THERE are many economic, demographic, and technology changes that, after a bit more pain, are set to make Africa richer over the next five years.
History teaches us though that there is one thing that can bring all hope tumbling down – politics.
In the first part of this article Mail & Guardian Africa looked at how the departure of two long-ruling strongmen, Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe could set off new dynamics that could send the southern African regional economically soaring. Or how the transitions of these men, who have each ruled their country for over 30 years, could go terribly wrong.
In addition, in South Africa, President Jacob Zuma, whose leadership has been hobbled by charges of corruption, incompetence, and an economy dizzied by power outages, will step down in 2019 after his second and last term expires.
Zuma, according to his critics, is plotting to install a more pliant successor than his current deputy, the wealthy Cyril Ramaphosa.
Though, with his latter-day reputation as a politician for the rich than the poor, Ramaphosa doesn’t excite progressives who believe South Africa’s wealth should be better shared, he is still seen as the best man to breathe new life in the country’s economy.
Shake up in the Horn
The lift in southern Africa, that could start coming through after the Zimbabwe election of 2018 and Dos Santos’ possible retirement in the same year, would amount to little if there is no shake up in the rest of the continent.
And perhaps nowhere could game-changing events happen than in the Horn of Africa. There Ethiopia is notching up nearly double-digit growth, Africa’s highest, and has tag-teamed with Djibouti to build railway and other infrastructure like they were about to go out of fashion.
The two have set themselves the ambition to build a pipeline and infrastructure stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa.
But for the magic to come together for the Horn, and East Africa in general, Somalia, which has been in conflict for 25 years, and where in the last eight years an African Union peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, has been battling to help the fledgling regime in Mogadishu to defeat the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab militants, needs to be pacified.
For that to happen, two things are necessary. The internationally-backed Somalia government needs to become adult and take full charge of the country, which in part means defeating Al-Shabaab. Secondly, the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM needs a brief surge to close out the “Somalia deal”, but also kick the Mogadishu regime in the pants so that it can get into the serious business of governing.
To achieve both of these, though, something will have to give inside Eritrea. If there is a hermit nation in Africa today, it is Eritrea. Its brass-knuckled autocrat Isaias Afwerki, rules with a totality that even an absolute monarch like Swaziland’s King Mswati would envy.
Eritrea has been a key backer of Al-Shabaab, but that support has been reducing lately, according to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
Eritrea, being an aetheist state that persecutes the religious, doesn’t share in Al-Shabaab’s theocratic vision. It only backs it as a foil to its arch-enemy Ethiopia, which is locked in a dance of death with nationalist Somali groups, religious or pan-Somali, who still lay claim to the Somali regions of Ethiopia.
However, Afwerki is ailing. Reports of his demise have been frequent – and inaccurate – but still they hint at a despot on his last legs.
Eritreans are perhaps Africa’s most hardy lot. Determined and furiously loyal to country, that they have survived Afwerki (and a long brutal war of independence against Ethiopia) is testament to the depth of their mettle. And those in the Diaspora still send home vast sums of money, the mainstay of the state budget.
It is likely that Afwerki will not be president beyond another five years, and his departure would unleash the Horn of Africa’s energy and accelerate the Ethiopia-Djibouti-fuelled growth train.
It would also make it easier to defeat extremist groups in Somalia, and thus ensure that the whole eastern side of the continent, from Egypt’s newly expanded Suez Canal to Durban in the south would form a new fully peaceful prosperity sphere.
But the wider western side of Africa would need to be running on the track too if a tide that lifts the whole continent is to be created.
That would require, first and foremost, that the countries threatened by terrorism like Mali, Chad, and Cameroon, be secure. That necessitates the Sahel region to be stable, and therefore that the more recent source of its instability, Libya, be pacified.
A lot of the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS)-supplied terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel now flows from the turmoil of Libya.
It is unlikely that within the next five years Libya will be calm and dominated by a single authority that consolidates it as one nation again.
A more likely outcome is a break up. A fragmentation of Libya might not of itself not be a disaster. For starters, the authorities in the new statelets, even if they are terrorist organisations, will be distracted by trying to make their territory work, collecting taxes, and running the economy.
But also a Libya break-up might frighten north Africa and the Sahel into political and economic reform, in order to avoid Libya’s fate. Losing Libya, could be the price that is paid for saving north Africa and the Sahel.
One of the benefits of that will be that upper West Africa and the Sahel will be able to focus on dealing with one of their big existential issues – climate change.
But the hefty pay-off will be that that Francophone West Africa will be able to pull its weight.
Until now, Nigeria, and Ghana, which is now punch-drunk from an economy that fell to its knees in the face of crashing commodity prices and a currency meltdown, have had to carry West Africa.
Rise of Francophone Africa
Lately, post-conflict Ivory Coast, the largest economy in Francophone Africa, has made dramatic recovery. Senegal too is sprinting.
Two leadership changes will likely happen in Francophone Africa over the next five to 10 years, to cap the region’s transformation. Two of Africa’s longest-serving leaders – Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Cameroon’s Paul Biya – who are throttling the possibilities of their countries with the dead hand of their corrupt rule, will either be ousted, step down, or step back.
In Nigeria, the disciplinarian new president Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on a crack down on corruption, and already long-silent oil refineries are kicking back to life, and electricity production, once in the doldrums, doubled in his first 100 days in office.
In 2019 Nigerians will get to pass judgement on his first term record. If he doesn’t falter, Buhari will deliver a muscular nation to the polls. But if he fails, it will be one exhausted by a failure to end the Boko Haram insurgency, and that didn’t recover from the oil shrivel, which forms 90% of the country’s exports.
In all, therefore, 2020 could be a defining point for the continent. And the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Durban would be the perfect icing on the cake for the after-party.