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Published 7th January 2021

Vol 62 No 1


Ready to rumble

Muhammadu Buhari. Pic: Mikhail Metzel/Tass/PA Images
Muhammadu Buhari. Pic: Mikhail Metzel/Tass/PA Images

As President Buhari looks to his legacy, the jostling for succession will begin in earnest

In May, President Muhammadu Buhari will reach the halfway point of his second and final four-year term. It is that point in Nigeria's political calendar, when the main players' focus shifts from public administration and towards the succession.


Challenging the statist quo

Copyright © Africa Confidential 2021
Copyright © Africa Confidential 2021

Ramaphosa must both placate unions and convince lenders he can reform the state, while fending off plots from inside his party

The fortunes of the ruling African National Congress, and Cyril Ramaphosa's own survival as party and South African president, are dependent on the outcome of municipal elections s...

Building the house of Sisi

Copyright © Africa Confidential 2021
Copyright © Africa Confidential 2021

Cairo is pressing ahead with an extravagant new capital city as it adjusts to the region’s changing geopolitics

Egypt's government will talk up its economy in 2021, trumpeting the opening of a vast museum in Giza housing Tutankhamun's skeleton and death mask, and the transfer of government t...


Africa in 2021: Youth and technology drive change

After a year of global health emergency and economic destruction, our correspondents look forward to how governments are reacting to popular demands for reconstruction and a new political order

Although so much reporting over the past year has been on the coronavirus pandemic and elderly politicians winning elections, the focus this year will have to include the rising generations and their ties to technology as a force for soc...

Africa in 2021: Youth and technology drive change

After a year of global health emergency and economic destruction, our correspondents look forward to how governments are reacting to popular demands for reconstruction and a new political order

Although so much reporting over the past year has been on the coronavirus pandemic and elderly politicians winning elections, the focus this year will have to include the rising generations and their ties to technology as a force for social change as societies try to rebuild. Nowhere will these forces be more important than in Africa, given the toll of collateral damage caused to the continent's polities and economies by the public health emergency. 

In the early days of the pandemic making landfall in Africa, governments such as those in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, and the more populous states in Nigeria and counties in Kenya, distinguished themselves by quickly imposing public health restrictions, however unpopular they proved. 

From Africa's health professionals, led by John Nkengasong at the Africa Centres for Disease Control in Addis Ababa and Matshidiso Moeti of the World Health Organisation in Brazzaville, came clear and honest messaging and policies to coordinate practical responses across the continent. Local populations, some with experience of deadly epidemics, understood and reacted quickly to the information. 

Different fears grew as the pandemic dragged on around the globe and other vital health services were put on hold. Although Africa had been spared the worst ravages of the coronavirus, the damage to its social institutions and economies was far worse than in the Americas or Europe. With economies already on the margin, there is far less room for manoeuvre in Africa. 

That was reflected in the deepening mood of disenchantment in many countries.  

Some governments, such as South Africa, took this is as a sign to change tack. Risk-averse President Cyril Ramaphosa has been desperately trying not to waste this crisis. Until now, he has been unable to win wide support for his ideas about restructuring the state and rebooting the economy. This year, he is set to take the battle to the supporters of his predecessor and the Secretary-General of the ruling party. 

Straitened by the unexpectedly strong performance of the opposition in last month's parliamentary elections, Ghana's President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo told voters that he understood their message: for cooperation and against polarisation. Malawi's judges won huge plaudits for their landmark rejection of a rigged election as did the country's civic institutions for organising a credible vote to usher in a legitimate new government.  

In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, who has lost two of his closest allies to the pandemic, has been backing away from his Stalingrad defence of the naira, along with fuel and power subsidies. It is a financial imperative as oil prices dive, not an ideological conversion driving the policy shift. 

Other regimes have hunkered down and stepped up repression such as Abdelmajdid Tebboune's in Algeria and Abdel Fattah el Sisi's in Egypt, both hit by high infection rates and their weakened export-dependent economies. Using variations of that playbook, Tanzania's President John Magufuli bulldozed his way to another election win, a feat that Yoweri Museveni, 34 years in power, wants to replicate in Uganda on 14 January. The same forces apply to Edgar Lungu in Zambia, facing elections in August, and Emmerson Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe. 

What these leaders have to confront is the rising power of Africa's youth, with 60% of the continent's people under 25. It is just the start of that demographic curve when well-organised youth can use their electoral and convening power to trigger social change. In militarised regimes such as Sudan's under Omer el Beshir's National Congress Party, it was youthful revolutionaries who powered the grassroots campaign. It is a wave that started a decade ago in Tunisia and continues to play out across the region.

Now, it is married to digital technology, allowing activists to constrain security agents' ability to commit atrocities with impunity. Although the continent's youth have benefited most from increased social investment over the past two decades, the upswing of growth from successive commodity booms is not producing jobs for the new generation, a socio-economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. Like much else, the growth of the youth's political power in Africa has been accelerated in the pandemic. And it isn't going away, with or without vaccines.

Read more

Polls, parlays and proxies

Practically every conceivable factor in Libya’s chaos could prevent planned year-end elections, but they may yet succeed

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Jockeying for position

The struggle between the President and his predecessor overshadows everything, including a possible IMF programme

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Skirt and blouse politics

Government will get more complex with the New Patriotic Party running the executive but facing a split parliament

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How to lose a war

The Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel are set to continue regardless of foreign interventions and local efforts

The recent elections in Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'voire, Togo and Guinea have made no real difference to the prospects for counter-insurgency campaigns against the rampant Islami...

In intensive care

President Tebboune's long stay in Germany raises questions about his grip on power while the military is keen to flex its muscles abroad

There were glimmers of hope when a civilian president with a reformist reputation, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, was elected after mass protests ended his strongman predecessor's 20-year r...

Voting may not bring peace

When elections are over, oil and gas are likely to move centre-stage, and the changing geopolitical context will have deep effects

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Mnangagwa digs in

The President is entrenching himself while the opposition battles state repression and its own divisions

President Emmerson Mnangagwa's regime looks secure, in spite of what is widely viewed as Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front's complete political bankruptcy and the per...

Old demons resurface

Last year’s electoral violence could be a foretaste of things to come as the three big political figures start to fade from view

The hit from the Covid-19 pandemic means that President Alassane Ouattara will find it much harder to mask political and ethnic tensions and stark inequality with stellar economic ...

Recovery and resistance

The election is just one of the challenges facing a palace beset by protest over relations with Israel and the pandemic’s effects

The Palace seems to be managing social tensions arising from the economic fallout of Covid-19 and coping with the widespread distaste for the kingdom's restoration of diplomatic re...

Handshake to face poll test

The President’s coalition with his former adversary will be put to the electorate in 2021 against a backdrop of economic pain

After a catastrophic decline in economic performance due to Covid-19 in 2020, aggravated by corruption and wrong-headed fiscal and public debt policies, 2021 promises to be particu...

Election-mania takes hold

All the government’s energies are focused on winning the 12 August poll as it tries to ignore an economy in freefall

Aware that it looked odd that it did not have a plan to restore the nation’s economic fortunes, the government quickly rushed out its Economic Recovery Programme on 17 Decemb...

Bumps in the road ahead

The caretaker government explores talks with jihadist leaders while it keeps its military alliance with France

The death from Covid-19 of opposition leader Soumaïla Cissé on 25 December, has robbed Mali of the clear favourite for the presidential election due to take place by March 2022. Ex...

Nyusi running out of road

The region is furious with Nyusi for failing to counter the northern insurgency as his position in both state and party weakens

The chief concern of President Filipe Nyusi in the year ahead is the same that will take up most of the rest of his final term of office – influencing the choice of the ruling Fren...

Abiy’s search for legitimacy

The Prime Minister needs to hold successful elections and resolve a long-running dam dispute as he seeks to rebuild his reputation

Holding successful elections, finalising the continuing disagreements over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and providing a new political settlement acceptable to both et...