desk globe

The Wednesday Politics Thread is Fried

Hail, and well-met, my fellow politicados! This wearisome week is half-over but I’m well-done and ready to turn back up on the other side of the world imminently⁠—by which I mean I’m about to fly for what feels like forever back to the USA from East Africa. My mind feels muffled from a (not COVID) illness, but the least I can do is share some hastily assembled articles before I cram my sick-in-the-bad-way ass into the airplane “seat”, certain that in doing so I’ll have transcended the normal physics of booty containment… to probably zero applause 😢

Russia’s war heats up cooking oil prices in global squeeze

Global cooking oil prices have been rising since the COVID-19 pandemic began for multiple reasons, from poor harvests in South America to virus-related labor shortages and steadily increasing demand from the biofuel industry. The war in Ukraine — which supplies nearly half of the world’s sunflower oil, on top of the 25% from Russia — has interrupted shipments and sent cooking oil prices spiraling.

The food supply is particularly at risk as the war has disrupted crucial grain shipments from Ukraine and Russia and worsened a global fertilizer crunch that will mean costlier, less abundant food.

The high cost of cooking oil is partly behind recent protests in Jakarta. Indonesia has imposed price caps on palm oil at home and will ban exports, creating a new squeeze worldwide. Palm oil has been sought as an alternative for sunflower oil and is used in many products, from cookies to cosmetics.

Longer term, the crisis may lead countries to reconsider biofuel mandates, which dictate the amount of vegetable oils that must be blended with fuel in a bid to reduce emissions and energy imports. In the U.S., for example, 42% of soybean oil goes toward biofuel production, Glauber said. Indonesia recently delayed a plan to require 40% palm oil-based biodiesel, while the European Commission said it would support member states that choose to reduce their biofuel mandates.

In the meantime, consumers and businesses are struggling.

AP News [archive]

Africa’s reliance on donors, debts bites as food exporters feud

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, a number of countries in the West have implemented sanctions, including banning Russian vessels from docking at their ports, removing Russian banks from the global financials settlement system and banning certain Russian exports.

As a result, the prices of wheat and maize, two biggest stable foods in Africa, have risen sharply globally. The two commodities had, in fact, seen price hikes during Covid-19, after supply chains broke down as borders were shut. But after the invasion, the two cereals have maintained a 30 percent rise.

The UN warns that eastern Africa may be the worst hit in Africa. According to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), at least 29 million people scattered in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan are facing famine-like situations.

“The funding we need to respond to a crisis of this magnitude has simply not come. We are all watching this tragedy unfold and our hands are tied,” said Etienne Peterschmitt, the FAO Representative in Somalia.

The East African [archive]

Africa’s Richest Man Is Betting $21 Billion on Oil and Fertilizer

When Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, decided to construct a refinery in southern Nigeria on a plot of swampland almost half the size of Manhattan, he turned to a man who’s helped him transform a small trading company into an industrial empire spanning the continent.

For 30 years, Devakumar Edwin has navigated some of the world’s most difficult business environments to build Dangote’s textile factories, flour mills, food plants and cement firms. Now he is overseeing its biggest project yet: a $20.5 billion oil refinery and fertilizer complex.

The facility is now nearing completion, including a $2.5 billion urea plant that began operations last month and is already shipping products to the U.S., India and Brazil. Once the refinery starts output, the company plans to list them separately, “probably on the London Stock Exchange,” Edwin said, declining to give any information on expected timing.

Edwin brushed off questions on the wisdom of investing tens of billions in an oil refinery at a time when the world is decarbonizing. Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to lag the rest of the world in both renewable energy and electric vehicles, he said.

But the company has abandoned plans to double refinery capacity, with forecasts showing that demand for fossil fuels will remain flat at best. It does plan to expand its fertilizer business, which is booming because of the impact of the war in Ukraine — a key supplier of the crop nutrient.

Bloomberg [archive]

How Russia is using online disinformation to build the image of a superpower in West Africa

He’s pro-Russian, anti-Zelensky and rallying for Putin in West Africa. The digital diet of a 30-year-old Burkinabe toy seller shows how Moscow is building the image of a superpower.

Sawadogo, a 30-year-old seller of children’s toys, said he became a fan of Vladimir Putin last year after watching videos about Russian commandos on Facebook. Interest swelled to passion when extremists overran his childhood village and torched the primary school where his brother taught. Messages flooding his social media feeds blamed France and the West for fueling the bloodshed — while framing Putin as a hero poised to help. “Thank you, Putin,” read one post on his screen. “You are the Jesus of modern times.”

Pro-Russian content has surged here in recent months, according to groups tracking disinformation in Africa, as Putin aims to expand his country’s global influence and counter reputational damage during the war in Ukraine. Researchers have identified and reported dozens of accounts in Burkina Faso and its neighbors pumping out coordinated blitzes of Russian government talking points: NATO is the aggressor. Moscow is on a humanitarian mission in Ukraine.

The rise in Russian online propaganda marks an expansion of the Kremlin’s influence campaigns in the region, according to four Western officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations. Entities linked to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an oligarch close to Putin, have funded fake news websites and online ads in several West African countries, said two of the officials, who have reviewed intelligence on the matter. One official in Burkina Faso saw little Moscow-friendly chatter until last fall: “Now it’s all over the place.” Another official in neighboring Mali described the upswing as “industrial.”

Washington Post [archive]

How (not) to persuade Africa to support Ukraine and denounce Russia

It is precisely the West’s willingness to sacrifice democracy and human rights on the altar of national security that helps to explain why many African states do not want to get sucked into the current confrontation. History has taught them that becoming pawns in an international conflict they cannot control generates few benefits and massive risks.

The idea of being “non-aligned” is not new, unprincipled, or limited to African states. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of states seeking to avoid being tied to any particular power bloc formed in 1961 and consistently had well over 100 countries as members.

Moreover today, as in the past, “nonalignment may be a sensible strategy for individual countries as a way to preserve autonomy and avoid costly choices between major powers.”

Only 17 African governments – less than half – abstained in the vote UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s actions. In other words, a majority actually supported the West’s position, while others sought to sit on the fence rather than actively support Putin.

Simplistic arguments that are highly critical of African governments without attempting to view recent events from their perspective risk polarising the debate in a way that will only alienate potential allies, the vast majority of whom hold pro-democratic and anti-war attitudes.

The Africa Report [archive]

Mind the clams and personal slams (McSquirrel!) and try not to sell the joint for meagre billions to any spoiled clowns that might come ’round 🤡