What’s at stake for Africa in 2024?

From a year of elections, to multiple summits, as well as conflict hotspots and debt burdens, 2024 will bring mixed fortunes for the African continent.

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Africa in 2024 will be the second fastest-growing economic region in the world (after Asia) at 4 per cent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but behind the headline figure is a less auspicious reality.

Fresh conflict, more military coups, the renewed Israel–Gaza conflict and the lingering Russia–Ukraine war are contributing to stifling better growth across the continent.

Many African states were already suffering due to slow post-COVID-19 recovery, climate change shocks, increased food insecurity, political instability, weak global growth and high interest rates. 33 of the continent’s states are classified as least developed. These economic shocks have pushed an estimated 55 million people into poverty since 2020 and reversed more than two decades of progress in poverty reduction.  

It is not all bad news. South Africa is set to overtake Nigeria and Egypt as the continent’s largest economy in 2024, the IMF predicts. Some African regions are also expected to outperform others. East Africa, once again, is expected to perform better – location, human and physical infrastructure and politics have contributed to this trend.

Debt burdens

Debate over African debt will be prominent in 2024. Elevated interest rates and a stronger dollar make it more expensive for African countries to service dollar-denominated debt, something that has pushed a number of countries into further debt distress.

At the beginning of 2024, nine African states are in debt distress, a further 15 are at high risk and 14 at moderate risk. Zambia and Ghana defaulted on their debts, joined recently by Ethiopia.

Elevated interest rates and a stronger dollar make it more expensive for African countries to service dollar-denominated debt.

A pan-African payment system that will allow African nations to trade among themselves, using their own currencies, is however, gaining momentum. This pan-African Payment and Settlement System, developed by Afreximbank, is hosted by Kenya. All central banks are expected to join by the end of 2024, followed by many commercial banks by the end of 2025.

Commodities

The focus on accessing strategic and critical minerals from Africa, and protecting their supply chains, will continue to be the focus of foreign powers. Africa is rich in strategic minerals, all essential for modern technologies.

This year will see the first full year of operation of the upgraded Lobito Corridor in Angola, a US and EU-backed rail project which will ultimately connect the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia’s mineral deposits to the Atlantic coast.

Due to increased demand and prices, some African governments will continue to review their contracts with mining companies and seek additional value. Major contract renegotiations are ongoing in Botswana and DRC, and there are new mining regulations in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Conflict hotspots

Worsening political instability in parts of the continent, exemplified by the nine military coups since 2020, including in Gabon and Niger in 2023, have sharpened focus on the fragility of constitutional rule. Countries already under military leadership are increasingly unstable, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and further coups are possible in them.

The Sahelian region will continue to be a terrorism epicentre in 2024. In 2023, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48 per cent of global deaths from terrorism. Attacks have spread beyond historical hotspots such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa to Southern Africa and the coastal regions of West Africa. Prolonged conflicts, poor rule of law, human rights abuses, discrimination, exclusion and unemployment have contributed to this crisis.

In 2023, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48 per cent of global deaths from terrorism.

Other conflict hotspots will continue to be of concern in 2024, particularly eastern DRC, northern Mozambique, parts of Cameroon and Somalia, and another flare-up in Ethiopia is possible. Sudan’s armed conflict could evolve towards a de facto partition of the country.

Elections

This is a record year for elections globally and Africa will have 17 national presidential and/or legislative polls.

A December 2023 referendum to approve a new constitution for Chad, after nearly three years of transition from military rule, is expected to pave the way for transitional president Mahamat Déby to run for president in the 2024 national elections.

The elections that will be most scrutinized will be Mozambique, which will have a new president, and South Africa, where all eyes are on whether the ruling ANC can win an outright majority.

In the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Botswana, Comoros, Mauritius, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa will go to the polls and in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ghana, possibly Guinea Bissau, Senegal and Togo. In Burkina Faso and Mali, a transition from military rule remains uncertain as their juntas keep postponing them.

The elections that will be most scrutinized will be Mozambique, which will have a new president (the incumbent is stepping down), and South Africa, where all eyes are on whether the ruling ANC can win an outright majority.

Senegal’s presidential elections in February will be fiercely contested and December’s in Ghana might result in the defeat of the National Patriotic Party and the return of ex-president John Mahama and his National Democratic Party to power.

Algeria’s and Tunisia’s elections will draw attention, elections in the Comoros, Mauritania, Rwanda and possibly South Sudan are expected to return their incumbents.

Multiple summits

This will be a busy year of international summits for Africa’s leaders. In November 2023, the first Saudi Arabia–Africa summit was hosted in Riyadh, the latest in a growing list of ‘Africa+1’ summits. It attracted over 50 leaders, in comparison to the second Russia –Africa summit in St Petersburg in August 2023, which attracted 17 leaders. Like Russia, though, Saudi Arabia invited countries suspended from the AU.
 
Will Beijing invite Africa’s juntas to the ninth Forum on China–Africa Cooperation in 2024?  This comes as new data shows its lending to Africa has fallen to its lowest level in almost two decades.

International engagement with Africa will increase in 2024, and many African states welcome this and are looking to diversify their global partnerships or revive old ones.

This year will see an increased pace of forum shopping. A second UK–African Investment Summit in London is scheduled for May 2024 and 25 governments have been invited.

An Italy–Africa conference will be held in early 2024 and Rome, which is president of the G7, has pledged to make the continent a central theme while it is at the helm.  

The next Korea–Africa Summit will be held in June 2024 and New Delhi has announced its next triennial India–Africa Forum Summit is planned for 2024.

India president of G20 cont.

Under India’s G20 presidency, in August 2023, the AU joined the organization and has the same status as the EU, previously the only regional bloc with a full membership. Its previous designation was ‘invited international organization’.

From January 2024, BRICS has expanded to include two African nations — Egypt (representing Africa and the Arab world) and Ethiopia (headquarters of the AU).

Celso Amorim, a special advisor to Brazil’s presidency on international affairs, said Africa would be central to Brazil’s foreign policy in 2024. Brazil is the chair of the G20 in 2024.

International engagement with Africa will increase in 2024, and many African states welcome this and are looking to diversify their global partnerships or revive old ones.

Managing how to promote national, regional and continental priorities with the growing number of foreign suitors will require African states to prioritize better and could result in having to make difficult choices, more often.

A version of this article was originally published by the Mail & Guardian newspaper.