How are African countries dependent on trade with Russia?

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In the future, Russia could reserve its agricultural products for friendly countries, warned former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Are African countries among these friendly countries or should they be prepared to do without Russian wheat?

Twenty African countries have chosen to remain neutral or not participate in the United Nations vote condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and asking it to stop its offensive. They can therefore be considered as friends and some are indeed big buyers of Russian wheat and arms, the two major export products from Russia to the continent. Since the Sochi summit, on the shores of the Black Sea, in 2019, the former Soviet empire has boosted its exports to Africa, becoming the continent’s leading supplier country for these two strategic products. But this commercial relationship is not always decisive in the diplomacy of African states. Egypt, for example, spares its American ally and has condemned the aggression.

Egypt is, however, the second largest importer of Russian wheat in the world.

Sudan, which has remained neutral in the United Nations and therefore favorable to Moscow, also imports substantial volumes, but four times less than its northern neighbour. In descending order Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa are the other notable African buyers of Russian wheat according to data provided by Coface. Not everyone abstained. But beware of the magnifying glass effects: the economist Aroni Chaudhuri of Coface points out that wheat purchases are not necessarily decisive for these countries because it is a secondary cereal on the plate of Africans, – popular especially in countries where the rise of the middle class has caused food to evolve towards a more western model. Only a dozen countries, especially in North Africa, are major consumers of wheat.

This exposure is much lower in sub-Saharan Africa.

Where wheat constitutes less than 30% of cereal intake in around thirty countries in this region, these countries are therefore not very sensitive to Russian supplies. And their consumption does not necessarily depend on this powerful supplier. A large importing country of Russian wheat like Sudan is also a country in food distress underlines the economist Dominique Fruchter of Coface. This means that its supply now goes more through the World Food Program than through its Russian imports. On the other hand, cereal prices being correlated, most African countries are currently suffering from the sharp rise in agricultural prices. This is true in sub-Saharan Africa and even more so in North Africa.

Apart from wheat, Russia provides almost half of the military equipment of African armies.

More than half of the arsenal of Angola, Algeria, and South Sudan is of Russian origin, three countries that have abstained at the United Nations. Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda are also leading customers of the military industry of the former Soviet power. This strong dependence partly explains the attitude at the United Nations, partly only, because Russia remains a featherweight in trade between Africa and the rest of the world. It captures only 2% of trade between Africa and the rest of the world. That’s $20 billion a year.

This is ten times less than trade with China or with Europe.

If Russia tries to extend its influence with military actions carried out by the mercenaries of the Wagner company, on the other hand on the economic level it does not have the assets of its rivals: China for example has products to sell and capital to invest locally to buy what it lacks: minerals and hydrocarbons. Russia is also richly endowed with raw materials, so there is no complementarity according to Dominique Fruchter allowing it to develop a strong economic relationship with Africa. If China has managed to become the first trading partner without worrying about politics, at least that’s his speech, Russia does not really seem to have the means to export its wheat on the sole criterion of friendship.

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