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Cairo: Young female protestors, among thousands gathered in Tahrir Square. Photographer: Teun Voeten
Cairo: Young female protestors, among thousands gathered in Tahrir Square. Photographer: Teun Voeten

Image courtesy of Panos Pictures

Stronger economies, better education and technology are driving more political change and unrest


What lies beyond Tahrir


Subsidy cuts and crony capitalists



Africa Confidential begins 2012 with a special 16-page edition forecasting the most significant developments in the coming year in a dozen of Africa’s most important – or most volatile – nations. Our correspondents have searched out the key elements driving political and economic change in the coming twelve months. From some surprisingly negative consequences of the new Kenyan constitution, to an unexpectedly strong bounceback for the Ivorian economy, the way forward is by no means obvious. Nor is the political ‘Spring’ exclusively ‘Arab’; its effects are still spreading southward and proselytising the democratic message.

Early this year, a vigorous election in Senegal may well topple the Wade dynasty, while in Mali a three-cornered fight for the succession to Ahmed Toumani Touré should crown a series of peaceful transitions. Sierra Leone and Ghana go to the polls later in 2012 in what promise to be fair fights, but the coming Angolan poll presages no more than a rubber stamp of the MPLA’s ascendancy. Claims of fraud in the re-election of President Joseph Kabila in Congo-Kinshasa in December will keep pro-democracy activists busy.

Gambia and Congo-Brazzaville will hold questionable elections largely ignored by the African Union, Commonwealth and La Francophonie. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, the polls will involve hard struggles over crucial issues. Whether fixed, flawed, or honest across the board, voter choice is starting to embed itself as the main agent of change.


A vote on unfinished business

The grand coalition staggers on, costly and unwieldy. All the top politicians and most of the contenders for the presidential election due in December 2012 are part of it, so it is hard for them to criticise an arrangement stitched together after the devastating violence that followed the 2008 polls. At the Jamhuri (Republic) Day ceremonies on 12 December, President Mwai Emilio Kibaki, 80, was sandwiched between the three leading contenders to succeed him but the speakers seemed eerily disconnected from the public’s main concerns.


Downturn hits election agenda

For a decade, President Mwai Kibaki’s government has focused on growth and efficiency, and it has largely achieved its goals. Yet as Kibaki faces his final year in office, people are increasingly restive over the deteriorating economic situation. A nationwide strike was called in December by doctors agitating for higher pay after the government had ignored their demands for years. In September, teachers were on strike, in October, lecturers and power workers.


The war goes regional

Military successes by African forces against the Islamist militia Al Haraka al Shabaab al Mujahideen have changed the dynamics of the conflict. However, they are far from tackling the core problem: the lack of an effective government to preside over national reconstruction. Hopes of progress towards that in 2012 look overblown, despite the growing roster of countries intervening militarily or diplomatically. Indeed, many now favour a more regional or confederal approach, arguing for the recognition of local political realities and of self-governing provincial entities.


The future is military

Billboards in Khartoum celebrate the regime’s military prowess and its increasingly bellicose tactics against the newly independent South. Massive pictures of the President, Field Marshal Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, and the Defence Minister, General Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein (now also wanted by the International Criminal Court), stare down, in uniform and unsmiling, at the dusty streets. ‘Long ago, our ancestors told us to look after the nation’, runs one poster, echoing an old song. As opposition groups step up protests and the regime responds by arresting human rights and political activists, this sounds like a threat.


Rough roads ahead

The problems of a new state plague South Sudan but the biggest challenges are from the old state to the north. South Sudan and north Sudan now celebrate Independence in different halves of the year but they are still locked together and will remain so, at least until the unfinished business of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement is settled.


One election, two countries

President Joseph Kabila’s year will start with a strenuous effort to re-establish credibility. The official results of the 28 November elections gave him 48.95% of the vote, against 32.35% for the runner-up, Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba. Few believe those figures. The European Union observers reckoned that 1.6 million votes were not properly accounted for and the protests were intense, especially in the regions and Kinshasa, where Kabila has never been much liked.


A year of living dangerously

For a year that was meant to presage Nigeria’s great economic leap forward, 2012 could hardly have opened more inauspiciously. First came President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency enforced by further deployments of soldiers in several northern states and closure of the borders with Niger and Chad in the wake of more bombings and shootings by northern-based insurgents. That prompted new threats from a spokesman for the Boko Haram militia (Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad) for all Christians to leave the north within three days. With such talk of attacks and reprisals over FM radio and social media, some ex-military officers suggest that the crisis could prompt a mutiny or putsch within the army, probably among the junior officers.


How the economy defies politics

Insulated from political chaos, this year’s budget assumes a gross domestic product growth rate of 7.2%. The International Monetary Fund reckons it may be just under 7%. Early in the year, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will announce the rebased GDP, the first such recalculation of national income for two decades, after lengthy research conducted with the World Bank.


Great expectations

Once again, politics could shape Ghana’s economic future. The national elections due on 7 December 2012 will determine which party is to manage the transition to a medium-income developing economy with world-class oil and gas resources. It could be a close call. In 2008, just over 40,000 votes separated the presidential contenders in the second round of voting and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) almost tied with the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the parliamentary elections.


Getting the vote right

The straight-talking director of Ghana’s Electoral Commission, Kwadwo Afari-Djan, and his team have organised five multiparty elections since 1992, each one more credible than the last. The 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections could be the toughest yet, with both the big parties talking of ‘die-be-die’ (do or die). Afari-Djan is determined to uphold his Commission’s independence; the central concern is the accuracy of the electoral register.


Smart money, prickly politics

Ex-President Laurent Gbagbo’s trial at the Hague may raise ethnic and political tension but if President Alassane Dramane Ouattara can keep the lid on this, the promising economic prospects may help the country to recover well from the recent violence. The smooth running of the parliamentary elections on 11 December was a good start (AC Vol 52 No 24). By themselves, they cannot ensure reconciliation, especially since the previously ruling Front Populaire Ivoirien boycotted them, but they still help to broaden Ouattara’s base and consolidate his power without highlighting Gbagbo’s defeat and humiliation.


Zuma goes for broke

The election that matters is the one within the governing African National Congress, whose December conference in Mangaung in the Free State will pick its presidential candidate for national elections in 2014. The winner will almost certainly be President Jacob Zuma. He has many critics, in the ANC and outside, but the veteran operator knows his opponents are divided and his side will keep using state institutions, including the intelligence, police and judicial services, to keep them down and off-balance. Such battles will take some of the shine off this year’s ANC’s centenary celebrations and festivities that Zuma had hoped would boost his leadership campaign.


Economic jitters as Tshwane looks East

Foreign investors will find the political climate discouraging. Exports, apart from gold, are likely to slow. The fall of the rand against the US dollar will help some manufacturers but it will also boost inflation. To make matters worse, the main export destinations are Europe and the United States, whose economies are struggling to grow out of recession. At the same time, South Africa’s economic managers are trying to develop a new generation of trading links with East and South Asia, designed to build bigger export markets than the country currently has with the West.


A race against time

Both President Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) want elections as soon as possible. Each blames the other for foot dragging. Frustration is running high after 32 months of dysfunctional power-sharing government. Welshman Ncube, leader of MDC-Ncube, argues that without national agreement on a new constitution, security and independent institutions to manage the vote, an early election could see a repeat of the murderous violence of 2008. Work outstanding on the constitution – grassroots consultation and redrafting clauses – followed by delimiting the new constituencies and a fresh (accurate) electoral register could take another year.That would mean elections in early 2013.


A pause in economic progress

The early economic successes of the power-sharing government are sputtering (AC Vol 52 No 25). A decade after the land reform battles, agriculture will be the main source of growth this year. This is from an alarmingly low base: the Commercial Farmers’ Union forecasts that food production will be lower than in 2000. Shaky global commodity prices will depress earnings from the mines, including the covert deals that President Robert Mugabe’s aides have made over diamond sales from the Marange fields.



Africa Confidential begins 2012 with a special 16-page edition forecasting the most significant developments in the coming year in a dozen of Africa’s most important – or most volatile – nations. Our correspondents have searched out the key elements driving political and economic change in the coming twelve months. From some surprisingly negative consequences of the new Kenyan constitution, to an unexpectedly strong bounceback for the Ivorian economy, the way forward is by no means obv...


Votes, mines and money

The presidential and legislative elections due in November 2012 will be close-run, pitting President Ernest Bai Koroma and the All Peoples’ Congress (APC) against Julius Maada Bio and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). Koroma stakes his political reputation on his anti-corruption campaign and on promises to provide basic infrastructure such as electricity and clean water. On both, his record is mixed. Rated more highly by outsiders than by locals, Koroma is a better businessman than politician and his lack of control over his party in Parliament has stymied his efforts at reform. Maada Bio, a retired brigadier general, helped to overthrow the APC in 1992. Neither is likely to gain more than half of the first-round vote. In a second round, Koroma would lose the advantage of incumbency, while Maada Bio could reinforce his message of change.

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