Throwing away keys to borders will get rid of some Africa crises

Wednesday April 20 2022
Wheat harvesting in Kenya- Uasin Gishu county

Workers during wheat harvesting in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County, Kenya. The Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted grain and fuel supplies in parts of the world. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

African Development Bank (AfDB) president Akinwumi Adesina clearly has not been sleeping well since Russia invaded Ukraine.

In an interview with the London publication, The Telegraph, he painted an unsettling picture of how the disruptions to grain and fuel supplies caused by the war could result in food riots, political upheaval and turn back the clock on the progress Africa has made in recent years.

“The price of wheat has gone up by 62 percent since the beginning of the war. The price of maize has gone up by 36 percent. The price of soya beans by 29 percent. Now the price of fertilisers, which are very critical for food production, has gone up by 300 percent — that's three times.”

Why? Because, as The Telegraph noted, Ukraine and Russia export about 25 percent of the world's wheat, and together the two countries make up about 80 per cent of the world's sunflower oil trade.

Africa relies heavily on both countries for food imports.

The wider crisis


“East Africa is particularly of concern to us. Russia and Ukraine supply most of the grains to this region. In fact, East Africa relies on these two countries for 90 percent of their wheat,” he said.

Dr Adesina and the bank are putting their money where their mouths are, announcing plans to raise $1 billion to boost food production in Africa to stem shortages.

AfDB says it aims to increase the production of wheat, rice, soya beans and other crops to feed about 200 million people on the continent.

Days earlier, another Pan-African lender, the Cairo-headquartered African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim), announced a $4 billion credit facility to help African countries manage the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on their economies and businesses.

These interventions help illustrate the wider crisis the continent is facing. Africa is dealing with six major crises simultaneously; a situation it has probably never faced.

Both AfDB and Afrexim have barely come out of two frenetic years of running around looking for billions of dollars to help the continent battle Covid-19, right from buying face masks to vaccination.

Teetering on the edge

In addition to the Ukraine war blowback and Covid-19, many African countries are staring at a debt crisis.

Nature has also crashed the party, and a climate crisis has left 30 million facing hunger as drought ravages Eastern Africa. Many parts of Africa are bone-dry, while many others have been flooded for months.

There is a security crisis, with large chunks of the Sahel and Nigeria nearly lost to terrorists, bandits and rebels. And some of Africa’s “lead nations” like South Africa, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique are teetering on the edge, beset by old internal demons.

Dealing with the various crises is like a grand whack-a-whole game, and there seems to be few tools left in the box to work with. Or maybe not.

Many think the African Continental Free Trade Area is the last bullet in the chamber. They have a point. Throwing away the keys to Africa’s borders for sure will help.

Even farmers carrying a few sacks of maize on bicycles — or cross-border smugglers moving fuel if that fails — can make a difference in these times.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3