Realizing Africa’s Potential – Part Two

Reducing Russia’s Insidious Influence on Africa


The tremendous untapped potential of Africa’s abundant resources is being decimated by autocratic regimes, corruption, and conflicts. A Russian defeat in Ukraine could help weaken Russia’s grip on Africa, diminishing the cycle of corruption and instability in Africa. Russia and its proxy, the Wagner Group, enrich themselves by propping up pernicious regimes. Profits from natural resources are thereby not reinvested in the countries’ infrastructure, education, and healthcare.


In Part One of this two-part series, we described Africa’s immense natural and human resources and discussed how corruption and conflict have impeded Africa from realizing its enormous potential. Here in Part Two, we examine the short- and long-term impacts of the Russo-Ukrainian war on African supply chains, why a decisive Ukrainian victory might help diminish the cycle of corruption and autocratic rule in Africa, and what else it will take to realize the full potential of the African Century.

Impact of the Russo-Ukrainian War on African Supply Chains

Immediate Impact on Availability and Price of Key Commodities

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war is having global repercussions, including in Africa. Among the more obvious impacts of the Russo-Ukrainian war on African supply chains is the reduction in shipments (and thereby increase in prices) of agricultural commodities[1] such as wheat, barley, corn, sunflower oil, and potash[2] which is used for fertilizer, as well as iron ore and steel. The reduction in agricultural shipments has caused price rises that have been most devastating to poor people in Africa, who spend a major share of their income on food, and to farmers who depend on fertilizers for crop yields.

Longer-term Impact on Corruption, Democracy, and Stability in African Regimes

A less obvious and harder-to-predict impact of the Russo-Ukraine war on Africa is the effect of the corruption and instability that racks the continent. Russia’s escapades in Africa, in particular by their proxy organization, the Wagner group, have had a savage deleterious effect on African countries, more deeply embedding corruption and authoritarian rule. The following is an excerpt from the Brookings Institute’s Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa: Influence, commercial concessions, rights violations, and counterinsurgency failure:

Considering Africa “one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities,” Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to create African dependencies on Moscow’s military assets and access African resources, targeting countries that have fragile governments but are often rich in important raw materials, such as oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, and manganese. Russian private security companies such as the Wagner Group purport to redress complex local military and terrorism conflicts with which African governments have struggled. They also offer to these governments the ability to conduct counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations unconstrained by human rights responsibilities, unlike the United States, allowing African governments to be as brutish in their military efforts as they like. In turn, Russia seeks payment in concessions for natural resources, substantial commercial contracts, or access to strategic locations, such as airbases or ports.

The Wagner Group is a Russian mercenary ‘private military company’ (PMC) that operates as a de facto extension of the Russian state military and security apparatus. As a nominally independent organization, the Wagner Group has deeply embedded itself into African states in many dimensions. First and foremost, they have provided paramilitary forces to fight the foes of each regime, particularly jihadist insurgencies that have been surging across the Sahel region. In conducting these campaigns, Wagner is ruthless, committing numerous war crimes.

Wagner also provides opaque logistics, commercial, and banking services to help authoritarian leaders sell their country’s mineral resources and clandestinely gather the profits into their own private bank accounts. Wagner provides advice, military training, and security services, disinformation operations, and election manipulation services for corrupt governments. Altogether, these activities provide considerable funding to enrich Wagner, Russia, and the despots themselves, while helping these autocratic leaders maintain their grip on power.

Source for Data: The Washington PostWagner Group surges in Africa as U.S. influence fades, leak reveals

Table graphic by ChainLink Research

Table 1 – Wagner Group Activities in Africa

Russia and its Wagner proxies thereby act to further weaken democratic rule and strengthen autocratic rule in Africa.

Ukraine Victory—Not a Panacea, But Could Diminish the Cycle of Corruption in Africa

Were Ukraine to succeed in winning back most or all of its territory, Africa will of course not suddenly become democratic and free from corruption. Africa’s corruption problems run deep and have a myriad of causes beyond one bad actor’s influence. China has been more than happy to support authoritarian regimes in return for access to resources, though not quite as ruthlessly as Russia. And the problem of Jihadist uprisings and warring factions sowing instability will not go away on its own.

However, a clear victory by Ukraine, taking back the territory unlawfully seized by Russia, would provide a highly visible repudiation of Russia’s ‘might is right’ philosophy and approach to governance and foreign policy. It would send a message to authoritarian rulers around the world that democracy and international rules are still a force in the world. It may weaken the Wagner Group and Russia and their influence in Africa, though that is dependent on Russian society’s response to a dramatic loss in Ukraine. There is a chance such a loss could result in regime change in Russia. While we shouldn’t get too rosy in our predictions, there’s even a small but non-zero chance that (after a dangerous period of chaos) a democratic regime could emerge in Russia, as there is actually a quite determined Russian democratic movement, both in the diaspora and underground within Russia.[3] Anything that diminishes the Wagner Group’s resources and Russia’s autocratic rule will weaken a key source of support that is helping sustain autocratic regimes across Africa.

Countering the Rise in Autocratic Rule, Beyond Africa

Globally (not just in Africa), democracies have been in decline, and autocratic rule has ascendant during the past five to ten years according to both IDEA[4] Global State of Democracy Initiative and the Varieties of Democracy Institute. This is a reversal of the previous trend to increased democracy during the prior 30-year period.

Reproduced by permission of International IDEA from Global State of Democracy Report 2022: Forging Social Contracts in a Time of Discontent

© International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2022.

Figure 1 – Recent Declines in Democracies/Rise in Autocracies

This is a worrying trend that should be countered in many different ways and many different forums and dimensions. A defeat of Russia’s illegitimate attempt to invade and occupy Ukraine is one of the countermeasures to reversing the rise in authoritarianism. It would send a message that autocrats cannot simply act with impunity.

Reviving Africa’s Century

Making this Africa’s Century, and realizing the continent’s potential, will require reversing the vicious cycle of corruption, autocratic rule, and war. That is a tall order that will take long-term commitment. Helping Ukraine win the war and weakening Russia and the Wagner Group’s grip on Africa is just one element. Recognizing and supporting the agency of Africans to determine and secure their own future is key. African-led initiatives, leveraging local knowledge and understanding from across the society, have a higher chance of success compared with solutions externally imposed by an international community believing it knows better. This does not mean rejecting modern expertise or improved techniques, but rather recognizing that people understand their own culture, communities, constraints, and traditions much more than outsiders do and are better equipped at finding the best path to take Africa onto a more peaceful and prosperous path.

1 See How Ukraine transformed commodity markets in 2022 and The economic impacts of the Russia–Ukraine War export disruptions of grain commoditiesReturn to article text above

2 See Ukraine War Creates Fertile Ground for Fertilizer SellersReturn to article text above

3 A million people or more fled Russia after their invasion of Ukraine. Many, if not a majority, left because they could not countenance Russia’s illegitimate invasion of Ukraine and knew they would be severely punished if they stayed and spoke up. Many others took the brave position to stay and fight for freedom from within Russia. Among the hundreds of thousands of men who left to avoid serving in the military, a significant portion were doing so out of principle, to avoid fighting in an unjust war. The podcast, Next Year in Moscow, an eight-part series about those who fled and those who stayed, provides moving, personal depictions of the dire circumstances, courage, and determination of the Russian pro-democracy movement. — Return to article text above

4 IDEA = International Institute for Democracy and Electoral AssistanceReturn to article text above

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