Saturday, December 20, 2014

Africa: Africa in 2014: the good, the bad and the ugly

Source: ISS
Africa in 2014: the good, the bad and the ugly

Africa is not a country. What might have been an excellent year for some was a disaster for others. For protesters in Burkina Faso who have known only one ruler for the last 27 years, 2014 was a very good year. The peaceful overthrow of Blaise Compaoré at the end of October was a victory for democracy. Whether the strong positioning of military officials in the transitional government will undermine the democratic gains remains to be seen.

Compaoré’s ouster inspired those rejecting their own leaders’ bids to stay on beyond their legal term limits, like in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo or Burundi – and sent a clear warning to leaders in countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda and Angola. The African Union (AU), which should give itself some credit for ensuring that Compaoré was replaced by a civilian-led government in Burkina Faso, also had quite a good year.

AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma got the private sector to contribute to AU programmes, notably the AU Support Mission to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. Following a fundraising meeting on 8 November, South African cellphone giant MTN came out tops with a sponsorship of $10 million for the fight against Ebola and Masiyiwa’s Econet donated $2,5 million.

2014 has been a good year for ruling parties and former liberation movements in Southern Africa. From Namibia to Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique, those in power stayed in power, albeit by slightly reduced margins and with grumblings from the opposition.

In Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi from the ruling FRELIMO was elected on 15 October, but the opposition RENAMO and fledgling Mozambique Democratic Movement are still not satisfied that the polls were free and fair. In Namibia, on 29 November, President Hage Geingob was elected with a huge margin for the ruling SWAPO.

In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress won elections on 7 May with 62%, down from 66% at the last poll. The country’s ruling alliance was, however, dealt a blow by the fracturing of the powerful trade union movement. Corruption, service delivery protests and a weakened economy also took their toll.

In Botswana President Ian Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party again won elections on 24 October, amidst complaints from human rights activists and journalists about the closing of the political space.

Good news in 2014 was that the economic boom in Africa continued, with the African Development Bank’s annual African Economic Outlook Report predicting growth of 4,8% in 2014 and between 5–6% in 2015. Lower oil prices are, however, a huge worry to the continent’s major oil producers like Nigeria, Angola and South Sudan who have been banking on over $100 per barrel for at least a few more years.

For some parts of the continent, 2014 has been a bad year. Wars in South Sudan and the Central African Republic continued, and Libya all but imploded. Bear in mind though that, as Institute for Security Studies executive director Jakkie Cilliers remarked in a recent ISS paper on conflict in Africa, the 24-hour news cycle creates the mistaken impression that the entire continent is ablaze.

The devastating Ebola epidemic has ravaged the poor, post-conflict countries of the Mano River basin. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are still struggling with the catastrophic effects of the outbreak, with over 7 000 deaths to date.

International criminal justice in Africa was dealt a blow this year. In June the AU approved the establishment of the African Court on Justice and Human Rights, which will exempt presidents and senior government officials from prosecution for a raft of serious crimes.

On 5 December, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was compelled to drop charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta after a long struggle to collect enough evidence and withstand the impact of witnesses dying, going missing or withdrawing their testimony out of fear. The credibility of the ICC is arguably at an all-time low in Africa, fuelled by the Kenyan government’s diplomatic campaign against the court, which continued apace this year.

The ‘ugly’ in 2014 came wearing balaclavas and carrying black flags. They attacked villages, carried out massacres, kidnapped schoolchildren and summarily executed travelers on a bus who could not recite the Koran.

Terrorism continued in northern Nigeria where the death toll from attacks by Boko Haram continues to rise almost daily. Despite the outcry against the group and the popular #BringBackOurGirls campaign – a homegrown, Nigerian initiative that grabbed world attention – hundreds of hostages are still in the hands of Boko Haram. This includes the 219 girls kidnapped in Chibok in April this year. Suicide bombs have claimed dozens of lives and the attacks have spread from northeastern Nigeria to other parts, including the northern capital Kano where more than 100 people were killed when a mosque was bombed on 29 November.

In Mali, the Islamist groups that occupied the northern part of the country in 2013 have not all been defeated by the French and African troops present on the ground. Increasingly these peacekeepers have become the targets of the al-Qaeda linked groups with the UN Multidimensional Stabilisation Mission for Mali noting 43 casualties since June.

African peacekeepers from the AU Mission for Somalia meanwhile have made important gains against al-Shabaab in Somalia this year. But Kenya is reeling from a spate of attacks on civilians in Nairobi, the Coastal Region and the northeast, near the Somali border. The worst of these was the killing of 60 people in Mpekotoni in June and two particularly gruesome attacks, the first on a bus heading for Nairobi in late November in which 28 non-Muslims were killed, and the second in a stone quarry where militants killed 36 workers.

Experts differ on the reasons for this increase in Islamic radicalism. To some extent the groups in Africa are becoming more visible and deadly because they are linked to international terror networks like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Most agree, however, that it is local conditions and local responses that drive radicalisation and terrorism.

It is difficult to predict what 2015 holds, but already there are warning lights in various parts of the continent. This is true in places where elections are planned, like Nigeria on 14 February, or where opposition groups are mobilising against third (or longer) term bids by their presidents. Cote d'Ivoire, where nerves are still frayed after the bitter political conflict in 2011, also goes to the polls in 2015.

In the eastern DRC, military action by the Congolese army and the UN Force Intervention Brigade could become a reality early in 2015 if the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels refuse to disarm before the 2 January deadline.

2015 promises to be another challenging year for Africa, with its share of high drama and high-risk politics.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant