Africa in 2022: Another year of living dangerously
Africa is set to endure another year of living dangerously in 2022. Even as sovereign foreign-currency-denominated debt has surpassed $1 trillion, with only 10% of Africans having been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and as over 12 million jobs are lost in the tourism and travel industry, conflicts will continue in Central Africa and across the drought-affected Sahel, while coups d’état seem set to proliferate across West Africa. Russia will continue to use mercenaries to challenge France in its self-declared chasee gardée (private hunting ground). China will continue to invest heavily in raw materials and minerals, remaining the continent’s largest trading partner at $254 billion. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the erstwhile “Lords of Poverty” whose pernicious Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) decimated health and education sectors in Africa during the 1980s and 1990s – has made a spectacular COVID-19 induced comeback to the continent. The Fund is again dictating to African governments like a hectoring headmaster, as many governments are forced to go cap in hand to its headquarters in Washington D.C. The re-opening of the Uganda-Rwanda, Nigeria-Niger-Benin, and Senegal-Guinea borders should, however, restore trade and social ties. The global prices of African metals, minerals, hydrocarbons, and food are also expected to rise.
The return of the men on horseback
Starting in coup-prone West Africa, military marabouts in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso have taken advantage of widespread insecurity and poor governance to seize power through the barrel of a gun. All the putschists seem set to defy the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and consolidate their hold on power. Niger, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, and Benin are all vulnerable to similar putsches by “Men on Horseback” who refuse to stay in their barracks. But as with the Cold War era, the soldiers will fail as spectacularly as the politicians to transform society. Instability in this sub-region is also exacerbated by the fact that Nigeria – accounting for 62% of West Africa’s economy – remains a limping Leviathan unable to stem anarchy across the country, and to manage internal conflicts effectively. Over 4.3 million people are internally displaced across West Africa, with over half of them in Nigeria, where the government has adopted the dubious, desperate, and dangerous approach of legally categorising armed bandits as “terrorists.”
In Southern Africa, dominant parties from the liberation era still mostly occupy State Houses. Repression will continue in military-dominated Zimbabwe and absolutist monarchy, Eswatini, even as parties of change struggle to transform societies in Malawi and Zambia. Swazi civil society reported that 80 protesters were killed during four months of unrest last year, while political space will continue to be restricted in Zimbabwe. Regional hegemon, South Africa – with 66% of Southern Africa’s economy – will be wracked by factional squabbles within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) all the way to its elective conference in December. The Movimento Popular de Libertaçâo de Angola (MPLA) will use means, fair and foul, to retain power in Luanda during polls in August, and continue to pursue economic reforms aimed at making the country less oil-dependent. Fractious Lesotho also goes to polls in September. Despite the military assistance of Rwanda and Southern African Development Community (SADC) soldiers, Mozambique’s four-year insurgency in its northern mineral-rich Cabo Delgado province will continue to rage, unless Maputo urgently addresses the socio-economic challenges of the region’s long-suffering inhabitants. Underlining the challenges of climate change, more cyclones are expected to hit Southern Africa following last month’s destructive “Storm Ana” which killed 77 people in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi, with tens of thousands of homes and scores of schools, hospitals, and bridges destroyed.
The volatile middle
In Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Cameroon account for 62% of the sub-regional economy. But instead of being islands of stability, the Congo’s East will continue to be conflict-ridden, as it has been for two decades. Cameroon’s anglophone “Wild West” will also accelerate the country’s slide into civil war, as the exhausted regime of the geriatric 88-year old autocrat, Paul Biya, continues to wield military sticks without any political carrots. The neglected conflict in the Central African Republic (CAR) will continue to result in thousands of fatalities across the rebel-infested countryside, while 63% of the population (3.1 million people) will need humanitarian assistance this year. UN peacekeepers have mostly observed rather than halted the slaughter in the Central African country. Elsewhere, autocratic political dynasties will try desperately to cling on to power in Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad.
The sharp horn
In Eastern Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya account for 57% of the sub-regional economy and should be the pillars of regional security. Ethiopia will, however, continue its destructive civil war between Addis Ababa and the Tigray region – where 400,000 people remain under threat of famine – which has drawn in Eritrea. All sides have been accused of gross human rights abuses. The Horn of Africa will thus remain turbulent, with South Sudan’s splintering warlords continuing to wage an eight-year war that has displaced 4 million people, killed nearly 400,000, and rendered 60% of the population food insecure. The military junta of Sudan’s General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan will continue to battle civil society pro-democracy protesters under the banner of the Forces for Freedom and Change Coalition (FFC), with at least 76 protesters having been killed and 2,200 injured by security forces since the military coup last October. Somalia’s squabbling politicians – propped up by an African Union (AU) force – will struggle to subdue Al-Shabaab jihadists in a conflict that killed 1,000 people last year, even as 7.7 million drought-afflicted Somalis remain in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Further afield, ruling parties in Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania will continue to use state instruments to suppress opposition. Elections in Kenya in September will pit six-time presidential candidate, Raila Odinga – backed by the outgoing Uhuru Kenyatta – against the incumbent’s estranged vice-president, William Ruto. Based on past history, the potential for ethnic-fuelled violence is real.
Monarchical autocrats and street protesters
Finally, Egypt accounts for nearly half of North Africa’s economy. The country’s new Pharaoh, military strongman, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is building prestige projects including a new administrative capital, even as civil society activists are jailed, the media muzzled, and his army continues to battle militants in the Sinai peninsula. Cairo’s switch of allegiance in neighbouring Libya from warlord, General Khalifa Haftar, to the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, could contribute positively to stability ahead of long-delayed elections. Street protests by committed civil society activists will continue in Algeria and Tunisia. Amidst rising food prices, the military-backed regime of Abdelmadjid Tebboune in Algiers will continue repressing civil society and detaining journalists. In Tunisia, Kais Saied – in a blatant power grab – has sought to crown himself the new “King of Carthage” by suspending parliament and seeking to convert a largely ceremonial presidency into a dictatorship. Civil society groups will continue to resist this attempted civilian coup d’état.
Africa thus seems set to endure another year of living dangerously in 2022.
Professor Adebajo is a senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) in South Africa.