Africa: What to expect in 2019

| December 29, 2018 | 0 Comments
Ethiopia promises to be Africa's  prosperity powerhouse for 2019. Shown here are tea and coffee packers, part of the country's important agricultural sector.  (Photo: © Scaramax | Dreamstime.com)

Ethiopia promises to be Africa’s prosperity powerhouse for 2019. Shown here are tea and coffee packers, part of the country’s important agricultural sector. (Photo: © Scaramax | Dreamstime.com)

Africa in 2019 will continue to cope with a number of difficult and debilitating challenges: Terror, civil conflict, climate warming and drought, corruption, poor governance, weak rules of law and inconsistent and lacklustre leadership. For all of those reasons, sub-Saharan African migrants will still attempt, in great numbers, to enter Europe by crossing the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.
More encouragingly, by the end of 2019, Africa should benefit from new dam construction and increased electrical-generating capacity, from a plethora of Chinese-built roads and railways, and from the demise or removal of several autocrats. The example of Ethiopia’s new positive leadership will also influence how the rest of sub-Saharan Africa responds to natural and political crises.

Ethiopia
Although South Africa is expected to remain in its second bout of recent recession for much of 2019, Ethiopia — the continent’s new prosperity powerhouse — will continue to grow economically thanks to its burgeoning new industrial base (mostly shoes from local leather, some now exported to Europe, the remainder to China) and its reopened borders and diplomatic relations with Eritrea. Indeed, Ethiopia is bound to be 2019’s African success story because of the forward-looking leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

If Cyril Ramaphosa convinces voters with his anti-corruption policies, he'll be returned to South Africa's presidency in 2019. (Photo: government ZA)

If Cyril Ramaphosa convinces voters with his anti-corruption policies, he’ll be returned to South Africa’s presidency in 2019. (Photo: government ZA)

Ahmed became the head of Ethiopia’s government in 2018 and soon signalled a sharp break with the mostly autocratic methods of his predecessors, Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn. He is the first leader to come from the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group; to release political prisoners; to promise to develop all of the country’s regions equally; to begin to dismantle its state- and military-controlled commercial enterprises; and to surprise almost everyone with his brokering of a peace deal with Eritrea. Both neighbouring nation-states went to war in 1998 over a minor territorial dispute that really stemmed from Meles Zenawi’s personal falling out with Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s dictatorial president and a one-time brother-in-arms (against Marxist/Stalinist rule across both jurisdictions).
Ahmed’s rejuvenation of Ethiopia has greatly improved its economic prospects, giving foreign and local investors confidence that opportunities will now abound and that contracts will be respected. Removing Ethiopia from the list of Africa’s poorest places is now possible.

The 36-year rule of Cameroonian President Paul Biya is threatened by a new political movement. (Photo: Amanda Lucidon, White House

The 36-year rule of Cameroonian President Paul Biya is threatened by a new political movement. (Photo: Amanda Lucidon, White House

Ahmed’s leadership has dampened the rolling protests that had characterized his immediate predecessor’s regime. By the end of 2019, too, Ethiopia’s massive new 6,000 MW Grand Renaissance Dam across the Blue Nile River should be producing power, thus providing hydroelectricity to a vast country long without reliable sources of energy. Ethiopia will also begin exporting surplus power to other parts of Africa, a continent that is well behind every other portion of the globe in generating capacity and usage. Half of all sub-Saharan Africans suffer from electricity shortages and daily blackouts.

Terror and civil conflict
Having ended its war with Eritrea and ceded territory, Ethiopia will no longer harbour major conflicts. But on its southern border, the al-Shabaab movement will continue in 2019 to kill and maim thousands of Somalis, effectively to control about one-third of Somalia, and to menace the constituted government of that hapless place and the African Union peacekeeping forces that forlornly try to beat back al-Shabaab militants. Special forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, other Western nations and even Turkey will all be busy bombing and otherwise attacking al-Shabaab. But there is little likelihood in the near term that African, Western and Somali government efforts will be able to repress al-Shabaab, or even to cut off its profitable smuggling of charcoal to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Nor will they easily stanch its trans-shipping of opium and heroin from India and Pakistan to Europe.
Just as this terror in Somalia will remain a problem for Africa and for world order, so will Boko Haram, Nigeria’s home-grown terrorist movement (with ties now to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State) continue to cause deaths and turmoil in the northeastern corner of Nigeria and in neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. Nigeria’s armed forces, hampered by corruption in their own military officer ranks, have been incapable for the past 10 years of quelling the Boko Haram insurgency and ending the suicide and other bombings of innocent civilians in all three countries. Boko Haram also derives cash from smuggling narcotics, people and guns northwards to the Sahara and Europe.
Outbreaks of terror will continue to plague the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert in 2019. Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and outposts of the Islamic State will persist in raiding northern Mali and Niger and causing trouble in Algeria and Libya. Again, AQIM exists, in part profitably, to transport narcotics and people across the Sahara to European conduit points in Tunisia and Libya.
Ambazonia is a new movement in northwestern Cameroon battling on behalf of the country’s long-abused English-speakers — 20 per cent of the French-speaking country. It threatens the 36-year strongman rule of Paul Biya, Cameroon’s often-absent president. In the nearby Central African Republic, the simmering martial contest for control of the country between the Muslim Séléka movement and the Christian anti-Balaka group will continue, but at lower levels of intensity than in the past.
Back in Nigeria, Muslim Fulani herdsmen will persist in fighting with Christian agriculturalists for control over land in central Nigeria. And in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, sea piracy and local attacks on villagers will continue to create havoc.
Other long-running wars will continue to fester in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. There, several local militias and warlords murder civilians throughout the North and South Kivu provinces and in sections of Kasai Province. A newly embattled frontier has also been opened along the eastern border of Congo with Uganda. These conflicts are mostly fuelled by resource-driven avarice; the militias try to monopolize mining wealth derived from coltan, diamonds and gold. A large UN peacekeeping force under an assertive mandate has largely been ineffective in restoring peace to the region. Partially as a result, this area may continue to be plagued by an Ebola epidemic.

Climate change, droughts, floods
Global warming is irreversible. So far, Africa has suffered from weather extremes, thanks to a major heating up of the planet. Large swaths of Africa have, in recent years, suffered from serious droughts: The Sahel states (south of the Sahara) have experienced famine. So have Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Even countries farther south, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, have experienced prolonged poor rainfall episodes. Other countries have had unexpected periods of flooding.
Clearly climate shifts have adversely affected Africa’s ability to continue to grow its traditional crops in the usual way. The traditional patterns and timing of the rainy seasons on which nearly all of Africa depends for food production are disrupted, and few positive climatic pauses should be anticipated in 2019. (Very few of Africa’s agricultural lands are irrigated.)
The Atlantic and Indian oceans are rising, thanks to the glacial melts in Greenland and Antarctica. Thus African coastal cities, several of which are low-lying and among the largest in the world, are at risk. Lagos, Nigeria, for example, is built on a series of easily submerged islands and a peninsula that are already subject to periodic flooding.

Corruption
Aside from Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius, many of the states of Africa are rampantly corrupt. Average GDPs per capita are repressed because of corrupt dealings. So are the educational and health attainments of virtually all of the sub-Saharan African populations held back by the corrupt practices of their leaders. There will be no end of corruption in Africa in 2019; nor will leaders act decisively against the scourge.
Corruption is a top-down malady, with grand and petty corruption flourishing in those places where bribery, extortion, fraud and peculation (theft and embezzlement) are all practised by political and other leaders, and where citizens consequently endure large-scale evasions of investigation and punishment. In a few jurisdictions, however, political heads of state or heads of government have themselves managed to curtail corruption by force of example, as in Rwanda and Botswana. In others, such as South Africa, civil society actions have checked the kleptocratic tendencies of a former president.
In Angola, a new administration will continue to unravel the corrupt machinations of its predecessor and the former ruling family of Eduardo dos Santos. Those two outcomes are unlikely, however, in the oil-rich textbook kleptocracy of Equatorial Guinea, or in mainstream corrupt entities such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Zambia.

Elections
Africa’s most important national elections in 2019 will decide not only the immediate fate of two countries’ citizens, but also whether the continent’s peoples are prepared to accept business as usual over radical shifts away from prior political and economic trajectories.
South Africa and Nigeria go to the polls early in 2019. If Cyril Ramaphosa, who ousted Jacob Zuma and assumed the South African presidency in 2018 as the head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), can persuade voters that he has begun to reduce ANC-led corrupt practices and to tackle key educational, housing, electricity supply and economic growth issues in an effective manner, then he and the ANC will be returned to power. If not, the ANC might fall before the combined onslaught of the multi-racial Democratic Alliance and the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters party.
In Nigeria, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari will compete against former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and former World Bank official Oby Ezekwesili, among others. The first two are standard-bearers of the All Progressives Party and the National Democratic Party, respectively. Ezekwesili represents the much smaller Allied Congress Party. The first two are Muslims asserting that it is still the turn of a Muslim to be president; Ezekwesili and others favour overturning tradition and shifting the national leadership to a person (and a woman) from the Christian south of the country.
But the election outcome will more likely hinge on voters’ views on whether Buhari has done enough, or anything, during his first term to halt the Boko Haram mayhem in the northeast, to combat pastorialist/agriculturalist combat in the country’s midsection, and to halt piracy and other conflicts in the oil-producing Niger River delta.
Then there is corruption, which Buhari promised to stem, but has not, and economic growth, of which there has been very little. If either Abubakar or Ezekwesili were more widely backed candidates, Buhari’s chances of victory might be slim. Whoever wins, however, will likely prove unable to advance Nigeria into the ranks of Africa’s better-governed, less internally troubled states.

Governance and leadership
The fates of South Africa and Nigeria demonstrate that Africa beyond Ethiopia and the stable states of Botswana, Cape Verde and Mauritius will have great difficulty “rising” in 2019. Even with continued Chinese purchases of oil, diamonds, gold, ferrochrome, copper, iron ore, timber and some agricultural products and continued Chinese assistance in the infrastructural sector, good governance (including strong rules of law and enhanced transparency) will be widely absent and consequently will be a drag on overall economic and social performance.
Similarly, except in Ethiopia and possibly South Africa, Senegal, and the Gambia, leadership favouring personal or family interests will prevail over the public interest, corruption will continue to flourish and living standards will continue to erode. Third-term President Yoweri Museveni will be running an increasingly dominant one-party state in Uganda, for instance, like Presidents Biya in Cameroon, Ali Bongo Ondimba in Gabon and Faure Gnassingbé in Togo. President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya will continue to rule that country mostly to benefit his Kikuyu ethnic group and its allies.
A Ramaphosa victory could help to raise leadership standards in Africa, and advance the cause of political and social progress. So could the very unlikely triumph of U.S.-trained Ezekwesili in Nigeria. Otherwise, Africa’s consummate challenges will prove difficult to surmount during what promises to be a tough 2019.

Robert I. Rotberg is the founding director of Harvard Kennedy School’s program in intrastate conflict, president emeritus of the World Peace Foundation and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts And Sciences. His latest book is The Corruption Cure. (Princeton, 2017)

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Robert I. Rotberg is Fulbright Research Professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

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