Does 2019 have what it takes to be a good year for Africa?


What kind of a year should Africans expect? What do trends from 2018 tell us about what we can logically and reasonably expect of 2019?

It is possible to look closely at last year’s trends in order to anticipate the state of the Continent this year. This is partly because trends in African politics and economics do not start and end with years but tend to spill over from year to year. It is because real trends in Africa are of a long-term nature.

If the DRC continues with its electoral and post-electoral violence, then Southern and Central Africa are likely to feel the impact especially if this violence is protracted. Similarly, a peaceful post-electoral environment marked by national reconciliation and social cohesion will likely augur well for the entire region. The fact that Zimbabwe averted a full crisis after a coup in November 2017 helped prevent a meltdown in Southern Africa.

The one good reason why we must apply our minds to trends for this year is that it is better to anticipate than to respond to developments after the fact. This applies equally to leaders of economy, politics and society as it does to thinkers, commentators and activists. It is good to heed an ancient African proverb that maintains: “even if it drowned your child, you will still need water.” That need for us to anticipate means that even if things don’t always work in our favour, hope should still reside in us at all times.

The first major current trend we are taking into 2019 is going to be the disjuncture between positive growth rates and low levels of development. Many economies are among high growth cases but poverty remains rooted in our societies. Growth without jobs translates to an impoverished quality of life.

If we do not remain consistent pursuing a better quality of life, the disjuncture between sound policy and political decisions meant to strengthen Africa’s prosperity as well independence and weak implementation will continue. The weak institutional architecture for translating laudable decisions and plans into action is a perennial problem unlikely to be overcome before 2019 is over.

Another challenge we need to overcome is the over-reliance on the goodness of big and popular leaders at the expense of institutions. The fortunes of many countries still hang on leaders who hold things together as in Rwanda and Gabon or who let things fall apart as in Cameroon and Burundi.

While there is a decline in the incidence of wars there is also a rise of internecine violence that comes in different forms such as the communal, pastoral, election-related and gender-based violence. These are trends we need to carefully watch especially in the Sahel and other semi-arid areas.

Lack of social partnerships that bind together the State, civil society and business remains a common problem. This robs countries like Chad, Madagascar and Sudan of social cohesion necessary to plot a way out of low growth, high despair and external dependency trap.

Resource dependency like over-reliance on one or two economic sectors deepens the age-old problem of a narrow base of economic production. Under these conditions, economies are unable to offer pathways out of poverty and underdevelopment. Countries like the DRC and Congo Brazzaville over-rely on abundant resources, whose exploitation is not governed well and as a result, the majority of people remain mired in poverty.

If we don’t fix the challenges that beset us, regional integration and continental integration will remain rhetoric and mere summitry as it is unlikely that States will this time decide to cede some sovereignty to regional institutions in order to enable them to make and pursue firm decision on integration. The implementation of collective decisions will most likely continue to be left to individual States to do as they wish.

The laudable “Africa We Want Plan” geared towards Agenda 2063 will remain a commitment in principle and not in practice.

Under the current conditions, the young will continue to move from outlying areas to the already congested cities to eke out a living. With this comes growing destitution, discontent and disillusionment. In these current conditions, terrorism and criminality thrive.

Young people will continue to undertake those perilous trips across the Sahara Desert and across the Mediterranean Sea in search of basic living opportunities in the more prosperous continent of Europe. This will manifest for years if the conditions that push them remain unresolved.

The trends we have seen thus far such as the change of leadership style with the emergence of the likes of Joao Manuel Lourenzo in Angola,  Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, George Weah of Liberia and Emerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe perhaps signals a new crop of leaders who may potentially bring about the change African countries so desperately need. Perhaps, the elections in several African countries will build on this trend and bring about a wave of change.

The external factor is also key to Africa’s plight. The support from China is perhaps the biggest game changer from outside followed by growing investment from other emerging economies that range from Qatar to Turkey to India and Brazil.  But the growing geopolitical rivalry between the US and China and Russia will affect Africa in various ways in 2019. This is because Africa’s strategic interests will be made secondary to those of these big powers fighting their own battles on African soil.

But we need a birth of new citizens, new citizens movements and new activism who will back up those leaders that are bold enough to ensure a better life for all and new citizens who will play a watchdog role over all those who are in authority.

The Africa of 2019 is not one only filled with challenges and prospects of change and continuity but also prospects of pitfalls. This year will depend on what citizens and leaders are prepared to do in order to harness the spirit of unity and social cohesion in order to move Africa closer to the idea of a better life for all.

Siphamandla Zondi is the head of the Institute for Strategic and Political Affairs Department at the University of Pretoria