After a decade of strong growth, new economic pressures are prompting protests and political change
When international conferences have to devote an extra day to crafting upbeat resolutions, you know hard times are coming. In December, over 180 delegations went an extra 100 metres to produce a hopeful-sounding communiqué to wind up the Climate Change conference in Paris. For all the skilful diplomacy on show, Africa didn't get the cast-iron commitments it was seeking on funds for the proposed US$100 billion a year climate change adjustment fund. Nor did it see any deluge of investment in solar power projects in the world's sunniest continent.
Similarly, Beijing's diplomats worked hard to put the best possible spin on the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit in South Africa, also in December. Some $60 bn. of Chinese investments and loans would be sluicing through Africa over the next five years, President Xi Jinping smilingly assured the gathering. It was a welcome respite from the gloomy reports of tumbling copper, cobalt and iron prices as China rebalances its gigantic resource-hungry economy.
With its practised diplomacy the International Monetary Fund warns of the 'stronger headwinds' facing Africa's economies in 2016. Lower revenues together with mounting debts and budget deficits are pushing African governments to make some hard choices. When these headwinds translate into cuts in jobs and spending on schools and healthcare, there are going to be repercussions.
We expect political upsets in those countries with strong opposition parties and traditions of civic activism. Unquestionably, South Africa's governing African National Congress will face its toughest challenge yet in the local and metropolitan elections with its control of cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth now at risk. A poor showing by the ANC would have national consequences, perhaps encouraging a challenge to President Jacob Zuma, whose authority was severely weakened in the last few weeks of economic meltdown in 2015.
Ghana and Zambia are struggling with similar demons in the run-up to their elections this year, as well as chronic power shortages and rising debt. In both countries, the opposition parties scent victory.
The third-term movement – the club of presidents who cannot bear to leave office – faces more tests in Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa. Veteran putschist President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has faced down his opponents and pushed through changes in a hastily-organised constitutional referendum. Another victory in elections, due in July, looks certain. Far less clear are the prospects for President Joseph Kabila in Congo-Kinshasa, who has been dithering over the third-term matter.
There will be no prizes for guessing the election winners in Uganda (Yoweri Museveni in February), Niger (Mahammadou Issoufou, February) and Djibouti (Ismail Omar Guelleh, April). But the presidential elections due in Benin on 28 February break the mould: the race to succeed outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi appears to be wide open and few in Porto Novo and Cotonou are willing to predict the outcome.
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