The Promise and Peril of Africa in 2023
Samir Bhattacharya

As the year 2022 ended, here is a brief recap of what happened in Africa over the past year. Most African countries were still battling to recover from the pandemic when the year began. However, a series of disruptions, such as supply shortages and swiftly rising prices, further fuelled by the worldwide effects of the Ukraine crisis, hampered the continent's economic recovery. Observing these trends, numerous observers anticipate that the continent will have a dismal 2023. Financial organisations like the IMF predict a financial crisis similar to the 1980s, with one-third of the world economy in recession.[1]

Conflicts and military coups continued to haunt the African continent in 2022. The most precarious was the Horn of Africa because of Ethiopia's metastasising civil war, the Sahel, Somalia in the east, and Mozambique in the south due to the rise of Islamist terrorism. Three new coups, two of which took place in Burkina Faso and one attempted in Guinea Bissau, continued the trend of previous years' coups.

In 2022, 13 elections, ranging from local to presidential contests, were held across the continent. Kenya, Somalia, and Lesotho all saw peaceful transfers of power. One of the candidates, political outsider Raila Odinga, had previously been involved in elections that had violent consequences. William Ruto, the final winner, was also accused of homicide, forced population transfer or deportation, and persecution between 2011 and 2013 by the International Criminal Court. With these two candidates in the fray, the election in Kenya was anticipated to be violent. However, the elections were held relatively peacefully, thus setting an example.

The successful conclusion of the federal elections and establishment of the government in Somalia, despite numerous delays and against the backdrop of the Al Shabab's threat, is another impressive accomplishment. In this landmark election, delayed for almost 15 months, former leader Hassan Sheikh Mohamud defeated the country's current president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, who has held office since 2017.[2]

The win of Sam Matekane, perhaps the wealthiest person in Lesotho, drew applause from all over the world. In order to prevent another political crisis, Matekane has committed to implementing the election reforms as recommended by the Southern African Development Community.[3]

On the other end of the spectrum lies President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo's farcical election victory in Equatorial Guinea. The country witnessed one of the most one-sided elections in the world, where the incumbent, despite ruling for the last 43 years, garnered 99% of the vote in the presidential election.[4]

On the positive side, African countries voiced their opinion in unison on most international issues. At COP27 in Egypt, African leaders called for an end to a "climate injustice".[5] They opined that the continent continues to pay one of the highest prices for global warming despite contributing less than 4% of global carbon emissions.[6] Finally, the year ended with Morocco's success inthe football World Cup as it became the tournament's fourth-best team. It was the first time an African country went to that level.[7]

In a nutshell, the year was mixed for the continent, showing mixed stories of democratic progress and resilience as well as the resurgence of unconstitutional changes to government and other threats to good governance. However, it wasn't all bad news, as there were many heart-warming developments throughout the continent. Now that the continent has entered 2023 with fresh optimism, the following trends and problems could define Africa in 2023:

Economic Concerns

In October 2022, IMF described the near-term outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa as "extremely uncertain".[8] The public sector debt in Africa has been increasing more expeditiously than ever before. Last time it was witnessed in the early 2000s, when the hugely indebted poor countries (HIPC) project was put into place, involving a significant debt restructuring. It is predicted that in 2022 and 2023, the public sector debt to GDP ratio in Africa will remain above 60%, with certain African nations likely exceeding this mark by a significant margin.

Consequently, in 2023, debt repayment is expected toremain a problem across the continent. Burdened by its growing national debt and high inflation, Ghana requested a $3 billion loan from the IMF.[9] In 2023, many African nations will be burdened by the need to service and refinance substantial sums of debt, particularly when domestic and international borrowing prices are rising.

Prices for commodities, particularly those related to energy, metals, and minerals, are likely to stay volatile through 2023. After two years of steady rise, they will still be reasonably high by historical standards, thus helping exporting countries benefitin terms of trade. Moreover, the continued international competition for long-term access to Africa's strategically significant energy products and industrial inputs, especially in the backdrop of international sanctions against Russian entities, should work in Africa's favour in 2023.

In the energy sector, the decision by European nations to switch from Russian oil and gas to alternative sources may raise demand for African energy suppliers such as Nigeria, Angola, Gabon, Libya, Algeria, the Republic ofCongo, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad. The war may also bring the necessary investment to many parts of Africa, particularly for upcoming projects related to hydrocarbons. Nigeria, Niger, and Algeria were already discussing the development of a Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline route just before the war. This crisis is expected to accelerate the discussion and its implementation.[10] The same may be said for mineral-rich nations when Western-based mining firms and commodity dealers are more inclined to steer clear of Russian mineral suppliers.

AfCFTA has another growth window as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act policy, which expires in 2025, is most likely to fail. For instance, billions of euros spent on buying grain from outside Africa could be reinvested in local agribusiness if intra-African food trade and production, as foreseen under the AfCFTA, is proven effective. Despite the Covid19 slowdown, eight nations have already started trading under the AfCFTA's Guided Trade Initiative in 2022, including Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Tunisia. Policymakers must expedite the implementation of the agreement's subsequent phases and enhance intra-African collaboration in order to capitalise on this momentum in 2023.

Ongoing Instabilities and Military Coups

In 2023, hotspots of instability will be present in the poor Sahel region, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso, in fractured and contested Libya, all through the Horn of Africa, in northern Mozambique, and turmoil areas of Nigeria.

Recently, coups were carried out in the Sahel by the military in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022). There are grounds for concern regarding whether the run of coups in 2022 will continue or whether 2023 will be a fresh new year devoid of a single coup in the continent.

Since 2013, France has been offering security to the broader Sahel region, which includes conflict-torn Mali. Colonel Assimi Goita organised a coup in August 2020, overthrowing the elected president Keita. Mali's military staged their "second coup" in May 2021, and Col. Goita was sworn in as president of a transitional government.[11] Disgruntled withthe back-to-back coups and the association of the Junta Government with the Russian private army, Wagner Group, President Macron decided to end France's near counter-terrorism operation in Mali. As more and more European countries follow France in deserting Mali, the country may witness a state collapse, similar to Afghanistan. [12]

As early as January 2022, military authorities in neighbouring Burkina Faso removed President Kabore and installed Lieutenant Colonel Damiba. Hundred of locals angry with Kabore's leadership celebrated Damiba, a 41-year-old soldier who had promised to drive out the Islamist extremists in the country's north and improve the security situation.[13] Unfortunately, the security situation remained unchanged, and celebrations were brief as Burkina Faso faced a second coup on September 30, headed by Army Capt. Ibrahim Traore.[14] Since, he seized the Junta Government's presidency and ordered French forces to leave the country as soon as possible.[15] Going forward, Russia may begin providing security to Burkina Faso, once more through Wagner, after the 400-odd French special forces soldiers have left the nation.[16]

The security situation of northern Ethiopia (the Tigray region) is another concern which may continue to jeopardise the peace and security in the Horn of Africa in 2023.In November 2020, when the war started between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), it was anticipated that it would end quickly.[17] However, it was merely the start of a protracted, metastasising conflict that lasted almost two years until the two sides signed the peace agreement in November 2020.[18] The question is whether and how long the peace agreement can last without political reform, economic stability, and accountability.[19]

In Southern Africa, Islamist extremists have been carrying out manyonslaughts in Mozambique's northern provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, and Niassa.[20] In 2023, the threat of Islamist terrorism in Mozambique will continue to rise. Furthermore, it might extend to other nations like Tanzania, where the American Embassy has already raised a security alert for all Westerners.[21] Another trouble spot is Eastern Congo, where the M23 rebel group has been in combat with the country's military since May 2022. As it advanced quickly towards Goma, the region's commercial hub and capital, it drove out thousands of people from their homes.[22]

Year of elections

With 17 State or Parliamentary elections scheduled, African politics and democracy will undoubtedly have a busy 2023.

The Nigerian presidential election, expected to take place in late February, is the most significant among them. As the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari stands down following the constitution after serving two four-year terms, the electoral environment is infused with optimism, and a new wave of young people's civic and political participation has been observed in the lead-up to the election. However, there have been political turmoil and bloodshed as well that tarnished the run-up to the polls.

The summer election in Zimbabwe, expected to occur sometime in July or August, will be the second national election to be held since the overthrow of Robert Mugabe as the country's leader. That election took place one year after Robert Mugabe's oppressive 37-year rule was overthrown by a military coup. Unfortunately, this election may become a redo of 2018. This time, President Emmerson Mnangagwa will attempt to maintain his position by defeating experienced politician Nelson Chamisa, whose Citizens Coalition for Change organisation has been campaigning vigorously. Despite the surveys indicating that Chamisa is in the lead, President Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF will attempt to retain power by open rigging and violent repression.

In Sierra Leone, the Presidential and Parliamentary elections will take place in June, when President Julius Maada Bio will seek to retain his position. In Gabon, President Ali Bongo, who was previously delisted after having a stroke that left him unable to speak, now appears to be in line for re-election. In October, Liberia, the continent's oldest republic, will hold Presidential and Parliamentary elections. This will mark a significant turning point for a nation still recuperating from years of civil war and a deadly endemic.

Finally, the Democratic Republic of Congo will hold its general election to select a new President, National Assembly, and Senate at the end of the year. President Felix Tshisekedi, ruling since 2019, is anticipated to run for reelection. The election is expected to be violent due to the advances made by theM23 rebel group in the country's eastern region.

Climate Change and Fear of Famine in the Horn of Africa

While the world will breathe a sigh of relief after the Ethiopian government and the TPLF rebels reached a peace agreement, the World Food Programme reports that other regions of Ethiopia as well as Somalia, are currently witnessing some of the driest conditions since 1981.[23] In 2022, the Horn of Africa saw its longest and most severe drought, while West Africa was subjected to significant flooding. Weather-related issues will have a detrimental impact on the domestic food supply. The food security problem already affecting much of East Africa, the Sahel, and portions of Southern Africa will be worsened by high costs for imported food products and farm inputs (particularly fuel and fertilisers). Localised warfare, social upheaval, and cross-border movement will continue to be significantly influenced by water stress and food shortages, particularly in Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan, where the risk of famine and starvation will be very severe in 2023.

New Scramble for Africa

Great power rivalries characterise contemporary Africa, termed the new scramble for Africa.[24] The contest between the three major global powers will increase in the upcoming year as China, the US and the EU try to enhance their economic, political, and security ties with Africa.

Africa holds an essential place for China and its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Africa is also crucial as a source of strategic supply chains, as well as open end-markets for Chinese goods and services. China has remained the top investor in Africa for the last decade, surpassing the US.[25] Although the large loans and mega projects funded by the Chinese government may not continue in the backdrop of the global economic slowdown, China may shift its focus towards private sector investment in Africa. In 2023, China is also likely to project its soft power through its covid19 vaccine diplomacy, support for regional integration, and expansion into peace and security domain.[26]

Following a slight dip in relations during the Trump administration, the US has a new Africa strategy that it hopes will improve ties with the continent. Meanwhile, the Biden administration organised the second US Africa Leaders' Summit in December 2022 in Washington. To make up ground, President Biden has pledged $55 billion to Africa in the coming three years.[27]

As an international partner to Africa, the EU also plays a significant role. At the sixth EU-AU Summit which took place in Brussels in February, leaders from the EU and the AU came to an understanding of the fundamentals of a new partnership and a shared vision for 2030.[28] Under its €300 billion Global Gateway investment strategy, revealed in December 2021, the EU earmarked 150 billion in Global Gateway investment funds for Africa in November.[29]

While hostility toward France's presence in Francophone West Africa is on the rise, Russia is expected to fill the void by riding the anti-France and anti-Western tide. Russia has considerable goodwill in many countries of Africa since the Soviet era, particularly in the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, and Mozambique. In recent years, Russia has undertaken a concentrated effort to gain political support throughout Africa, through intense diplomacy, financial assistance, and military backing. Russia is slated to host the 2nd Russia Africa Summit in St. Petersburg in the summer of 2023.[30] However, its advance on the continent is expected to be limited by its conflict in Ukraine in 2023.

Conclusion

Africa has faced a lot of hardship in 2022. After a promising 2021, when the continent's GDP rose by almost 7% and real growth was seen in every region, the economy slowed in 2022 amid rising inflation, tightening monetary policy, and geopolitical unrest. However, it was also the year when the African agency was fully displayed as African nations could finally speak in the same voice in different international forums, including United Nations.

The outlook for Africa in 2023 is far from smooth. It is not difficult to list the concerns. Issues, including debt, civil war, internal strife, and climate change, present considerable difficulties. But it also offers opportunities for African nations to rise to the occasion.

There was reason to celebrate Kenya's coalition politics, which focussed on broader issues rather than ethnicity and Somalia's peaceful power transfer. However, the example of Equatorial Guinea shows that 2022 was a year of stark disparities in terms of democracy.

Democratic growth in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and other Sahel countries has been impeded by an escalating perilous security environment. While the Sahel and the DRC may still experience continued war, it seems as though the turmoil in northern Ethiopia may finally be coming to an end.

Trade appears to be one bright spot. Despite being hurt by the high cost of imports, the African nations whose goods are in demand in the international market will earn significant benefits. The other area with potential for expansion is intra-African trade. Though slower than anticipated, the AfCFTA is still moving forward, and an increasing number of African governments are realising the value of developing their local and neighbouring markets, considering the global market volatility. It will be interesting to observe how this strategy works in 2023.

The year 2023 will be significant for the continent because it may mark the return of unlawful government changes and other perils to good governance, as well as a mixed record of democratic growth and resiliency. African citizens must maintain a high level of alertness to prevent their democratic accomplishments from backsliding. In order to successfully attain Agenda 2063, African nations, the African Union, and Regional Economic Communities need to address the various challenges to democracy and good governance decisively. The instability brought on by election cycles, geopolitics, war, and the continuing threat of food shortages will remain significant causes for concern in 2023. In a nutshell, 2023 will be challenging for many African countries. But there are grounds for optimism that many will end the year better than they started it.

Endnotes :

[1]Suranjana Tewari and Peter Hoskins. “Third of world in recession this year, IMF head warns”. BBC. January 2, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-64142662

[2]Mohamud Ali. “Somalia's new president elected by 327 people”. BBC. May 15, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-61438047

[3] “Political rookie’s new party wins Lesotho vote but no majority”. Al Jazeera. October 10, 2022. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/10/millionaire-wins-lesotho-vote-but-no-majority-officials

[4] “Equatorial Guinea ruling party wins 99% of votes - early election results”. Reuters. November 21, 2022.https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/equatorial-guinea-ruling-party-wins-99-votes-early-election-results-2022-11-21/

[5] “COP27 ends with announcement of historic loss and damage fund”, UN Environment Programme Release. 20 November 2022 https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop27-ends-announcement-historic-loss-and-damage-fund

[6]Africa's share in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from 2000 to 2020”. Statista. August 1, 2022.https://www.statista.com/statistics/1287508/africa-share-in-global-co2-emissions/#:~:text=In%20the%20last%20two%20decades,share%20among%20all%20world's%20regions.

[7] “Morocco's World Cup run - and the Englishman who helped plot it”. BBC. January 24, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/sport/64353402

[8]Cedric Okou, John Spray, D. FilizUnsal. “Africa Food Prices Are Soaring Amid High Import Reliance”. International Monetary Fund. September 27, 2022. https://www.imf.org/en/Blogs/Articles/2022/09/26/africa-food-prices-are-soaring-amid-high-import-reliance

[9]Cooper Inveen and Christian Akorlie. “Ghana expects $3 bln IMF loan approval early in 2023”. Reuters. December 13, 2022. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/ghana-sees-imf-board-approval-3-bln-3-year-loan-early-2023-2022-12-13/

[10]Bhattacharya, Samir. “Ukraine Crisis and its Impact on Africa”.Volume 5 Issue 3 July - September 2022. https://www.printspublications.com/journal/national-security

[11]Edith M. Lederer. “Mali defends Russian ties and opposes options for UN force”. ABC News. January 28, 2023. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/mali-defends-russian-ties-opposes-options-force-96736729

[12]Bhattacharya, Samir. “Ukraine Crisis and its Impact on Africa”.National Security Vol. 5, Issue 2, April - June 2022. https://www.printspublications.com/journal/national-security

[13] “Timeline from a year of political turmoil in Burkina Faso in 2022”. Africa News. January 23, 2023. https://www.africanews.com/2023/01/24/timeline-from-a-year-of-political-turmoil-in-burkina-faso-in-2022/

[14]Ibid.

[15] “Burkina Faso military government demands departure of French troops”. Reuters. January 22, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/burkina-military-govt-demands-departure-french-troops-national-television-2023-01-21/

[16]Carlota Ahrens Teixeira. “Burkina Faso: Another Russia-West hotspot?”. GIS Reports. January 3, 2023. https://www.gisreportsonline.com/r/burkina-faso/

[17]Bhattacharya, Samir. “Civil War in Ethiopia: Why India can’t let Africa’s second-most-populous country go Yugoslavia’s way”. First Post. August 13, 2022. https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/civil-war-in-ethiopia-why-india-cant-let-africas-second-most-populous-country-go-yugoslavias-way-11051881.html

[18] “Eritrean forces begin withdrawal from Ethiopia's Tigray region”.Firstpost. January 22, 2023. https://www.firstpost.com/world/eritrean-forces-begin-withdrawal-from-ethiopias-tigray-region-12029172.html

[19] “Will Ethiopia’s Peace Deal Last?” Foreign Policy. December 19, 2022. https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/12/19/tplf-abiy-ethiopia-peace-deal-last/

[20] “Mozambique Struggling to Contain Violence in Troubled Northern Regions”. Voice of Africa. September 07, 2022. https://www.voanews.com/a/mozambique-struggling-to-contain-violence-in-troubled-northern-regions/6735287.html

[21] “Security alert – U.S. Embassy Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.” U.S. Embassy in Tanzania. January 25, 2023. https://tz.usembassy.gov/security-alert-u-s-embassy-dar-es-salaam-tanzania-january-25-2023/

[22]Djaffar Al Katanty “U.N. condemns M23 rebel offensive on Congo town, hundreds flee”. Reuters. January 27, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/un-condemns-m23-rebel-offensive-congo-town-hundreds-flee-2023-01-26/

[23]Andrew Wasike . “13M people facing severe drought in Horn of Africa as hunger bites: WFP”. February 8, 2022. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/13m-people-facing-severe-drought-in-horn-of-africa-as-hunger-bites-wfp/2496808#:~:text=According%20to%20WFP%2C%20the%20Horn,low%20demand%20for%20agricultural%20labor.

[24] “U.S., China, Russian Officials on Charm Offensives in Africa?” All Africa. January 27, 2023. https://allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/00084657.html

[25]Victor Oluwole “China ranks ahead of America as the largest investor in Africa since 2010”. Business Insider Africa. February 20, 2022. https://africa.businessinsider.com/local/markets/china-ranks-ahead-of-america-as-the-largest-investor-in-africa-since-2010/62532rh

[26]Louisa Lim and Julia Bergin. “Inside China's audacious global propaganda campaign”. The Guardian. December 7, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/dec/07/china-plan-for-global-media-dominance-propaganda-xi-jinping

[27]Laura Gozzi& Anne Soy. “US-Africa summit: Joe Biden says US is 'all in' on Africa's future”. BBC. December 15, 2022.https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-63982818

[28] “9 months after Summit: European Union and African Union Commissions take stock of the implementation of the February Summit commitments.” European Commission. November 28, 2022. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_7247

[29]Leo Komminoth. “EU reveals details of $150bn Global Gateway Plan for Africa” African Business. November 29, 2022. https://african.business/2022/11/trade-investment/eu-reveals-details-of-150bn-global-gateway-plan-for-africa/

[30]Kirill Babaev. “Prospects for Expanding Russia’s Economic Interaction With African Countries”. Modern Diplomacy. December 20, 2022. https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2022/12/20/prospects-for-expanding-russias-economic-interaction-with-african-countries/

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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