Economic concerns

In October 2022, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described the near-term outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa as “extremely uncertain”. The Fund warned public debt and inflation are at “levels not seen in decades” and says several countries face “difficult sociopolitical and security situations”.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine continues to affect food and fuel prices across the continent. Staple food prices in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 23.9% on average  in 2020/22. Some countries are affected more than others. In Rwanda, food and non-alcoholic drinks increased by 44% year on year in December 2022.

Paying off debt may become an issue in 2023. The Economist Intelligence Unit thinks “some highly leveraged states will face acute financing difficulties and a very uncertain period”. Ghana’s public debt and soaring inflation were among the reasons it sought a $3 billion loan from the IMF at the end of 2022.

Dr Alex Vines, Director of the Africa programme at the think tank Chatham House, warns high inflation at a time of heightened political uncertainty increases the likelihood of civil strife. In August 2022, the police used force against large scale protests in Freetown over the rising cost of living and economic hardship. Reuters said the unrest was “highly unusual” for Sierra Leone.

Elections

Elections in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo bookend a busy political year across Africa.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari will step down at the February general election.

The frontrunners are Bola Tinuba of the governing All Progressives Congress Party and Atiku Abubakar from the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, with the Labour Party’s Peter Obi also being tipped because of his support among young Nigerians. However, in early January the country’s election chief warned that rising insecurity could hamper the election.

President Julius Maada Bio is seeking a second term in Sierra Leone in June. Opinion polls suggest dissatisfaction with the Government’s handling of the economy.

Zimbabwe’s summer election looks set to be a re-run of 2018, with President Emmerson Mnangagwa likely facing veteran politician Nelson Chamisa. The ousting of long-time leader Robert Mugabe in 2017 drew cautiously optimistic talk of a “new dawn” for the country. However, hyperinflation has caused plummeting living standards.

At the end of the year, the Democratic Republic of Congo will hold a general election. The UK Government is concerned about security with the advancement of the M23 Movement rebel group in the eastern part of the country.

According to the UN, neighbouring Rwanda has been supporting M23, and the International Crisis Group warned fighting “could spiral into a wider regional proxy war.”

Fears of famine in the Horn of Africa

Agreement to end the two-year conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region means humanitarian aid can start to reach the estimated 13 million people in need of food assistance across northern Ethiopia.

However, other parts of Ethiopia, and Somalia, are experiencing some of the driest conditions recorded since 1981, according to the World Food Programme.

While thresholds need to be met before famine is declared, Michael Dunford, the regional director for the World Food Programme, said that without further action from the UK and the international community, there will be famine in the Horn of Africa and “people will die at levels that we have not seen in recent history.” He was among several UN and NGO representatives who discussed hunger in the Horn of Africa with the International Development Committee on 8 November 2022.

Ongoing instability in the Sahel

Mali, Burkina Faso and to a lesser extent Niger have experienced considerable political upheaval in the last two years.

Tensions with the Malian transitional authorities prompted President Macron to end France’s near decade long counter-terrorism operation in Mali in 2022.

In November, the UK Government announced it will end the UK military contribution to the UN peacekeeping force earlier than planned. The Minister for Armed Forces, James Heappey, said responsibility sat in the capital, Bamako. He cited the coups, the Malian authority’s partnership with the Russian Wagner Group and the restrictions placed on the French-led and UN military missions.

The number of successful and attempted coups have also raised concerns about longer-term political stability in West Africa. The UK Government said the spread of violence from Mali to Burkina Faso is “causing a direct threat to the UK interest in the littoral [coastal] states.” The Gambia’s Government said it thwarted an attempt to stage a coup in late December 2022.

Global powers and Africa

Africa’s recent history is dominated by great power competition. In recent years, there’s been a focus on China’s growing presence across the continent.

Last year there were questions over France’s influence in Francophone Africa. Resentment against the presence of France is reportedly on the increase in the Sahel.

Russia looks intent on filling the gap. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, visited several countries in July 2022, and Russia will host a summit for African leaders in St Petersburg in summer 2023.

Ebenezer Obadare, the Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa Studies at the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, suggests Russia appears to have “tapped into an ascendant anti-Western current in Africa” that predates the Ukrainian conflict.

Both France and the UK cited the presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, in Mali as one of the reasons they ended their respective military deployments to the country. In March 2022 the Foreign Affairs Committee opened an inquiry into the Wagner Group and is examining its presence across Africa.

The Biden administration signalled its intention to strengthen ties with African partners by hosting a leaders’ summit in December 2022. The EU held an African Union-EU summit in February 2022. China’s Foreign Minister started 2023 with a five-country Africa tour.

However, Peter Fabricius, of the South African based Institute for Security Studies, suggests some countries may “feel reluctant to be drawn into an apparent resurrection of Cold War in which many African countries were mere proxies”.


About the author: Louisa Brooke-Holland is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in Africa

Photo by  Trever on Adobe Stock

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