Columnists

How Kenya can address Ukraine, Russia war risks

Smoke rises from a Russian tank in UKraine

Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on a roadside in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

Summary

  • A look at the numbers shows that in 2021, for instance, Kenya exported 29.61 million kilogrammes of tea worth Sh6.25 billion to Russia.
  • According to an article in African Business on March 3, 2022, most of the wheat consumed in Africa is imported.
  • What started as a border conflict between Russia and Ukraine, has culminated into a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The economic effects of the Russia-Ukraine war on Africa have received immense attention. Yet, it is important to also narrow this to the effects the war continues to have on Kenya.

Aside from this, important questions need to be asked of the government, on the way forward. This is because this crisis has revealed, quite shockingly, the level of dependence by Kenya on Russia and Ukraine for commodities that are produced locally.

Kenya exports tea, coffee, fruits, and flowers to Russia, with the value of its annual exports estimated at Sh10 billion.

A look at the numbers shows that in 2021, for instance, Kenya exported 29.61 million kilogrammes of tea worth Sh6.25 billion to Russia. This was an improvement from 2020, when the tea exports stood at 25.14 million kilogrammes, at Sh5.02 billion.

Conversely, Kenya’s imports from Russia stand at an estimated Sh45 billion. Among these imports are oil from Russia and wheat from both Russia and Ukraine.

Imported wheat

According to an article in African Business on March 3, 2022, most of the wheat consumed in Africa is imported. In 2019, Kenya imported wheat worth an aggregate of Sh15 billion from Ukraine and Russia.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, through its Food Balance Sheet of 2021, reported that wheat ranks third as the most consumed food in Kenya, behind milk and maize.

The disturbance of imports, exports, and the current prices of these commodities in the country is directly traceable to the ramifications Ukraine-Russia crisis.

What started as a border conflict between Russia and Ukraine, has culminated into a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The fallout from this invasion has resulted in some unprecedented sanctions on Moscow, and these sanctions have shaken the global supply and financial markets.

As Russia is a major producer and supplier of oil, gas, wheat, corn and other materials, the sanctions have raised market concerns on the potential of the conflict causing further disruptions; chiefly at a time when countries are looking to bounce back from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic control measures.

As the conflict rages on, it is clear that neither side will emerge as a clear winner. This presumably prolonged war is threatening not only the security and economic livelihoods in Western Europe but also the world at large; not least the African continent.

Already, a number of African countries are vulnerable due to existing challenges, and therefore, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is akin to adding gasoline to the fire. The surging commodity prices will ultimately create a destabilising effect on African economies.

Subsequently, and besides the economic effects, it is not far-fetched to wonder whether there is a security dimension tied to the Ukraine-Russian conflict.

What are its implications on the conflicts being witnessed on the continent, especially for countries that might end up being caught in the crossfire between Russia and the US/EU allies?

This remains to be observed. The crisis shines a spotlight on longstanding questions and concerns that the government needs to address.

Over the years, the rise in the prices of basic food commodities has been a real and unsettling issue in the country as shown by the recent hashtag #LowerFoodPrices trending on Kenya's Twitter.

What the Ukraine-Russia war has finally brought to light, is the alarming fact that Kenya imports food commodities it ordinarily grows or has the potential to grow. The counties of Uasin Gishu, Trans-Nzoia, and Narok have been growing maize and wheat in both small and large scales.

Arguably, the cereals they produce can, at the very least, cater to the domestic needs for these products.

Why then do we import them? How can the government utilise this capability to fill the void left by Russia and Ukraine? How can the government empower and promote Kenyan farmers? Could the fact that we import these commodities account for the lack of growth of Kenyan farmers?

The government needs to clearly address these issues and outline its plans for sustaining the circulation of these commodities at affordable prices, both now and in the future.

This is especially crucial because the war between Ukraine and Russia is unlikely to end soon.

Trading partners

The sanctions against Russia are only likely to increase, and the costs of these products are set to go up. Aside from this, Kenya needs to find alternative trading partners to fill the gap Russia has left, in terms of tea, coffee, fruits, and flowers exports.

In an election year as this one, these questions are most pertinent. Kenyans need to demand these answers from the current presidential candidates.

It is an opportunity to have them incorporate food security in their agendas and manifestos. The effects of the Ukraine crisis should serve as a wake-up call to rectify policy mistakes that have brought up the current situation.

Wekesa has recently completed a PhD at African Leadership Centre, King’s College London focusing on the politics of EAC’s regional integration

Sambu is a lawyer and a graduate student of international negotiation & conflict resolution and international law at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy