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The team at Africa Confidential wish you all the best for the coming year and that we will see substantive progress towards ending the pandemic and its accompanying economic and social damage.
There are prospects of success following the fast-track development of different vaccines against Covid-19, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford University/AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, China's Sinopharm and Russia's Sputnik V. Much will depend on an effective and equitable distribution system.
Although wide-scale vaccination programmes have started in Europe, North America, China, and South-East Asia, distribution of vaccines beyond there is unlikely to start until April, according to the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. That is far too late, says John Nkengasong, Africa CDC director, who points to cases of Covid-19 increasing by 19% and deaths by 26% in Africa in the last week of December.
By 31 December, Africa had recorded 2.7 million cases and 64,000 deaths from Covid-19, far lower than other continents. But Nkengasong warned that the second wave of the virus could change that dynamic.
The faster spreading variant of the virus detected in South Africa and the United Kingdom and several other European countries has driven a surge of infections. From 24 December to 30 December, South Africa recorded 82,000 new cases.
After some initial apocalyptic forecasts of the pandemic's threat to Africa, measured in terms of millions of deaths, a consensus view developed that the continent's young population and stronger immune systems towards multiple viruses had helped avert catastrophe. It was the social and economic effects of lockdowns across the continent, combined with the slowdown of global trade that wrought most damage.
Recorded cases in Africa last year made up just 3.3.% of the global total, according to the World Health Organisation but added a caveat about the limits of the data. Ten countries – Cameroon, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda – account for 70% of testing in Africa, and that is predominantly in towns and cities.
A lack of reliable data about caseloads and causes of the death, even changes in the death rates, has led to sharp policy changes. Some countries are shutting down again, some are reopening.
The latest data in South Africa and Nigeria showing steeply rising infections have persuaded those governments to impose tough new restrictions on economic activity despite popular opposition to such measures. But in Ghana and Kenya, respectively, colleges and primary schools are reopening. Already badly hit over the past year, Algeria is negotiating supplies of vaccines from Russia while Kenya, Egypt and Morocco have ordered supplies from Sinopharm.
A row has blown up in South Africa about the availability of vaccines. Critics say the government has no national procurement plan. It is due to get supplies for about 10% of its 60 million people through the Covax scheme – backed by the WHO to ensure that poorer countries get access – but will not be a priority case because of its lower middle-income status.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's pandemic team is talking to AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (which has been carrying out tests in South Africa) about regulatory criteria, pricing and supplies. The government says Pfizer's offer of a discounted $10 a shot is still too high. Johnson & Johnson is also talking about producing the vaccine at a facility in South Africa which would cut prices at home and for the region.
Demands for continental coordination of distribution of vaccines and testing equipment will be on the agenda at the African Union summit, due on the 6-7 February in Addis Ababa. But the main task of the summit will be to elect new officers for the AU Commission.
Although incumbent chairman of the Commission Chad's former foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, will stand unopposed, there will be new contenders for many of the other offices. Other priorities at the summit will include the implementation of organisational reforms for the AU's greater financial autonomy and the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was formally launched on I January.
There will also be a bigger than usual contingent of foreign representatives at the AU summit, from the new administration in the United States under President Joe Biden and from China, which will outline its new economic engagement strategy with Africa. Ahead of that meeting, Beijing's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Ji set off on a rapid African tour on 4 January, taking in Nigeria, Congo-Kinshasa, Botswana, Tanzania and the Seychelles.
Ahead of our special forecast issue to be published on 7 January here are some pointers for the year ahead from our correspondents.
SOUTH AFRICA'S ELECTORAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH TESTS
The factional battle within the African National Congress over policies and personalities will dominate the political calendar for the first half of the year. The struggle between President Cyril Ramaphosa and his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, will play out in the courts where the ex-president faces multiple charges of grand corruption but will try to widen it into a political fight if he can get his supporters on the streets in big enough numbers.
ANC Secretary-General and close Zuma ally, Ace Magashule, will try the same tactics to deflect attention from the criminal charges levelled against him in December. A vote this month at the ANC's National Executive Committee on whether Magashule should step down from the party role while his case is in progress will be a critical test of Ramaphosa's authority.
Another test for Ramaphosa will come with the local elections, due to be held between August and November. Ramaphosa's allies in the trade unions are threatening not to campaign for the ANC unless the government agrees to raise public sector wages, stop retrenchments and the sale of state assets.
NIGERIA'S SECURITY AND SUCCESSION QUESTIONS
Pressure will mount on President Muhammadu Buhari to reorganise the national security system in the wake of an attack by insurgents killing over 59 rice farmers in Borno State, in the north-east, and then the kidnapping of over 300 students from a boarding school in Katsina State, in the north-west.
Demands for the sacking of the current security chiefs in the army and air force will get louder as fears grow that the main insurgent groups in the north-east, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram, are moving into the middle-belt and the north-west.
As Buhari's second term hits its mid-point in June, jockeying for the succession within the governing All Progressives' Congress will intensify with three candidates from the south-west in the frame: Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Ekiti State governor and chairman of the Governors' Forum Kayode Fayemi, and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu.
On current showing, Fayemi has the strongest support but this year will be key to deciding the race.
KENYA'S ELECTORAL PACT FACES ITS FIRST TRIAL
Politicking around when and whether a referendum on the Building Bridges Initiative can be organised will dominate politics this year. It would count as a major win for supporters of the rapprochement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former opposition leader Raila Odinga.
A test of whether that alliance can translate into an effective electoral pact could be just weeks away. There is due to be a by-election for the Nairobi county governorship following the impeachment of Mike Sonko for corruption. Sonko won the governorship on the Jubilee ticket in 2017.
Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement is set to back Jubilee's gubernatorial candidate in exchange for providing a running mate, according to statements by ODM county chairman George Aladwa.
Waiting in the wings will be Deputy President William Ruto who has emerged as the main obstacle to both Kenyatta's and Odinga's ambitions.
A STRONGER EUROPEAN UNION-AFRICAN UNION PARTNERSHIP
After a year of postponed summits, European Union and African Union leaders seek to launch the new 'strategic partnership' that the European Commission set out in its March 2020 paper.
Both sides should be able to agree on greater co-operation on digital policy and agriculture, but the tougher negotiations will be on trade. The AU wants the 'partnership', set to culminate in a summit in Portugal in May or June, to overhaul the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) to allow its governments and regional blocs more space to build industrial capacity and markets.
But the EU wants the 'partnership' to export the environmental and economic policies in its Green Deal to Africa.
The successor to the Cotonou agreement between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific community, finally agreed in December after a year's delay, left trade relations unchanged. There is little sign the European Commission is changing tack although some EU governments, led by Germany's Angela Merkel, has called for the EPAs to be re-opened or scrapped.
There is also a tougher text on migrant re-admission and return, and a new structure, which will create three new parliamentary assemblies – the African Union's pan-African parliament will provide members for a joint assembly with EU parliamentarians. That may be good for law-makers but Carlos Lopes, the AU's advisor on the EU talks, will demand more substantive economic benefits.
BRITAIN AFTER BREXIT RENEGOTIATES ITS TRADE WITH AFRICA
With the United Kingdom out of the European Union's single market, the International Trade department will be a hub of activity in Whitehall. If the UK offers more generous trade terms to its main African trading partners that could put pressure on the EU and the incoming Biden administration in the United States to follow suit.
The signs are, however, that Boris Johnson's government is not that ambitious. Instead, the UK has sought to finalise roll-over agreements, applying the EU's trade arrangements with African regional blocs. Roll-over deals have been reached with most of the UK's key African markets with the exception of Cameroon and Ghana. They are concerned that the offered roll-over deals undercut trade agreements with their regional partners.
That is mirrored on the other side of the continent. The East African Community advised Kenya, which agreed its own roll-over deal with the UK in November, that a bilateral pact would undercut its common external tariff. Complaints by regional blocs may prove another hurdle to developing new trade ties.
More ambitious trade deals between Britain and Africa will have to wait. Britain's trade deal with Japan is the only substantial break with the EU's trade template. For Whitehall's hard-pressed trade negotiators, striking deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand will be priorities in 2021.
THE YEAR AHEAD IN BRIEF
Islamist insurgents to pose an increasing threat to Total's $20 billion LNG export project in Mozambique
Challenges are likely to the victory of Faustin-Archange Touadéra in Central African Republic's elections as insurgents linked to ex-President François Bozizé capture ground
The success of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's plan to consolidate after the military campaign against the Tigray regional government will be tested in June in national elections, the first since he took over in 2018
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo will be sworn in for a second term on 7 January. His rival in the December polls, John Mahama, is petitioning the Supreme Court to rerun the contest and promises lengthy legal challenges.
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