In recent weeks, I have been teaching a course in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences called Introduction to International Relations. And in the context of this course I have taught a topic called “Just War Theory”. All this has happened while the Russia-Ukraine war is still raging on. In our class discussions, we concluded that this sad event has violated the theory of just war. Contrary to the tenets of the theory, this war seems to be merely about territorial expansionism. It may also be argued that it is disproportionate in its use of force with no hope of reparations afterwards. Thus, it means that the three main elements of the theory (before, during and after) have been violated.

Whereas this is not the place to repeat the course, there is need to mention two quick points. The first is the realization that war is bad, including for Africa. It destroys limb, life, livelihoods, economies, the environment, and seriously undermines peace, human security and national stability. This is why some have concluded that war should never happen—a position held by pacifists. On the other end of the spectrum is the position of people who seemingly choose to be realistic. In their thinking “war happens,” like it or not. A nation-state may be attacked, thus triggering the obligation of self-defense that could degenerate into a full-scale war. It is this latter position, namely, that “war happens” which gave birth to the just war theory going back to Bishop Augustine, the Afro-Roman Christian Theologian (354-430 A.D). Since “war happens”—this was the thinking—how can it be conducted in a self-retrained manner as to bear the semblance of justice?

The non-compliance with the just war theory in the current Russia-Ukraine war leaves the door open for all manner of unjust and negative effects around the globe, including here in Africa. In fact, one is left with no choice but to muse on the sad consequences of this war. First and foremost is the regrettable loss of life in Ukraine and in Russia, the destruction of infrastructure, the environmental damage, the loss of power-supply, etc. Further afield here in Africa, there are indications of the impact of this war largely due to the globalized nature of the world today as facilitated by improved communication technology. Consequently, the war has reached our sitting rooms. It is now part of the evening news. How many times have we heard, for example, the warning on television: “The following images might be disturbing…”? How can we ignore it? Should an African country pronounce who it supports, if any, in this war? Is it acceptable to sit on the fence, and claim “I have no dog in this fight”? These are the complex geo-political and contested questions with which African leaders and others are understandably grappling.

Take, for example, the question from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) based in South Africa: “Does Africa’s tentative stance on the war show a rejection of key African Union (AU) principles, such as respect for territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders and the peaceful settlement of disputes?”

Also, according to the United Nations (UN), between them, Ukraine and Russia account for about a third of the world’s wheat and a quarter of barley production, not to mention some 75% of the sunflower oil supply. Furthermore, according to the UN as well: “North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia), Nigeria in West Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan in East Africa, and South Africa account for 80 per cent of wheat imports. Wheat consumption in Africa is projected to reach 76.5 million tonnes by 2025, of which 48.3 million tonnes or 63.4 per cent is projected to be imported outside of the Continent.” 

Sadly, we live in a continent that is failing to feed itself. It is an inconvenient truth and reality. It begs the question:  Should African countries continue to grow non-edible commercial crops at the expense of staple food? Here is the sobering truth about the war: The slowdown in the production of food crops coupled with the disruption of export supply lines as the result of the war, and prompting the recent UN-brokered Black Sea Initiative which is currently under threat, has no doubt affected low-income countries here in Africa. There is food insecurity on the horizon as a result of the increase of fuel, fertilizer and food prices due to the war.

This is in addition to the already existent below-par food productivity on the continent, which is also partially blamed on the ravages of climate change requiring for example, the recent Loss and Damage Policy emanating from the recently-concluded COP 27 in Egypt. Add to that, the impact of Covid-19 and we end up with a partially paralysed continent. That is, the triple “C’s” of Conflict (in Ukraine), Climate Change and COVID-19 have all conspired to make the continent that much more vulnerable. 

Amidst all of this, we ask: Can Africa cope? Can Zambia cope? These are the questions that should occupy the collective minds of our politicians, academics and all peace-loving and development-driven people, going forward.

Dr. Peter N. Bwanali, S.J.

Governance Department,

The Copperbelt University.