A recent visit to Addis Ababa – the centre of African diplomacy and home of the African Union (AU) – triggered musings on the outlook for the continent in 2023. The concerns among “Afrocrats” in the Chinese-constructed AU Commission glass building revolved around restoring stability to the Sahel, Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, and the eastern Congo; implementing the Tigray peace accord with Addis Ababa; pushing for greater African representation on the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the Group of 20; and achieving an African Free Trade Area by 2034, built around eight subregional pillars. But, how can one square these lofty aspirations with continental realities in 2023?
West Africa: Marabouts and Militaries
The year started with elections in Nigeria: Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, with 64% of West Africa’s economic might. Despite a low turn-out of 27% amidst a chaotic change of currency and fuel shortages, it appears – barring a successful court challenge - that the veteran septuagenarian and political marabout, Bola Tinubu, will become the country’s next president. He would inherit a $98 billion national debt and widespread insecurity that led to 10,000 deaths last year. Nigeria which had led praiseworthy Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peacekeeping missions to stabilise Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, has now become an exporter of insecurity across the Lake Chad Basin, a Gulliver tied down by troubles that prevent it from establishing a Pax Nigeriana.
This has opened the space for coup-making colonels and captains to seize power in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, even as instability has spread across Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Côte d’Ivoire. Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goïta is struggling to contain a decade-long insurgency in which Islamic militants have taken over large parts of north and central Mali. The situation is exacerbated by a geo-political rivalry between France and Russia which has seen the expulsion of French troops and the increasing use of Russian Wagner Group mercenaries. A 12,000-strong UN force, with a limited mandate, has struggled to keep the peace. There are also reports of the presence of Wagner “guns-for-hire” in neighbouring Burkina Faso – led by Captain Ibrahim Traoré - which similarly halted its cooperation with the French gendarme and, like Mali, expelled the French ambassador from its country. Traoré has lost half of his country to Islamic jihadists, with two million people displaced. Niger – with a $100 million American drone base and military presence – also continues to suffer from jihadist attacks. Guinea’s Colonel Mamady Doumbouya has, however, largely avoided the scourge of jihadists that are bedevilling his neighbours.
Southern Africa: Limping Liberationists
Flood-hit Southern Africa continues to see dominant liberation parties stubbornly clinging to power, but losing support and legitimacy. South Africa accounts for 60% of the subregional economy. Its ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been wracked by factional fighting and corruption scandals in which state utilities have been milked as cash cows. The outcome of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm scandal - in which a large amount of dollars was stuffed into furniture on his farm – may well be a watershed moment for the rule of law in the post-apartheid era. The ruling party could dip below 50% in polls next year, and would, in such a scenario, need a coalition to stay in power. Angola’s Joăo Lourenço only narrowly won re-election last August in a country in which entrepreneurial generals are still powerful. This mirrors neighbouring Zimbabwe where a repressive politico-military complex will use any means to prevent an opposition electoral victory this July. Mozambique’s Filipe Nyusi will continue to struggle to contain an insurgency in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province. European Union (EU)-funded Rwandan peace enforcers – backed by a Southern African peacekeeping force – will continue to lead the fight to protect the regime and Western corporate interests, resulting in muted Western criticism of Kigali’s intervention in the eastern Congo.
Central Africa: Congo, Cameroon, and Crises
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is scheduled to hold elections in December, and along with oil-rich Cameroon, accounts for 60% of Central Africa’s economy. Rwanda, however, has been accused by UN experts of fomenting unrest in the eastern Congo using M23 rebels. A staggering 5.8 million people remain displaced in the eastern Congo in a conflict that has raged for over two decades. Cameroon’s French-backed, seemingly senile, 90-year old president, Paul Biya, has now entered the fourth decade of his misrule that has triggered a separatist conflict in the West of the country. War-ravaged Central African Republic – another theatre in which Pax Russica has battled Pax Gallica - has one million displaced people, with 16,000 UN peacekeepers mostly observing the slaughter for a decade.
Eastern Africa: Conflict and Cooperation
In Eastern Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia account for half of a subregional economy still threatened by drought and famine in 2023. Conflict has displaced 4 million people in South Sudan, with Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Central Equatoria particularly volatile, and 76% of the population - 9.4 million people – will need humanitarian assistance this year. Military brass hats will continue to wield power in neighbouring Sudan in 2023, despite half-hearted efforts to transition to civilian rule. Two million people have been displaced in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti. AU troops have kept parts of Somalia stable amidst continuing attacks by al-Shabaab militants, while the AU-brokered Ethiopian peace treaty with the Tigray region has ended a destructive two-year conflict which killed an estimated 600,000 people. Amidst these crises, there are some hopeful signs of successful regional integration in 2023: Uganda and Tanzania are completing an East African Crude Oil Pipeline; Kenya and Tanzania will continue to resolve beggar-thy-neighbour trade disputes in order to bolster a $1 billion bilateral trade relationship; while the East African Community (EAC) has brought the DRC into its club, and will conclude the deployment of peacekeepers to the eastern Congo.
North Africa: Dog Days in the Desert
Finally, North Africa will continue to experience political autocracy and economic stagnation in 2023. Egypt and Algeria account for nearly three quarters of the subregional economy. Autocratic rule is firmly entrenched in Cairo under Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who has stifled all dissent. Monarchical rule is also increasingly practised in Tunis under Kaïs Saïed whose dog whistle xenophobic outburst against black Africans resulted in attacks against them, culminating in mass evacuations by West African governments. Libya will continue to struggle to hold elections this year in order to unite a country divided by a dozen years of conflict following the NATO-assisted fall of Muammar Qaddafi. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s health will remain a concern, while bilateral relations with Algiers will continue to be tense. Algeria’s politico-military-business rulers – le pouvoir - will continue to pull the strings, backed by high oil and gas prices that will be used to calm discontent. Algiers will also continue its delicate balancing act of juggling close economic ties with the West with strong military ties with Moscow.
Africa will thus resiliently continue to muddle through in 2023.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship in South Africa.