By Dr. Aklog Birara, retired senior IMF adviser

Dr. Aklog BiraraOn March 4, 2022, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board was briefed on “the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, and on possible fast-tracked financial assistance for affected countries.” There is no doubt that costs to human life and the damage to the economy in Ukraine are massive. More than two million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. Equally important is the effect of the underappreciated, and unprecedented coordinated sanctions on Russia by the West. This punitive action has triggered a global inflationary pressure that can potentially cause popular uprisings in non-food producing countries. Yet, this and other unintended consequences of severe sanctions are thought to be worth the cost of defending Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The war will cause severe adverse consequences on the global economy. The price of food, gas, oil, clothes, etc. have all risen significantly. In the developed countries like the USA, the government will likely institute financial measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the war. Unfortunately, that will not be possible for the rest of the world where governments do not have the means to subsidize their citizens at a time of inflationary pressure.

Despite the consequences of the Ukrainian war on world economy, not all hikes in commodity prices are “Putin’s price hikes” as President Biden put it because long before the Russia and Ukraine war, the supply chain had already shaken the world economy. The war no doubt will worsen it. Inflation in the US has been going up for months. Inflation in Ethiopia, Egypt, oil rich Nigeria and several Middle Eastern countries that import food grains such as wheat is surging at an alarming rate. The hope of a global recovery after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is being challenged by the consequences of the unexpected war that was disguised for months as a Russian military exercise.

It may seem that the most vulnerable people around the world may not worry about the escalation of the price of oil and gas since they do not possess cars among other things which require them. However, it is not just direct utilization of energy that people are worried about. Everybody must eat first before they can worry about other problems. Raw materials treated and traded as global commodities affect food production and distribution in one way or another. War in Ukraine has sharply increased prices of other commodities while pulling down the stock markets. If this continues, some regimes may fall if they are unable to feed their people. The popular Arab Spring is a stark reminder.

It is important to remember that prices were rising before Putin invaded Ukraine. The war in Ukraine simply exacerbated the problem. Blaming all global economic woes on Russia is nonsensical. Though it is a contributor, Russia alone did not cause climate change, nor did it create COVID-19 pandemic. Global warming and the pandemic cannot simply be dismissed; they both feature prominently in the global escalation of the price of commodities.

Nobody can deny that according to WHO, over 200 million people in the world suffered from malnutrition before the Ukraine war. People in Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Zimbabwe routinely suffer from inadequate food and millions of children suffer from malnutrition. The root causes of their predicaments remain unaddressed.

The COVID-19 pandemic for which treatment has been unfairly and unevenly distributed left most African countries exposed to the virus. Sick farmers cannot farm and produce foods.  In other countries, migrant workers have not been able to work because of the pandemic and restrictions associated with its management. Both conditions contributed to food price inflation.

Economic and financial sanctions imposed by the USA-led western countries are instruments of punishment. Sanctions degrade relations among nations. They cause inflation and contribute to instability. They hurt the most vulnerable population regardless of country, nationality, or faith.

What is concerning is the orchestrated and synchronized Western media blitz coverage of the Russia and Ukraine war. Although the parallel may seem far-fetched, it is revealing to examine the parallel between the narrative of the TPLF-instigated war in Ethiopia and the Russian invasion of Ukraine as reported by Western media.

First, in both cases, there is an assertion of moral ground and authority underpinning violations of human rights. In the case of the Tigray war in Ethiopia, it is said  that the primary culprits were the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Second, the western press and governments are unabashed in relentlessly sourcing and presenting fake data as accurate information when demonizing Ethiopian and Eritrean forces for raping, killings, genocide, blocking food aid to Tigrayans, destroying social and physical infrastructure etc.

Third, the western press refused to present counter views. For example, I personally wrote Op-eds to the BBC, the Washington Post, and others to correct misleading and unfair statements. None was published.

Fourth, the drumbeat by Western Corporate media emboldened the TPLF to pursue its insurgency, expanding the war to the Afar and Amhara regions, raping girls and women, looting, damaging, and destroying investment properties, displacing millions of people and encouraging other terrorist groups to make Ethiopia ungovernable.

Fifth, Western Corporate media placed the TPLF at par with the duly elected government of Ethiopia. In effect, Western government official and corporate media absolved the TPLF from accountability of war crimes, crimes against humanity and economic crimes. The war continues unabated.

Neither Western government officials nor corporate media reported human atrocities, displacements of more than ten million Ethiopians and the massive destruction perpetrated by the TPLF. This lack of parity or balanced or even-handed treatment of Ethiopia in Black Africa on the one hand and Ukraine a White European country is out there for anyone with a conscience to compare. There is a bias.

The synchronized propagation of one-sided and partisan narrative and verdict against Eritrea and Ethiopia eviscerated the trust and confidence tens of millions of Ethiopians and other Blacks had in the global order dominated by the USA and in the democratic system of governance. Democracy is good if the core principles that underpin it are applied universally.

Though there are substantial differences between the Russia and Ukraine War and the civil war in Ethiopia, all three are, sovereign countries with their own national interests and their citizens deserve fair and equitable treatment. They also share one thing in common regardless of nationality, geography, and developmental level, i.e., war. 

The world must be guided by the principle of accountability and justice. Those who commit war crimes, and crimes against humanity must be held accountable in a court of law. Yet, western countries appear to treat killing of Africans as normal whereas killing in Ukraine elicits moral outrage. Even more disconcerting is that Ukrainians were caught discriminating against Africans, who were trying to flee Ukraine, by giving priority to Europeans just because of the color of their skin. No! Everyone deserves equal opportunity to exit the war zone.

Finally, it is sad to see how Western governments and their corporate media are openly partisan, vitriolic, and warmongering against Russia for the war in Ukraine. Yet they did the opposite in the TPLF initiated war in Ethiopia which is still causing massive human as well as property destruction. Such shameful bias must stop. Everyone must be accountable in a court of law.

In the spirit of equal opportunity, we invite others with different viewpoints to send us submissions (Editor).