People across the world, bar journalists, seem to want to live in less interesting times after the political conflagrations and shifting geopolitics of last year. There is no sign that this wish will be granted, even in Africa.
The preoccupations of the West and much of Asia with the
consequences of the election of President Donald J Trump in the United
States as well as Great Britain's
exit from the European Union, will mean less diplomatic and, perhaps,
less investment attention on Africa.
After Trump and Brexit, the forecasting industry geared up for
a bumper year based on a range of assumptions which would affect
Africa: weakening US commitment to the United Nations, the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation; a US-China trade war; a new geopolitical
carve-up between the US and Russia in Europe
and the Middle East; rapid growth of nationalist and populist parties
in Europe; a more inward-looking, temporarily at least, UK.
At the end of this week, Africa Confidential publishes
its traditional edition looking ahead at the politicians, parties,
banks and businesses, militaries and militias that will shape the New
Year. Meanwhile, here are a few signposts.
GHANA: Happy new government, happy New Year, but the
bills are coming in
On 7 January, President-elect Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo
will be sworn in with pomp, ceremony and before an array of African
heads of state but his officials are quietly dampening expectations of
a speedy economic turnaround.
Forecasts from the World Bank suggest economic growth may rise
to over 6% this year from under 4% in 2016 but recovery will be
hindered by a mounting debt burden. Domestic and foreign debts are
reckoned to be well over 70% of gross domestic product. This week, fuel
importers are demanding payment for debts of some US$400 million
accumulated since the last election.
Outgoing President John Mahama's belated
appointment of two key officials – the Auditor General and the head of
the Anti-Corruption Commission – in the dying days of his government
prompted widespread criticism. But for this week, partisan wrangling is
likely to be suspended.
GAMBIA: Jammeh goes to the brink
It's not just enough for President Yahya Jammeh to
lose an election, concede defeat and then change his mind last month.
He looks determined to hold the country – and much of the region – in
suspense until 19 January, when the election winner Adama
Barrow is due to be sworn in as President.
Shortly after Jammeh changed his mind about conceding defeat
to Barrow, he sent soldiers to seize the Independent Electoral
Commission, which had announced the fateful results. Regional leaders
met in Nigeria to make clear
their support for Barrow's election, diplomatically and militarily, if
need be. Senegal and Nigeria reiterated the
stern message to Jammeh.
Since then Jammeh has pulled the soldiers out of the
Commission but he closed down a couple of radio stations and has
inveighed against regional interference in Gambian politics.
CONGO-KINSHASA: More brinkmanship from Kabila and his
The New Year deal which is meant to see Joseph Kabila
unambiguously out of the presidency by December has been signed by
everyone except the man himself. With the Roman Catholic church
mediating and oppositionists such as Kasai's Etienne
Tshisekedi and Katanga's Möise Katumbi
making big concessions, the hope is that Kabila will sign and avert
His long-term backers in Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and South
Africa have, for various reasons, indicated they have run
out of patience with him. That could prove decisive.
SOMALIA: A President emerges, at last
After meeting in Mogadishu on 27 January, some 284 of the country's MPs
have to elect a speaker, and then a national President in this much
extended and indirect election.
For all that, incumbent President Hassan Sheikh
Mohamud remains the favourite candidate among a dozen
contenders. None of this is likely to have much bearing on the pressing
security issues confronting the new government.
MALI: Fresh attacks in the north sound alarms
A round of attacks and kidnappings in the three northern provinces is
adding to concerns about the stability of President Ibrahim
Boubacar Keïta's government in Bamako. Mali hosts
one of the UN's biggest peacekeeping missions but also one of its most
AFRICAN UNION: A continental election at a critical
Six candidates are due to join battle at the end of this month in Addis
Ababa for the chair of the African Union Commission. A late surge by
Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily, who is backed by
many West African and North African states, is challenging Kenya's Amina
Mohamed who was hoping to benefit from a high-profile
campaign in East Africa.
Another leading contender is Botswana's Pelonomi
Venson-Moitoi, the Southern African candidate. Incumbent AUC
chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is leaving
after one term to run for the presidency of South Africa.
courts the African Union with regional repercussions
After submitting its formal application to join the AU
last year, some 40 years after it walked out of the continental
organisation, Morocco has been gradually
building up support for its re-admission.
But it also wants to secure the expulsion of the Saharawi Arab
Democratic Republic (SADR) which has been in a hot and cold war with
Rabat over control of the Western Sahara. For now there seems little
chance that even Morocco's skilful diplomats could persuade the SADR's
main backers – Algeria and South Africa – to
change their strong support.
NIGERIA: Buhari claims security successes and makes
overtures to the Delta
In the division of labour that was meant to shape his government,
President Muhammadu Buhari claimed successes
on the security and anti-corruption front in his New Year message. But
there are plenty of caveats. Nigeria's army may have pushed Boko Haram out of the Sambisa
forest but the surrounding areas are far from secure.
Apart from sporadic militia attacks, there are horrendous
shortages of food and medicines for the displaced peoples trying to
move back into their home areas. Down in the oil-producing Niger Delta,
Buhari repeated his efforts to woo over local people and outflank the
still highly-dissatisfied militant groups.
GUINEA: Arrest of Steinmetz complicates the iron-ore
It takes more than an internal purge in mining giant Rio Tinto and the
arrest, in Israel, of the
company's deadly commercial rival, Beny Steinmetz,
to resolve the tortuous litigation surrounding Guinea's
Simandou iron ore deposit, one of the biggest in the world.
Rio, Steinmetz and Brazil's
Vale continue their three-way legal battles but the low world price of
iron ore is an equal, if not greater, obstacle to its exploitation.
There is promise of investment from a new Chinese shareholder, however.
ZIMBABWE: Mnangagwa edges Mugabe towards the exit
Southern Africa's recent political history is strewn with confident but
erroneous predictions of President Robert
Mugabe's departure. But as the economic failures deepen and
opposition parties coalesce, Vice-President Emmerson
Mnangagwa is taking on more and more day-to-day control
of the government and the President becomes an increasingly ceremonial
That is a nightmare scenario for First Lady Grace
Mugabe and she can be expected to launch more political
fightbacks this year despite the diminishing credibility of her faction
within the ruling party.
alliances, economic winds and vigilance will determine election
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has been
carefully studying the opposition victory in Ghana, based as it was on
a mastery of information technology and electoral systems, together
with a tightly-organised party structure. Odinga's organisation is
lacking on all those counts but shows signs of trying to stitch
together an effective regional alliance outside his bailiwick of Nyanza
President Uhuru Kenyatta's chances of
re-election will depend on division in the opposition and on the
strength of the economy as complaints mount about corruption and
Santos announces his own eventual exit
With a remarkable lack of fanfare, President José
Eduardo dos Santos has made public his own exit strategy
after nearly four decades in power. After parliamentary elections in
August, he will hand over presidential duties to the current Defence
Minister and long-time loyal follower João Lourenço.
That's not quite the end of the Dos Santos dynasty: his daughter Isabel will continue to run the
state oil company, as well as having a strategic stake in all Angola's
major banks, and his son José Filomeno de Sousa 'Zenu'
will still head the country's sovereign wealth fund.
LIBERIA: Making history the Johnson-Sirleaf way
Talking with our correspondent earlier in the year, President Ellen
Johnson-Sirleaf made clear that she intended to break
some national political traditions: she would leave office without a
military fight and she would continue to live in the country peacefully
after the presidential elections in October. Meanwhile, over ten
serious candidates are lining up to succeed her.
SOUTH AFRICA: The ebbing of
Jacob Zuma's political tide
This will be President Jacob Zuma's
most testing political year. Top officials in the African National
Congress insist that Zuma will be replaced as President of the party at
its elective conference in December. Although the party constitution
doesn't bar presidents standing for a third term, they say there is
broad consensus that they should elect a new leader of the party in
December who would go on to stand as its candidate for the national
presidency in the 2019 elections.
But the story doesn't end there. Zuma could still wield substantive
power if he gets one of his favoured candidates to succeed him. That is
why Zuma's foe in the ANC want to push him out of the national
presidency as soon as possible and several more factional battles are
likely before December.
As canny as any of his rivals, Zuma is unlikely to go quietly.