Close button
The Guardian
Email YouTube Facebook Instagram Twitter WhatsApp

Africa: The year ahead


African Union

African Union

The year ahead for Africa will revolve around managing challenges of constrained hegemon, regional integration, conflict resolution, democratic governance, and China’s growing influence on the continent.

The year will begin with the contest at the African Union (AU) summit, starting on January 22, to elect a successor to the outgoing chair of the commission, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The two favourites are Amina Mohamed and Abdoulaye Bathily. Mohamed is a career diplomat and Kenya’s current foreign minister, who forcefully mobilised African support against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) indictment of her president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto. Senegal’s Bathily is a former cabinet minister and current United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Central Africa. Not much can be expected from either candidate in addressing the organisation’s structural deficits.

Starting in Southern Africa, the drought ravaging the sub-region should subside this year. The sub-regional hegemon, South Africa, will, however, be beset by labour, community, and student protests and anemic economic growth. The presidential conference of the African National Congress (ANC) in December will likely see current favourite, Dlamini-Zuma, defeat former unionist and businessman, Cyril Ramaphosa, eventually becoming South Africa’s first female president. The sub-region’s second largest economy, oil-rich Angola, will see José Eduardo dos Santos extend his 38-year rule in polls this August, though he has promised to step down next year amidst a declining economy, repression of civil society, and Chinese-backed loans. Tensions will continue in Mozambique as the armed conflict between Maputo and RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) enters its fourth year. The tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho will remain fractious despite South African-led mediation efforts.  The health of the 92-year old Robert Mugabe will continue to determine Zimbabwe’s politics, and this could be the year that the military-backed Emmerson Mnagagwa finally assumes the presidency amidst social unrest and a coalescing opposition.


In West Africa, the sub-regional Gulliver, Nigeria’s economic troubles are set to continue with the country having drifted into recession for the first time in 25 years, losing its place to South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. President Muhammadu Buhari will continue to make progress against Boko Haram militants, but will lose ground to Niger Delta Avengers whose sabotage has cut the country’s oil exports by a third amidst nationalist and religious unrest in the East and parts of the North. Buhari’s languid leadership style is proving that an obsessive  commitment to fighting corruption alone will not turn around Nigeria’s economic fortunes, even with the prospect of Chinese loans. Ghana’s new leader, Nana Akuffo-Addo, has clearly over-promised – free secondary education, a factory in each of the country’s 260 districts, and a dam in every village – and will surely under-deliver. The army mutiny in Côte d’Ivoire this month exposed the fragility of the impressive infrastructure development initiatives of President Alassane Ouattara amidst a lack of national reconciliation. Northern Mali will remain volatile, while Liberia’s election in October may finally see former footballer, George Weah, achieve his long-held presidential ambition.

In Eastern Africa, Ethiopia has Africa’s largest population after Nigeria, hosts the AU commission, and is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping in the world. But the tensions in its Oromia and Amhara regions which led to 400 deaths in 2015/2016 will continue to occupy the attention of its Tigray-dominated ruling class. More positively, the Chinese-built 656-kilometre railway from Ethiopia to Djibouti will be rolled out this year. Care must, however, be taken to ensure that presidential polls in Kenya – another sub-regional economic giant, like Ethiopia – does not descend into the ethnic-fuelled violence of a decade ago. Uhuru Kenyatta should win re-election, and has been a visionary prophet of regional integration pushing a Chinese-built railway from Nairobi to Mombasa and Kampala as well as an oil transport corridor with South Sudan and Ethiopia. However, the cross-border threat to Kenya from Al-Shabaab will continue, as will South Sudan’s conflict – despite a toothless 12,000-strong UN force – which has displaced two million people amidst continuing fears of mass atrocities.  Uganda – whose  31-year ruler, Yoweri Museveni, will continue to harbour delusions of grandeur as a sub-regional Bismarck – is also planning an oil pipeline to Tanzania.

Central Africa will remain volatile in 2017.  Congolese leader, Joseph Kabila’s successful glissage (slippage) strategy has seen a two-year extension of his mandate without scheduled elections last year. Further repression of protests will occur in Central Africa’s largest economy, as well as instability in its volatile East. Burundian president, Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term electoral victory in July 2015 has resulted in about 500 deaths and spilled 250,000 refugees into neighbouring countries amidst the assassination of government figures and repression of dissent.


Paul Kagame will extend his two-decade autocracy in August. Oil-rich Gabon may see further unrest following disputed elections last year under the increasingly unpopular Ali Bongo. Local warlords continue to control over half of the Central African Republic (CAR) despite presidential elections last year. More promising is the prospect of a Chinese-built railway linking the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Rwanda, as well as the agreement by the DRC and Tanzania to explore collaboratively oil and gas in Lake Tanganyika.

Finally, in North Africa, the continent’s geographically largest country, Algeria’s fortunes will depend on the health of its ailing leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, even as it attempts to lead mediation efforts in Mali. Tensions will continue with Morocco over Western Sahara, as the latter seeks to rejoin the AU. Fragile Tunisia will remain the beacon of democratic governance in the sub-region, while Egyptian strongman, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will continue to play the role of Pharaoh, amidst political repression and an economic crisis. Libya will remain anarchic and acephalous.

A major priority for Africa this year remains how to promote genuine regional integration and increase intra-regional trade beyond the current paltry 12 per cent.

• Prof. Adebajo is the director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.

Receive News Alerts on Whatsapp: +2348136370421

No comments yet