Africa; between aspirations to restore growth in the new year and the exacerbation of its inherited crises
Africa bid farewell to the year 2021 as it suffers from the aggravation of its inherited crises for subjective and objective reasons. Perhaps, the most prominent among them is the fragility of its economic situation after the decline in growth indicators due to the health pandemic that revealed the weak health infrastructure in Africa that caused a decline in the rates of the flow of foreign investments, the democratic deficit after the outbreak of a wave of coups on the continent, and the expansion of armed conflicts. Going through such events, can Africa overcome these crises in the new year and regain its ability to grow again despite the challenges?
The health pandemic "Covid-19" has reduced the level of growth in sub-Saharan Africa to 3.3%, according to the statistics of the World Bank, causing it to suffer its first recession in 25 years. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of Africa's health infrastructure. The health situation in Africa has sparked the so-called “vaccine diplomacy”, as major countries raced in the framework of their strategic competition, especially the United States and China, to provide millions of doses to the African peoples. It is expected that with the decline in the effects of the pandemic during the new year 2022, the continent will regain some of its economic recovery, bringing the economic growth index, according to the expectations of the World Bank, to about 4%.
The decline in the democratic situation, or the so-called “democratic deficit” in Africa, raises concern in Western circles; especially after the outbreak of a wave of coups or deviations in the transfer of power and violation of the constitution, as in Tunisia, Sudan, Guinea, Mali, Chad and Burundi. According to statistics, 2% of the countries of the continent have been subjected to coup attempts since 2013; especially after the experiences of Egypt and Zimbabwe. Many African politicians and intellectuals believe that such coups are still considered, according to the continent's political legacy, as a means of transferring power, and expressing the class struggle in society, and the competition between elites for control over power and wealth.
Despite the emphasis of the African Union and the regional blocs on imposing policies and taking measures mounting to freezing membership and imposing penalties against coups; they have not succeeded in curbing this phenomenon; because it is primarily a product of power imbalances and the result of state structure in Africa. The sanctions imposed by the African Union, moreover, suffer from selectivity. At a time when the Peace and Security Council froze Sudan’s membership after the decisions of the army chief, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan on October 25, the union remained silent about the constitutional coup of the Tunisian president, Kais Saied; exactly as it was silent about the method of transferring power in violation of the constitution in Chad. External powers encourage coups in Africa. Despite the recent highlighting of the negative activity of the Russian “Wagner” Group in a number of countries and its impact on the balance of power, as was the case in Mali; there are Western and regional countries that also contribute to legitimizing coups in order to protect their strategic interests.
The most prominent challenges before the African continent this year is the restoration of economic growth and overcoming the effects of the pandemic, that mostly hit the weak segments of the traditional economy. This in turn threatens to increase poverty rates. Perhaps the decrease in the flow of foreign investments by 16% during 2021, due to the Corona pandemic, is considered the most prominent challenge; especially in its great impact on the youth employment rate and the outbreak of unemployment on the continent once more. On the other hand, although the democratic backsliding, or what some call “democratic stagnation” in Africa, and the profoundly damaging consequences of coups on the economy such as corruption, nepotism and the decline in foreign investment rates in the continent are the main concerns.
The real threat to Africa in my opinion, is not just the coups the armies make, but the spread of armed conflict areas. 19 countries in Africa, especially the sub-Saharan Africa, suffer from the spread of armed conflicts on their soil; ironically, with the presence of 20 international peace missions on the continent. The conflicts in Ethiopia and South Sudan represent the most distinct samples of African countries disability to resolve conflicts of political nature related to nationalistic state build-up in Africa. The conflict in Ethiopia between the government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray Liberation Front threatens the overall stability in the Horn of Africa. With the developments in Somalia, the restlessness in Eritrea, the situation in Djibouti, and the unrest in the Sudan; the Horn of Africa is considered an explosive barrel, especially after the GCC states’ influence extending to the region and the arms race in the Red Sea.
Africa is considered the most prominent victim of the of climate change; especially with the increase in the phenomenon of drought and desertification. It is paradoxically the least contributor to environmental pollution compared to the major industrialized countries. It also receives only crumbs of international assistance to re-adapt its economies to the international policies of climate change. We do not either expect any success in the efforts of the international community to help Africa respond to the challenges of climate change; because this requires huge investments in re-adapting African economies to conform to global standards codified by international agreements.
The new year 2022 represents a window of hope for the African continent's recovery from the successive crises that hit it due to economic stagnation, declining growth rates, the spread of unemployment and the decline in foreign investments, due to the "Corona" health pandemic. Even if there were signs of hope for some economic recovery, the continent’s challenges resulting from the spread of armed conflicts and the spread of the wave of coups would not improve; because they are a natural result of the crises of nation-building and the struggles of the elites and social classes over wealth and power on the continent.
The return of strategic competition between international powers on the continent, especially the United States and China, might be a factor for growth, if the continent could use it to achieve tangible economic gains. At the same time; however, it could be of a negative impact that brings back the atmosphere of the Cold War, and causes deep political divisions and polarizations in African countries and societies.
The experience of African partnerships with a number of countries has demonstrated great efficacy in achieving unprecedented levels of economic cooperation and in raising the level of trade exchange. Undoubtedly, the most prominent model is the third Turkish-African Summit, which was held in Istanbul in the second half of December 2021.
The past year, 2021, witnessed an increase in terrorist attacks that targeted civilians, as the Al-Shabab movement is still active in Somalia, which exploited the political turmoil and launched a number of attacks. There is no doubt that the deep societal division and political polarisation, precedent to the elections as a result of the differences between the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, makes the situation more fragile and susceptible to splintering. Other parts of the continent have also witnessed terrorist activities in Mozambique, Nigeria and the Sahel states. The attacks launched by the Democratic Alliance forces in Uganda last October were the last chapters of these activities. It is noticeable that terrorist operations linked to jihadist movements have declined except in Nigeria and Somalia; but they have regressed significantly in Mali, Niger and the Sahel states. Perhaps the cooperation between the countries of the region and the efforts of the international community; especially the role played by France that deployed large forces to combat terrorism in the Sahel region since 2013.
It is more likely that this decrease in the rates of terrorist attacks from jihadist movements will continue in the same direction during 2022 with the decrease in the rates of internal armed conflicts, the strengthening of political stability, the improvement of economic conditions, and the implementation of political and democratic reforms. Despite numerous reasons for the spread of terrorist movements, the absence of good governance, the weakness of state structures, the collapse of political and economic institutions, the non-sustenance of stability, the struggle for power, and racialðnic divisions; all contribute to the flourishing of terrorism. As such, reliance on security treatments is insufficient and ineffective. The phenomenon can only be combatted by paying attention to political and economic reforms, caring about issues of social justice, and positively dealing with the causes that lead to crises or even collapse of states.
Despite the current challenges, African remains the continent of the future, not only in terms of resources, but by being the largest common free market with more than one billion people- the proportion of youth among them exceeding 60%. That makes labor cheaper, and competence more abundant.
Finally, through democratic political reform, economic growth, and modernisation efforts in the education sector with focus on technology, and attention to the service sectors and investment in infrastructure; the Africa continent remains the bet of the future for the whole world
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