Africa: Not much reason for optimism

| December 18, 2017 | 0 Comments
Civil war will continue to rage in South Sudan, from which this warrior hails, as well as the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya. South Sudan is only a seven-year-old republic and has been consumed by conflict between its politicians about oil revenues. (Photo: Steve Evans)

Civil war will continue to rage in South Sudan, from which this warrior hails, as well as the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya. South Sudan is only a seven-year-old republic and has been consumed by conflict between its politicians about oil revenues. (Photo: Steve Evans)

Terrorism, civil conflict, global warming, population growth, urbanization, education, economic sustainability, managing China, strengthening leadership and improving governance are Africa’s 10 most pressing problems as 2018 unfolds. None of these acute challenges is new, but 2018 will see each of them become more central to Africa’s ability to improve the standards of living and social outcomes of its myriad citizens.
1. Terrorism
Gripped tightly by the vise of al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the Islamic State (ISIS), Africa will continue in 2018 to battle fundamentalist Muslim insurgencies that seem resistant for many reasons to the vigorous attempts by local militaries, American, British and French counter-terror efforts; and the United Nations’ and the African Union’s peacekeeping and peace-imposing forces, to reduce the territories they control and the mayhem they inflict, mostly on civilians.
Originally, each of these movements of terror may have been inspired ideologically by Salafist and other fundamentalist Islamic doctrines and clerics. Boko Haram began, for example, as a backward-looking opponent of western (i.e., modern) education, and as a nihilistic critic of virtually all other conventional secular practices in the Muslim states of northern Nigeria.
Shabaab emerged out of the defeated shell of Somalia’s Organisation of Islamic Courts (OIC), an umbrella grouping of a patchwork of local sharia courts that had sprung-up, willy nilly, in the absence of any national law-enforcing mechanisms. When invading Ethiopian troops destroyed the vigilante troops of the OIC, the radicalized militant youth wing of the sharia movement (Shabaab means “youngsters”) gradually regrouped in southern Somalia. It subsequently became a formidable and well-armed instrument of terror. Some now have links to ISIS.
AQIM grew in the Sahel — the swath of very loosely governed savannah at the southern edge of the great Sahara Desert that extends from Mauritania to the Sudan — out of an amalgam of disaffected Algerian, Malian and Nigerian local movements that unified under the globalist al-Qaeda banner (sometimes allied also to ISIS) and turned to al-Qaeda central for financial support. Ideological adherence to al-Qaeda’s Islamist preachings came later.
Followers of ISIS also menace sections of Libya and Tunisia and attack Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula.
Each of these movements morphed rapidly from being ideologically driven to being primarily motivated by profiteering. All turned to kidnapping for ransom, smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Whatever real Islamist leanings their founders may have had were soon overtaken, and consumed, by rather straightforward attempts to first control the charcoal trade of Somalia to Saudia Arabia and then Yemen (al-Shabaab), and then to become the foremost transshipper of heroin from Afghanistan and India to Europe (al-Shabaab).
AQIM first kidnapped and sought ransoms, and then exerted control over narcotics trafficking (primarily cocaine) across the Sahara, from Timbuktu to Tunis and Algiers, and then to Europe. Hence came the bitter battles for Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal in northern Mali and raids by AQIM into Burkina Faso and Niger. Boko Haram kidnapped, too, and gained territorial control in Nigeria’s Borno State in order to extort taxes and foodstuffs in kind and now trafficks heroin, cocaine and meth northward to AQIM and Europe.
These are mercenary efforts that employ suicide bombers, trucks filled with explosives, attacks on refuge
es and refugee camps and sorties against convoys and army patrols to protect trading monopolies and extend loci of power. They intimidate civilians, bribe border patrols and officials, purchase weapons from international purveyors of guns and ammunition (al-Shabaab has acquired drones) and manage for the most part to thrive despite the anti-insurgency efforts of American, British and French special forces; the Nigerian army and AMISOM (the Kenyan-led African Union Mission in Somalia).
In 2018, al-Shabaab is poised to continue bombing Mogadishu, Somalia’s beleaguered capital; Boko Haram is capable of resisting Nigerian-Cameroonian-Chadian military actions; and AQIM is able to remain potent despite French and American counter-attacks. Each has the advantage of guerrilla tactics and, hence, the ability to evade direct assaults, drone surveillance and the military penetration of their redoubts. Only applying a tight tourniquet to their profiteering will weaken them; those efforts are unlikely to be successful short of the legalization of drugs in Europe.


This UN peacekeeper serves in the Central African Republic where efforts to quell civil war continue in vain. (Photo: UN photo)

This UN peacekeeper serves in the Central African Republic where efforts to quell civil war continue in vain. (Photo: UN photo)

2. Civil wars
Civil wars also strike terror into the hearts of civilians, especially in the South Sudan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya. Those seemingly interminable conflicts will continue into 2018 despite United Nations and African Union attempts to intervene.
In South Sudan, a seven-year-old republic that has been consumed for most of its young life by a conflict between President Salva Kiir and his sometime vice-president, Riek Machar, the contest is over spoils from the country’s only revenue source — oil. Secondarily, it is an ethnic battle between the dominant Dinka (Kiir’s people) and the next most prominent Nuer (Machar’s affiliation). Rape, murder and massacre have been the usual weapons of a vicious war (with many aborted ceasefires and peace agreements) that the UN Mission in South Sudan and African Union negotiators have failed over and over to contain.
Central Africa’s civil war is between the Muslim Séléka, from the nation’s north, and the Anti-balaka (i.e. anti-AK-47), a Christian/Animist resistance movement from the south and centre of the republic. After Central Africa’s regular government collapsed in 2013, the Séléka took over peacefully. But they persecuted Christians, who rose up to protect themselves. With French military assistance in 2014, the Anti-balaka ousted Séléka, but the civil war continues despite attempts by the UN mission in the Central African Republic to reduce hostilities.
The internal conflicts in the Congo are many. In eastern Congo, especially in North and South Kivu provinces, several local warlord armies battle the national army of Congo under the eyes of the UN Stabilization Mission to the Congo, a large, but so far mostly ineffectual, peacekeeping force. In central Congo, especially in the two Kasai provinces, there is another internal war between local warlords and the central government. Each of these, and other minor Congo conflicts, are struggles to control the exploitation of such mineral resources as gold, diamonds and coltan, a metalic compound needed for the manufacture of such electronics as cellphones and computers.
Libya harbours not one or two, but several conflicts between coastal mini-city-states, some affiliated with ISIS and al-Qaeda, some linked to the official (but locally disregarded) national government and some tied to a warlord with power in the eastern region. Ultimately, these civil wars are about profits from onshore petroleum deposits, but they are interminably about imposing local taxes and other kinds of extortion.
In all four nations, 2018 will see continuing conflict, much of it brutal.
3. Global warming
The Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking, glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in eastern Africa are soon to vanish and the monsoons and intertropical convergence rains that supplied much of Africa’s rain-fed agriculture are either receding or becoming impossibly erratic. South Africa’s Western Cape Province is running out of water, with rationing imposed. Other parts of the continent are either impossibly dry (the Sahel and the northeast) or impossibly wet.
The consistency on which farming smallholders long relied is gone. Elsewhere, along the western low-lying coasts, rising sea levels are about to inundate major cities such as Conakry, Freetown, Lagos and Port Harcourt. 
All of these climatically induced problems will continue inexorably into 2018. Africa will suffer the consequences without being able to exert any control over the causes of global warming. Only changes in China and the United States, which will not take place in 2018, can slow the rise in methane and carbon dioxide-induced temperatures.
4. Population growth
Just as global warming is gradual and inexorable in its consequences, so is Africa’s dramatic population surge almost too late to arrest. By 2050, the continent’s population will double to 2 billion and keep growing throughout the century to 3.6 billion. Africa will follow only Asia.
Within that immense growth, Nigeria will move from the seventh to the third-largest nation on Earth (a forecasted 730 million strong) and Tanzania will become the fifth-largest country (after the United States’ 420 million). The Democratic Republic of Congo will become the seventh most populous place after Pakistan and Indonesia.
These unprecedented proliferations of peoples are based on fertility among the poor and least well educated. Poverty alleviation (through the provision of jobs) and the education of girls could still slow these population rises, but probably not substantially before the end of the century.
Such swellings of populations — but not in prosperous and better educated places such as Botswana, Mauritius, and South Africa — will have severe consequences in 2018 and beyond: Youth bulges, unemployment, crime, pressure on social services, potential food shortages combined with climate changes, shortages of potable water and likely political protests.
5. Urbanization
As population totals rise, more and more rural Africans will move into already congested cities, putting pressure on over-taxed municipal water and sewerage systems. Lagos and Kinshasa will become larger than Cairo.
Urban transport, inadequate in 2018, will become even more of a bottleneck to development. Safety and security in the cities, fragile in 2018, will become more and more problematic as median ages of approximately 28 will remain for much of the century. Furthermore, in 2018, there are too few formal sector jobs to absorb population rises and the outflow into the economy of partially educated or badly educated young people. This explains the continuing massive migration of desperate people from inner Africa across the Sahara to Libya — which already struggles to cope — and Europe. Such problems will engulf 2018 and beyond unless Europe can somehow stem people smugglers or help to create meaningful employment opportunities farther south.
6. Education
Given the fact that about half of all Africans for the next 50 years will be under age 34, educating them well is the best route to greater economic self-sufficiency for all. Educational attainments also exert the biggest impact on birth numbers.But, in 2018, most of Africa will still be spending less than it might on educating its young. There will still be insufficient numbers completing secondary school, especially girls, and too few available post-secondary institutions and places for secondary-school graduates. At present, only 30 per cent of African girls complete secondary school. There are places in university on the continent for only six per cent of all eligible secondary school graduates. Africa’s educational crisis, in other words, will remain dire throughout 2018 and well after.
7. Economic development
Since education is one of the key stepping stones to improved national economic performance, it is no wonder Africa’s individual national GDPs will continue to grow more slowly than they must if they ever intend to match or exceed rates of population growth. Economists suggest that economies need to rise by six per cent or so annually if they wish to reduce unemployment. Instead, they are, in most cases, growing at three per cent or so per year. South Africa and Egypt are barely rising. Ethiopia, Rwanda and a few other fortunate polities are reaching seven or more per cent annually. But nearly everywhere, nations and citizens play permanent catch-up and fall farther and farther behind. Breaking out of this low-level poverty trap is one of Africa’s critical 2018 challenges and will continue to be indefinitely.
8. Managing China
Managing China is one of the keys to maintaining and possibly improving African GDPs per capita. China’s own economic performance is critical to African development. Unless China continues to purchase African raw materials in abundance, Africa cannot grow. So it is Africa’s fate to export petroleum and minerals to China. In return, China builds roads, railways, pipelines, ports, hospitals, African Union and various political party headquarters, stadiums, military facilities and other important contributions to national infrastructures. It gives soft loans and sometimes forgives big borrowings. As long as the Afro-Chinese partnership flourishes, Africa can grow. But, a challenge for 2018 and beyond is how to prepare for the time when China cannot or will not continue to purchase African raw materials with the same alacrity. World commodity prices could fall, too. Diversification away from exporting unprocessed products and going in the direction of partial refining and processing, and some greater industrialization, are steps that have eluded African politicians.
9. Strengthening leadership
Coping effectively with all of these difficult challenges will require much more responsible political leadership than African nations have so far enjoyed. Too many heads of state and heads of government are transactional rather than transformational in their approach to governing. That is, they think often about how best to enrich themselves and their families, and how to uplift their own lineages, clans, sub-clans and ethnic groups.
Transformational political leaders are visionaries concerned with benefiting all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or linguistic affiliation. They are people of integrity, genuinely concerned with improving the lives of their fellow citizens. Transactional leaders mostly care about being re-elected and about satisfying the needs of the groups to which they are most closely affiliated. The war in South Sudan, for example, has resulted from impoverished leadership. So has the dire situation in the Congo and, originally, in such difficult spaces as Somalia.
Political leaders who are repressive represent a special category of problem, both to their citizens and to world order. Egypt, Eritrea and Zimbabwe (even after president Robert Mugabe’s enforced resignation) are egregious examples of this malaise, with conditions in Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the Sudan, Togo and Uganda also of serious concern.
If the 54 nations of Africa are going to begin to surmount their many challenges in 2018 and later, consummate broad-based, Mandela-like political leaders will be essential.
10. Improved governance
Only nationally minded political leaders of honesty and ability can deliver better services to their citizens. Providing such results means improved governmental performance, or “good governance.” Those essential services range from keeping citizens safe and secure to providing substantial rules of law; political participation; platforms for economic sustainability; and such human development prerequisites as schools, hospitals, clean water, roads and access to broadband and mobile telephone networks. Only 10 or so African countries are well-governed today. The remaining 40-plus need the urgent care and attention that only better political leadership can provide.
What almost all of Africa requires is reductions in corruption — a painful problem for nearly all of the continent — attention to judicial independence, better crime prevention, infrastructural upgrades and more macro-economic deregulation. If more African countries can make progress in 2018, especially in combating corruption and other problems, Africans will benefit and 2018 will be a less painful year for the growing continent than is forecast.

Robert I. Rotberg’s most recent book is The Corruption Cure: How Leaders and Citizens Can Combat Graft (Princeton University Press, 2017). He also edited the most recent special issue of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal. It is devoted to
Canadian corruption.

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Category: Dispatches

About the Author ()

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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