Since its invasion of Ukraine in February 24, 2022, Russia has been forced to contend with a united NATO led by the United States and the rest of the West whose military aid and support has contributed in prolonging the victory of the Russians to an extent that Russia is getting to feel threatened as evidenced by the partial mobilization/conscription order of President Valdimir Putin.
A proxy war between Russia and the West best describes the war in the Ukraine. More than once, the Russian leader has threatened to use nuclear weapons if ever the survival of Russia is at stake. Often, Russia has accused the US of crossing red lines and being a direct party to the war. World leaders and security experts have responded to Putin’s threat of using nuclear weapons for Russian survival in two ways. First, many have judged that Putin is bluffing and would not risk a nuclear war but as new events unfold, another school of thought have emerged warning the world to take Putin’s threat seriously. This include the Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of states. In response to Putin’s threat of nuclear, the US President declared that should the Russians go nuclear, the US will respond and make sure Russia face consequences that has never been before. A direct US and Russia confrontation is more likely than not to be a nuclear warfare.
Talking about consequences that has never been seen before, history provides us with a clue. Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction with devastating consequences that experts claimed have the potentials of making humanity go into extinction. The dropping of the little boy and fat man nuclear atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima areas of Japan by the US that caused the death and injury of about 200,000 persons forcing Japan to surrender, is that clue we can point to in reference to the consequences of a nuclear war.
With increasing tensions and drive towards this scary reality, should Africa be concerned? While it is commonsensical to assume that the war is between the West and Russia and her allies, with possibly exempting of African countries from suffering direct casualties, science proves otherwise.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has the highest nuclear warheads with 5,977 while the US has 5,428. China comes third with 350, France with 290, UK with 225, Pakistan with 165, India with 160, Israel with 90 and North Korea with 20. The data shows that as at early 2022, nine countries possessed roughly 12,700 warheads while Russia and the US own more than 90 percent of the World’s warheads. Let’s take a sneak peek into what a nuclear warfare entails.
Unlike a conventional warfare, a nuclear warfare can produce destruction in a shorter time and have more long-lasting radiological results that could cause a catastrophe that can lasts for years, decades, centuries and even millennia. A direct nuclear attack can lead to the loss of lives and properties in a scale never seen before. While this attack is predicted to be focused on urban areas, some experts have provided soothing claims that billions of people will suffer while billions of people in rural areas will survive. A test of this hypothesis shows that the assurances it brings, does not last because nuclear weapons have both primary and secondary consequences. Major Nuclear weapons are programmed to hit specific targets of concentration of mega cities, areas and the infrastructure of their enemies. This exempts Africa as it is believed that none of the African countries are a target of a programmed nuclear weapon. At least, not now. With Africa having more of the world’s rural areas, based on the proposition, one can conclude that most of its people will suffer a nuclear war. It is at this point that the secondary effects of a nuclear warfare comes in.
There are two ways a nuclear war can be fought. Firstly, the limited nuclear weapon warfare is one in which opposing countries target the militaries and war infrastructure of their enemy. On the other hand, a full scale nuclear warfare entails a complete targeting of a country. A limited nuclear weapon warfare can produce the same casualties as the entire World War Two. The downside of this is that a limited nuclear war will ultimately lead to a large scale war.
For instance, a 50 Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons released on a major population center can cause deaths ranging from 2 million – 20 million. The secondary effect is in the amount of soot released into the atmosphere with devastating consequences for climate change and its corresponding challenges.
In surviving a nuclear weapon, countries exposed to the direct effects of a nuclear war have been making preparation for survival. For instance, to avoid heat flash and blast effect, school children have been taught to duck and cover. In the US, Prussian blue, or “Radiogardase”, has been stockpiled along with potassium iodide and DPTA as pharmaceuticals useful in treating internal exposure to harmful radioisotopes in a nuclear fallout. Many of these nations like the US and Britain have developed public alerts and warning systems. In another example, metro stations in Pyongyang, North Korea, were constructed 110 metres (360 ft) below ground, and designed to serve as nuclear shelters in the event of war, with each station entrance built with thick steel blast doors. There are nuclear fallout shelters in Canada, Switzerland and Russia among others. Respirators and body shields have also been made available and on standby to prevent inhaling dangerous radioactive materials. These are preventive measures to a direct and primary nuclear attack.
In the secondary nuclear attack, the effect of the nuclear bomb is such that it releases soot and millions of tons of black smoke of burning cities into the atmosphere that has the potential of spreading around the world causing a change in temperature levels. This change in temperature levels can affect global agriculture and ecosystem causing a unprecedented global food scarcity that could lead millions of people to die of starvation or fight over the little resources that will be left. In the event of a nuclear war, production – including agricultural production – in North America, Europe and Asia will drastically reduce. Take a clue from the global effects of the Russian-Ukraine war that has caused spiraling inflation rates, painfully burgeoned the cost of living around the world, disrupted global supply chains and plunged some economies into a recession. This is just one millionth of the consequences of a nuclear fallout. A tiny misfortune in the nuclear plant based in Ukraine in the course of the squabbles of the war can endanger the whole of Europe. How much more a complete nuclear fallout among the major powers?
In all of these, Africa is the little boy on the block. Unfortunately, the continent is far from being economically independent. Despite being blessed with arable land, it still depends on much of North America, Europe and Asia for agricultural imports. An nuclear fallout that will disrupt the agricultural systems of these three continents only means that Africa will also starve. Its begging bowl will dry up and with no systems in place for self sufficiency, its people will suffer from the indirect consequences. There are African countries who are heavily hit by shortage of grain supplies caused by the Russia-Ukraine war. With a nuclear war, Africa, unprepared to feed itself, will be a victim of the global scarcity of food. Again, with economies that are vulnerable to International shocks, a nuclear fallout among major countries who African countries depend on will send majority of the economies in Africa into abyss and the bottomless pit. With this comes, more poverty and social tensions, that give birth to internal conflicts over the struggle for the little that will be left. The black smoke and soot from Europe, Asia and America in the event of a major nuclear war will spread to Africa too causing climate changes that will affect home based agricultural systems. With the presence of little or no advanced alternative agricultural production systems in place – most African countries are still engaged in large traditional agriculture – this implies the potential lack of agricultural food production alternatives. For the umpteenth time, the result is mass starvation and hunger induced deaths and conflicts. The lack of independent manufacturing sector in most African countries means that, should a nuclear war destroy the economies of developed countries whose industrial bases feed the manufacturing sectors in most African countries, Africa’s manufacturing capabilities will be drastically decimated. Lastly, African countries who have offered themselves to host military bases of some of these world powers could be a target of enemy missiles too. This brings up the possibility of a direct nuclear impact on the continent.
In all the pluses and minuses, Africa as it is today, cannot escape the impact of a major nuclear fallout especially as it has been deeply incorporated into the international economy and world systems courtesy of globalization. The only option to prepare for an eventual nuclear fallout is to improve the continent’s production capabilities especially its industrial and agricultural capacity. An Africa that can feed its people would not have to worry about a food crisis and supply chain problems in America, Europe and Asia. Africa has to develop its agricultural system and become self sufficient and sustainable. Perhaps, when the nuclear bombs start dropping and others are counting their losses, it will count hers to be few.