Ukraine conflict

8 mins read

As neighboring regions make a stand following sanctions against Russia, the complicated relationship between Russia, China and Africa might be clean-cut after all.

Disregarding the geographical distance, many African countries remain in tumult as the Russia-Ukraine conflict persists. Kenya especially witnessed a 5.08 percent inflation by February 2022 because of it. To that point, the crisis significantly changed global oil supply forecasts. 

Overall, Russia is the world’s second-largest oil producer and a major natural gas exporter. Because its economy heavily depends on oil and gas revenue, Moscow wants prices to remain elevated. Of late, depleting stockpiles and diplomatic tensions has caused prices to peak at their highest since 2014. For the first time in eight years, a barrel of oil hit $100 with fears of arriving at $140.  

“Everything is so expensive and the prevailing situation is chaotic. The public transport fee and car fuelling rates are high.” Leparan Kaila, a government official with the Industry and Enterprise Development told Ark Republic. “Then again, there is the inevitable crime. In conjunction with theft cases, financial instability has driven electoral misconduct. Some citizens accept bribes to incite violence in various primary election centers,” he concluded. Important to realize, campaigns and preparations are ongoing for the August general elections.

Eventually, the Petroleum Outlets Association of Kenya (POAK) lamented about a tough wholesale market grappling with unrealistic costs and artificial shortages. A cause also pointing to gradual pandemic recovery. Formerly, the catastrophe disrupted global supply chains, making it more expensive and tedious to access or move goods as well as services across borders.

By the same token, the nation faces the unfortunate pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to raise more revenue. Hence, the government has increased taxes on everyday household goods such as cooking gas, fuel and food.

In the last few weeks, Kenyans on social media expressed outrage and blamed the government for the high cost of living. The hiked flour and milk prices prompted a spiral into “survival for the fittest” situations. Gas stations are left with hundreds of people held up in long queues for hours. Others took to the streets waving card boxes written, “lower the cost of living” and “no food, no elections.

Politics in Kenya intensifies around elections. Photo credit: Photo credit: Rohan Odhiambo on Unsplash

For the first few months, the government subsidized oil prices to keep them unchanged. Nonetheless, they were unable to keep up with the marketers` payments, a cause that pushed the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) to discontinue the subsidy.

“There is a silent protest among the local marketers. They have to carry out the oil hoarding because the government’s budget will be read very soon.” Oke Kaka Juma from Luyaa Television Kenya told Ark Republic. “If they are not included, it means that they will have to wait till the inauguration of the next government.” He concluded.

To end the ongoing fuel shortage crisis, Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau said that oil marketing companies will be paid subsidy arrears amounting to $113 million.

This past March, the Managing Director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, met various African leaders and diplomats to discuss notable repercussions. During the gathering, Georgieva mentioned that the unprecedented sanctions imposed on Russia come at a “delicate time for Africa.” She furthered, upholding, “war in Ukraine means hunger in Africa.” 

The IMF promised to assist African countries address the repercussions of war. In addition, they pledged to support the design and implementation of reforms to help meet financing needs.

Albeit, with IMF`s conclusions, not everyone seems to comply. Ding Magot, a journalist with Voice of America, South Sudan in Focus, affirmed to Ark Republic that Africa is already too financially dependent.

“As Africa, we already have enough loans from China and the IMF itself, we cannot add on to that. We are not oblivious to the repercussions in delayed loan repayments.” She concluded by referring to the Chinese settlement in African countries. A cause she claimed, was provoked by extreme dependency.

Trade disruption

As top wheat producer, Ukraine set export restrictions on the crop and other agricultural products at the initial stages of the war. In particular, Kenya relies on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia

The land formerly used for the crop’s production has been subdivided or converted for other uses such as maize farming, which is a staple crop in the region. On the other hand, millers have argued that high local prices have made them uncompetitive in the market. The government compels them to pay farmers a higher cost per bag. Thus, they’re turning to imports. Subsequently, this has enormously affected local wheat production in a country where bread and other grain products are a daily staple.

Aside from marathons and beautiful landscapes, Kenya is a well-known agricultural hub. It is a dominant coffee and tea exporter, both crops that thrive on fertilizers.

Western sanctions on Russia, a major exporter of soil nutrients such as potash, mucked up shipments of those key inputs around the globe. Like Zimbabwe, farmers are reverting to manure to nourish crops.

As it is a two-way street, global sanctions to punish Russia for invading Ukraine halted millions of Kenya’s tea, coffee and flower exports to the world’s largest country, China, resulting in an estimated $86 million loss. While they hope the conflict between the two Eastern European countries ends soon, some of the options encompass exporting to Oman and Saudi Arabia with the risk of less profits.

Long-term investments and historical ties inspire state bonds 

BRICS Summit outreach event in Johannesburg on July 27, 2018 with heads of state, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin. BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill coined the term BRIC in 2001, claiming that by 2050 the four BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would come to dominate the global economy by 2050. South Africa was added to the list in 2010. Photo credit: Ministry of External Affairs India on Flickr

When the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn Russia’s invasion, 51 percent of African countries voted in favor of the resolution, while the rest abstained or were not “in the room.” Thirty one percent of African countries also abstained from outright condemnation of Russia’s actions. The vote shows the complicated, but essential relationship between Russia and key African nations.

On a trip down memory lane, Moscow wrote off more than $20 billion in debt accumulated by African countries during the Soviet era at the 2019 Africa-Russia summit. Even though some Africans are in this alliance guided by Russia’s championing, others see this as yet another economically powerful state out to rob Africa blind.

Besides, many countries across the continent are still ruled by parties that were supported by Moscow during their struggles for liberation from colonial rule. One of them would be the popular African National Congress (ANC), formed during apartheid in South Africa. As one of the 17 African countries to abstain from voting on the UN resolution, calling on Russia to a ceasefire. President Cyril Ramaphosa said that he would not be swayed into adopting an “adversarial” position, yet blamed NATO for Moscow’s invasion.

“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from among its leaders and officials over the years. It`s eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.” He recently told Parliament.

In the same fashion, Moscow maintained deep connections with Africa during the last two decades, thus, becoming the biggest arms supplier in the continent. At the moment, it accounts for 49 percent of total arms exports to Africa. 

China chimes in

Hours before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping declared a “new era” in the global order, inevitably making them pariah states. Outside the African continent, China was one of 35 countries to abstain on the UN vote against Russia’s sanctions. Seemingly, as the U.S. and Europe side with Ukraine, China continuously warms up to Russia.

In terms of finances, Moscow is unable to access nearly all of its $640 billion in gold and foreign exchange reserves, but still holds part of those reserves in yuan. So, Beijing will be able to step in to provide immediate assistance. “Xi and Putin bonded over their shared view of the US as being heavy- and high-handed, and determined to end the period of US global dominance.” A US official stated.

Not only has the East Asian country decided to provide Russia with economic and financial support, but it possesses a track record of aiding Africa. China has influenced African views. It opposed sanctions against Khartoum during the Sudan war, and also backed Zimbabwe’s regional community in condemning U.S. sanctions,

Amid the Ukraine crisis, a top Chinese government official voiced outrage for the treatment of Africans when he tweeted, “Refugees from Ukraine deserve sympathy while the refugees from countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are not worthy of compassion. This is an unacceptable double standard.” The expression of solidarity is duly noted when non-white Ukrainian residents have become invisible in the narratives of the military clash.

African students and others flee conflict in Ukraine on March 1, 2022. The refugees await passage at a train station in Budapest, Hungary while the Hungarian red cross and volunteers are give out clothes, food, water, pillows and other donations. Reports of Africans experiencing racism when trying to leave have been criticized by Chinese and Russian officials. Kenya’s government evacuated students in early March. Photo credit: BarMur/Shutterstock

War-torn countries put their thoughts forward

The Jinping Administration is one of many nations swimming in the pool of thought regarding the war’s impact on Africa. In East Africa, many felt that other war-torn countries were sidelined to spotlight the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

South Sudan’s Commission on Human Rights Chair Yasmin Sooka has warned the UN not to forget about the human rights conflict in the region as the Russia-Ukraine war wages onward.

“It is critical, therefore, that we do not forget South Sudan and the ongoing conflict which has been the main cause of 2 million people being displaced, the 34,000 people living in the one remaining United Nations protection of civilians (POC) site, and 2.3 million refugees.” She commented. Moreover, Sooka affirmed that the war in that region has caused the biggest refugee crisis in Africa.

This was after the United Nations claimed that it is time for the government to take care of those in the Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites. 

“The government is not fully formed, hence, it is unable to take on this responsibility,” opined Magot to Ark Republic. “Even though the current vice president and main opposition leader Riek Machar, agreed to share power with South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, there is distrust among them and instability throughout the country.” She analyzed.

On March 15, the United Nations Security Council voted to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan for one more year, calling for political dialogue to prevent the country from returning to civil war. The United States-sponsored resolution received 13 votes in the council, with China and Russia choosing to abstain.

In whole, Russia and China appear to be in solidarity with African nations. Russia claims that it wants to assist Africa to pursue its independence, assumedly for economic purposes or even historical ties. Nevertheless, it might be another maneuver to undermine NATO’s influence. Meanwhile, China’s investments in the sub-Saharan nations are emerging to be oppressive. Previously, concerned countries have complained about a growth in infrastructure intertwined with a high poverty rate for an ordinary citizen.

Despite this, a fact remains constant, Africa is and will be extremely affected in both the short and long term futures. All in all, their tactics to win over developing nations seem to work as Western officials remain startled by Africa`s direct support or rather, hesitancy to oppose.

Nyawira Mithayo is a Journalism graduate with an interest in community activism.

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