What 2022 has in store for Africa

Key short-terms trends are democratic advances and retreats, security and conflict hotspots, economic recovery, and increased volatility, plus climate change.

Expert comment Updated 15 January 2022 Published 10 January 2022 4 minute READ

2022 is already shaping up to be a year of mixed fortunes for Africa if the events of the first week are a harbinger.

A possible arson attack of South Africa’s parliament, the military junta in Mali claiming it aspires to govern for five years, and prime minister Abdalla Hamdok resigning in Sudan – leaving the military in full-control again and General Burhan stating that Sudan is now working towards holding national elections in July 2023 – are all reminders of the fragility of African democracy.

Democratic advances and retreats

Since the start of the decade, there have been successful or attempted coups in Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Chad, and Niger. With a continent of 54 countries, better politics has also contributed to economic growth, such as with the democratic advances in Niger and Zambia in 2021 and in Malawi in 2020.

NATO may become more involved as the year progresses, especially as Russia is also attempting to increase its military engagement in the region

Despite COVID-19 concerns, smooth elections in 2021 included Cape Verde and The Gambia. 2022 will see increased domestic and international pressure for an end to the absolute monarchy in eSwatini and important parliamentary elections in Lesotho and pressures on the monarchy to become more involved in politics. Further afield, four key countries have elections – Libya, Senegal, Angola, and Kenya.

Libya’s presidential and parliamentary election was due to take place in December 2021 but was postponed. Most people hope this election – when it happens – will help stabilize the country and tackle the spillover impact into its neighbours, especially the Sahel region.

On 23 January, Senegalese vote for mayors across the country’s 550 municipalities. The outcome of these will confirm the legitimacy of the electoral process and acts as a referendum on the popularity of the president Macky Sall and his Benno Bokk Yakaar party coalition. They also signal what to expect in the forthcoming legislative elections later in 2022.

In August, Angola goes to the polls for legislative elections. The ruling MPLA confirmed last month that João Lourenço will be the party’s candidate for the presidency for a second time if the MPLA wins a majority. As in Senegal, this election will be a referendum on performance and the MPLA’s parliamentary absolute majority is at risk. An electoral bill requiring the counting of votes to be done centrally has raised concerns over electoral transparency.

The outcome of Kenya’s presidential election, also in August, is not possible to predict at this early stage. Opposition leader Raila Odinga has launched his fifth bid and now enjoys the support of President Uhuru Kenyatta against Kenyatta’s deputy president William Ruto.

Odinga has folded his Orange Democratic Movement into a large One Kenya Alliance – drawing on an alliance of politicians and establishment interests – while Ruto has formed his own party, the United Deputy Party and is mobilizing the poor and unemployed by playing on his humble roots. This will be a fiercely contested election with violence and contested polls likely.

Crackdowns against opposition in autocracies continue, such as the sentencing of Benin presidential challengers to long jail terms, and in December 2021 Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine was surrounded by police at his residence and put under house arrest ahead of a planned campaign rally for a local by-election.

Security and conflict hotspots

Conflict hotspots continue to dominate the news, especially the Sahel region where militias and jihadis spread violence while ineffective administrations in Mali and Burkina Faso fail to counter the spread, including across their borders to the south.

2022 also sees the quickening of the move towards a new pattern of French deployment where the Sahel armies in the G5 Sahel military structure are relied upon for frontline action with the French retreating to provide more of a backup and special forces role through logistics, air support, and intelligence.

NATO may become more involved as the year progresses, especially as Russia is also attempting to increase its military engagement in the region, as demonstrated recently by their trainers replacing the French in Timbuktu.

COP15 on biodiversity in April in China is also important for Africa as one proposed outcome is that 30 per cent of land and oceans should become protected

Ethiopia continues to present a major source of instability for the wider Horn of Africa region and beyond. Mediation efforts by the African Union (AU) and others have made little progress and a prolonged civil war will have significant impact on the economic attractiveness of this region. Relations between Ethiopia and Sudan and Egypt are also worsened by the planned filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam for a third time in 2022.

Other hotspots this year include conflicts in Libya and Somalia, spreading jihadi insurgency in eastern Congo, northern Nigeria, and northern Mozambique, and the ‘anglophone’ crisis in two western regions of Cameroon.

Food and fuel prices have increased by more than 40 per cent above their five-year average in many African countries because of inflation, insecurity, and the pandemic. There were riots at Blantyre in Malawi in December 2021 in protest at rising prices, and more such protests are likely on the continent in 2022.

Youth-led movements for deepening democracy and accountable governance and protesting the increased cost of living are also increasingly buoyant, particularly in Nigeria and Ghana, but also evident in Burkina Faso and Chad.

Economic recovery and increased volatility

The continent launched the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2021 and emerged from recession, sparked for many by low commodity prices but worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Elevated commodity prices, a recovery in global trade, and the easing of stringent pandemic measures despite anxieties over the Omircon variant and low rates of vaccination, signal a trajectory of slow economic recovery and bodes well for corporate revenue and share price among African energy, metals, materials, and food producers.

Travel and tourism are also likely to partially bounce back as the year progresses, particularly to regions and countries where vaccination rates are highest, but they also depend on COVID-19 policies in Europe and Asia. By the end of 2021, most African states had only fully vaccinated five per cent of their populations and in 2022 only a small number are likely to reach 40 per cent or more.

Once again, it is the non-extractive rich countries rebounding quickly – Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya in particular – compared with the continent’s three largest economies, Angola, Nigeria, and South Africa. The war in Ethiopia shattered its reputation as a safe destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), although its opening of the telecommunications industry to the private sector has been applauded.

The digital transformation of African goods and services and supply chains will also continue in 2022 but exchange-rate pressures with increased volatility, credit, and liquidity challenges are a key concern for many governments.

Accumulated sovereign foreign-currency denominated debt reached a record high of $1 trillion in 2021 and will edge higher in 2022. Rising debt levels require international partners to find better pathways for cancellation, restructuring, and suspension, through the G20 Common Framework and other initiatives. There will be more strategic positioning by international creditors.

Climate change and summitry

The COP27 climate change summit hosted by Egypt gives Africa a stronger voice in calling for funds from developed nations to unlock investments in climate-smart infrastructure to help create green jobs. Decarbonization is an opportunity to foster manufacturing activity on the continent but it requires foreign direct investment (FDI), grants, and loans. Companies and governments in Africa are already providing training for jobs in solar energy, such as in Togo and South Africa, but a lot more needs to be done.

What 2022 has in store for Africa 2nd part

COP15 on biodiversity in April in China is also important for Africa as one proposed outcome is that 30 per cent of land and oceans should become protected. The European Union (EU) Commission in 2021 adopted a proposal for a new carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) which puts a carbon price on imports of a targeted selection of products so that climate action by Europe does not lead to ‘carbon leakage’.

This initiative is aimed at avoiding the pushing of carbon-intensive production outside Europe by encouraging industry outside the EU, including Africa, to take steps in the same direction. This is a key issue for discussion at sixth EU-AU summit in Brussels in February as it is perceived as European protectionism by many African states.

In addition to the EU-AU summit, the second Russia-Africa summit is to be held in November in Saint Petersburg and the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM) in Kigali in June – at which the current Kenyan energy and petroleum cabinet secretary Monica Juma hopes to be elected as the new Secretary General.

This article was originally published in the Mail & Guardian.