1. AU Leadership Contest to Set Ball Rolling
The year will begin with the contest at the African Union (AU) summit, starting this week, 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 Kenya’s current foreign minister who forcefully mobilized 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 the United Nations (UN) Special Representative 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, Angola, will see Eduardo dos Santos extend his 38-year rule in polls this August amidst a declining economy, repression of civil society, and Chinese-backed loans. Tensions will continue in Mozambique as RENAMO’s armed conflict 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.
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. President Muhammadu Buhari will continue to make progress against Boko Haram militants but will lose ground to Niger Delta Avengers whose sabotage has cut oil exports. Buhari’s languid leadership style is proving that an obsessive commitment to fighting corruption alone will not turn around Nigeria’s economic fortunes. Ghana’s new leader, Nana Akuffo-Addo, has over-promised – free secondary education and a factory in each of 260 districts – 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.
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. The Chinese-built 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 – does not descend into ethnic-fuelled violence. Uhuru Kenyatta should win re-election and has pushed for a Chinese-built railway from Nairobi to Kampala as well as an oil transport corridor with South Sudan and Ethiopia. Uganda is also planning an oil pipeline to Tanzania. South Sudan’s conflict – despite a toothless 12,000-strong UN force – has displaced two million people amidst continuing fears of mass atrocities.
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 elections. 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 2015 has resulted in about 500 deaths and spilled 250,000 refugees into neighboring countries. 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 Central African Republic (CAR). More promising is the prospect of a Chinese-built railway linking the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Rwanda.
Finally, in North Africa, Algeria’s fortunes will depend on the health of its ailing leader, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. 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 Egypt’s 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 increase intra-regional trade beyond the current paltry 12%.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.
Businessday (South Africa) 23 January 2017; and The Guardian (Nigeria) 23 January 2017.