Twenty years ago, African leaders made significant commitments to transparent and accountable governance and respect for human rights with the creation of the African Union (AU), and its adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a comprehensive economic and political reform programme.
This was a moment of optimism for greater African agency in international relations and reduced geopolitical rivalry in the continent following the end of the Cold War. There was also hope that long-standing conflicts were ending such as in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan, and that this was a continent of opportunity and growing prosperity.
Twenty years on, the AU is undergoing intensive reform, geopolitical rivalry for influence has returned, and instability in Sudan (and now South Sudan) and the DRC continues. Twenty years ago, regional conflicts were swirling around the Mano River Union (especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone), while today the hot spots are in the western Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, eastern DRC and northern Mozambique, often across borders.
In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia saw an uneasy ceasefire agreed between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Islamist militant groups in Africa further expanded their territorial reach in 2022, particularly in the western Sahel, where the al-Qaeda affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) continued to make inroads. The drawdown and exit of western forces from Mali, both French bilateral and international contributions for the UN mission there, adds new dimensions to regional security challenges.
Coups have once again swung back into fashion in parts of Africa as they were twenty years ago. Since 2020, there have been successful military coups in Burkina Faso (twice), Chad, Guinea, Mali (twice), and Sudan, and failed ones in the Central African Republic (CAR), Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Niger, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Although the drivers of these coups differ significantly, we, as Africans, need to study, explain and confront the drivers behind many of these coups.
Three national elections illustrate the state of African democracy in 2022, but more focus was primarily on two of them: Angola and Kenya. In Angola’s August elections, the ruling MPLA lost its absolute majority, with the opposition UNITA winning the majority in Luanda for the first time.
In Kenya, also in August, William Ruto prevailed to become president ahead of an incumbent-backed coalition led by longstanding political challenger Raila Odinga. Meanwhile in Equatorial Guinea’s elections in November, Africa’s longest serving president, Teodoro Obiang, extended his 43-year mandate with an interesting 94.7 per cent of the vote, on a turnout of 97 per cent.
Africa’s economy was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic when a range of internal and external shocks struck, such as adverse weather conditions and rapidly rising price hikes and borrowing costs. Key African economies such as South Africa and Nigeria have been impacted by low growth, and many African governments have seen their debt burdens increase. On average the public sector debt-to-GDP ratio of African countries stood at above 60 per cent in 2022.
Major power rivalry in Africa
Geopolitical competition in Africa has intensified in 2022, particularly among great powers such as China, Russia, the United States and the EU, but also by middle powers such Turkey and the Gulf states.
The sixth AU-EU summit was held in Brussels in February and agreed on the principles for a new partnership, although the Russian invasion of Ukraine that followed disrupted these ambitions. The US also launched a new strategy to strengthen its partnership and held a second US-Africa Leaders’ summit in Washington in December this year (the first since 2014).
Russia’s ambitions have been curtailed by its invasion of Ukraine, postponing its second summit with African states to 2023. The imposition of international sanctions has complicated its trade and investments, and its military support including via the Russian paramilitary group Wagner has been curtailed, focused on Mali, Libya and the CAR.
International competition to secure Africa’s critical and strategic minerals and energy products has intensified, and in the energy sector, European countries are seeking to diversify away from Russian oil and gas with alternative supplies, including from Africa. Western mining companies and commodity traders are also increasingly seeking alternative supplies from Africa.
Decarburization is becoming a driver of resource nationalism and geopolitical competition in certain African mining markets, home to large deposits of critical ‘transition minerals’, such as copper, cobalt, graphite, lithium or nickel.
In December this year, Chatham House published a report on African debt distress and the role of China. The era of Chinese state-backed big loans and mega-projects that started twenty years ago in Angola after the end of its civil war may be coming to an end, but Chinese private-sector investments on the continent will continue through its Belt and Road Initiative and its dual circulation model of development.
COP27 was hosted in Sharm El-Sheik- Egypt in November and gave African leaders an opportunity to shape climate discussions by pushing their priority areas, such as loss and damage, stranded assets, access to climate finance, adaptation, and desertification.
Climate adaptation in Africa is a key condition to preserving economic growth and maintaining social cohesion. In the run-up to COP27 there were a number of continental efforts that were made at ensuring diverse African voices fed into the summit preparations. African countries were well represented in the conference and indeed made their voices heard.
Football is getting better in Africa
On the sporting front, Morocco became the first ever African nation to reach the semi-finals of the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, defeating the global footballing giants of Belgium, Portugal and Spain.
But despite such historically unprecedented and well deserved success by Morocco, the country stubbornly continues its colonial occupation of Western Sahara, leaving little prospects for the Sahrawian people to achieve their total independence any time soon.
As an Afro-optimist, though, I look forward to the year 2023 with optimism and hope for the continent. The hope is that all Africa’s development stakeholders shall come together, provide the continent and its people with an all-round inclusive, people driven policy and practical solutions to the challenges facing the continent.
To help stimulate equitable economic growth, reduce poverty, promote peace and security and mitigate climate change.
John Kitoka is a Dar es Salaam-based analyst of international affairs. He can be reached on +255 755 622697 or email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo Initiative. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.