Africa should draw lessons from sanctions on Russia

Demonstrators display placards criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin during a protest at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on January 30, 2022. FILE PHOTO | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Twitter announced that it was adding warning labels to tweets from media linked to the Russian government. In addition, Twitter made it known that it would not suggest or direct users to Russian-connected websites in its search system.

By Reuben Orinda

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be getting WAR updates on TikTok. But then came the end of February 2022 when Russia, under the orders of President Vladimir Putin, invaded Ukraine in what the Russians refer to as a “military operation”.

Ukrainian TikTok users have been using the social media platform to post and share information about Russia’s invasion.

Media content shared on TikTok includes neighbourhoods hit by missiles, empty food stores, and long lines at filling stations. This made me think how technology has been used to either tighten sanctions imposed on Russia, or promote the war.

Tech giants Meta and Alphabet have moved to curb misinformation from Russian media such as RT and Sputnik, whose accounts have been blocked. Advertising programmes used by Russians have also been blocked by major tech firms, including Microsoft.

Twitter announced that it was adding warning labels to tweets from media linked to the Russian government. In addition, Twitter made it known that it would not suggest or direct users to Russian-connected websites in its search system.

Twitch has meanwhile restricted streaming by Russian content creators, including gamers and programmers, which means that they can no longer make money on the platform.

Furthermore, Alphabet announced that it was turning off some of its Google Maps tools in Ukraine, which would have helped to provide the Russians with information on traffic conditions and movements of people. The company has maintained that the action was taken to protect local communities. Apple took similar measures a few days after Google restricted services in the region.

Payment systems and cryptocurrency

I am touching on this in the knowledge that almost anything we do in our daily lives requires some sort of payment in one way or another. One of the first sanctions that the EU and the US imposed on Russia was to block the country from using SWIFT, which is a main player in cross-border transactions. With this, we expect Russia’s international business to take a huge hit. Banks and fintech firms that have blocked Russia include Visa and Mastercard, American Express, Paypal, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.

The Ukrainian government is soliciting donations in crypto, and had raised more than $50 million as of March 6. Civilians fleeing Ukraine keep their money in cryptos for use outside the country at a later stage. It’s safe as financial institutions are currently unstable as they face multiple regional restrictions.

Russians have also taken advantage of cryptocurrencies to go around some of the financial sanctions imposed on their country, and also in light of their currency being unstable during this time of conflict.

Rise of China’s UnionPay

Considering the long-term friendship between Russia and China, UnionPay is a natural choice for processing international payments to Russia as there are no plans to block it. This is an advantage for the company, which is likely to increase its influence against rivals such as Visa and Mastercard, considering that Russia’s has a sizeable population of 145 million.

UnionPay works together with Russia’s central bank to make services available to the Russian people and institutions. UnionPay cards are accepted at physical stores in 180 countries and regions, and at online stores in 200 countries and regions, according to the firm’s website.

Lessons for Africa

In Tanzania, the acceptance rate of UnionPay cards was expected to reach 90 percent as of mid 2019. This is a good thing, considering that we subscribe nonalignment, meaning that our trade activities with Russia should be just fine.

On the other hand, it is an opportunity for Tanzanians and Africans in general to understand the importance of creating our own systems and infrastructure, as we never know what might happen.

It is doubtful that an African country with no internal systems for payments, maps, social media, advertisements, weather, local internet, telecommunications networks and trade would survive for more than a few days were such sanctions imposed on it. This is not to mention importations and servicing and repair of aeroplanes and ships that are conducted abroad.

We don’t expect, let alone wish, that we could find ourselves in such a situation, but it never hurts to be prepared. It is time for us to have our own internal systems, among other things, made by and maintained by patriotic Tanzanians. This will serve as a guard in addition to enhancing employment and development in general.

Reuben Orinda is an entrepreneur, tech enthusiast, portfolio manager and digital innovator based in Dar es Salaam