Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top Ten African Issues to Follow in 2012

A few of the more important African stories to follow in 2012...

1-Kenya Elections – The aftermath of the 2012 elections left over 1800 killed in ethnic violence following the outcomes. It pushed Kenya to the brink with the scope and scale of violence while spurring the development of a new constitution that was unveiled in 2010. With the end of Kibaki’s eligibility for office and the new structural changes to the electoral laws there will likely be a lot of uncertainty going into the elections. The situation is primed for a gross miscalculation by various stakeholders who feel they can gain positional advantage by stoking ethnic tensions. This is a very dangerous situation where ethnic identity often defines political parties. However, going into 2012 the stakes are enormous for East Africa’s largest economy. The country is now decisively engaged in Somalia in response to repeated kidnappings by Al Shabaab from Somali territory into Kenya. An electoral crisis in Kenya could jeopardize and upset the regional balance of power.

2-Somalia/AMISOM - The wider region and international community are paying greater attention than any time since 1993 to the Somali situation. AMISOM will increase its force size in 2012, adding Kenyan, Djiboutian, and Sierra Leonean contingents. The TFG mandate will likely be renewed and if the Somali government supports its own constitution the corner may be turned politically. While AMISOM enjoys international and local support the Ethiopian intervention does not. This could be problematic but will likely be mitigated by the use of the ASWJ as a proxy force. By the end of this year AMISOM and TFG will fully control Mogadishu, although attacks will still occur – much like in Iraq. At least one AMISOM battle group will be operating outside the capital. The ASWJ, backed by Ethiopia, will likely be in control of Baidoa. Al Shabaab will remain in control of Kismayo and parts of south-central Somalia. However, in 2013 the international community and AMISOM forces will be postured to seize the port due to its strategic importance.

3-Boko Haram – The levels of violence will continue to escalate throughout the year. The sophistication of attack methods by the group, and the associated deliberate targeting to provoke ethnic tensions, speak to outside influences. This is not to suggest Boko Haram is Al Qaeda or aligned with AQIM but they are most likely taking advantage of the worldwide propagation of extremist tactics. There is some low-level and initial contacts being made between the foreign elements of Al Shabaab and Boko Haram. While Boko Haram will target foreign elements in Nigeria its main threat will be against the government of Nigeria. A decisive expansion of Boko Haram attacks against US or western interests could indicate increased foreign influence or expertise. Mass casualty events directed against religious minorities will likely result in significant deployment of the Nigerian military into affected areas. This in turn will feed social unrest.

4-West African Piracy – Attacks in the Gulf of Guinea will increase throughout the year. As oil and gas production or exploration begins in several new West African locations there will be a commensurate increase in shipping. Unlike East Africa where many attacks are taking place on the high seas the pirates operating off West Africa are taking ships close inshore. This has lowered the profile of reported piracy acts because they are classified as criminal acts due to their location in national waters. Increased shipping, better security on ships, and a search for more lucrative targets will force pirates to increasingly attack Western and foreign flagged ships.

5-Natural Resources – High single digit GDP growth by African economies will likely be sustained, especially as the worldwide economy slowly continues improving. The largest driver of this will be natural resources, particularly extraction. African production will increasingly become domesticated; this is already true in labor but look for increasing market share by African companies. While there will remain some need for specialized skills which will mandate importing foreign expertise management and logistics are a growing market. Several major upstream oil and gas finds should start coming online in 2012, the full potential is likely 3-5 years out from peak production but with high commodity prices the results should be immediate. Stronger regulatory and governmental oversight will also assist in preventing shrinkage of profits into private pockets; however, this will remain a struggle for the foreseeable future. Particularly in East Africa look for increased levels of Gulf and Turkey based business. They are able to provide first world levels of technology and expertise without much of the historical baggage of Europeans and Chinese firms.

6-Zimbabwe – Unless Mugabe dies during 2012, ever a possibility, nothing will change. Since dollarization the economy has stabilized and the government removed most of its ability to influence either recovery or depression of the markets. MDC will not provide a more vocal critique of the government, while they are not co-opted Tsvangirai’s desire to suffer as he did during the last election is questionable. As South Africa’s political situation becomes more contentious with ongoing ANC party infighting there will be little appetite for confronting the problem of Zimbabwe. The rest of the region will use this as their cue to continue looking the other way. However, if Mugabe dies there will likely be a violent power struggle in the aftermath. MDC’s position without Mugabe would be tenuous at best. Based upon other electoral violence in 2011 throughout Africa it is unsafe to assume anyone would intervene to prevent bloodshed.

7-Morocco/Algeria – The winds of the Arab Spring began in North Africa and have swept from Tunisia through Egypt to its bloody climax in Libya. It is quite possible the region has seen this storm blow itself out. Morocco’s monarchy has just barely managed to stay ahead of calls for popular reform. Time is not on its side. Now that the people have force conciliation by the King it is likely they will not be content with the limited reforms enacted. A growing income gap resulting from corruption and an influx of European money clashes with the majority of people’s lives, which are among the poorest in the Arab League. Look for protests, some violent, throughout the year and with just enough of an extremist threat to make them very dangerous. The same risks facing Morocco also confront Algeria. The birthplace of AQIM and home to North Africa’s most violent and long running conflicts it is no stranger to upheaval. There has been little opening of democratic space in Algeria. There is no serious indication that coming elections will result in any significant or meaningful changes to the status quo. The potential for violence is extremely high and would present an ideal opening for extremists.

8-Religion- Africa is quite possibly the most religious continent on earth. It has growing Christian and Muslim communities of believers. Increasingly different faith groups are coming into contact in many areas as population patterns shift and technology brings changes to how individuals interact with the wider community. Unfortunately religion will also likely play an increasingly divisive role in Africa. Already many states are struggling with extremists or sectarian fighting – often aggravated (but not always!) by ethnic divisions. It seems no corner of the continent is safe from religious tensions. In the near future Africa will become majority Muslim, while its Christian communities are among the most conservative adherents of this faith.

9-EAC – The EAC continues to develop its institutions and move towards realization of a true common market. This development will help provide an economy of scale that attracts much more lucrative direct foreign investments and service providers. Security wise things are calm, with many of the regional partners cooperating militarily – three of them in Somalia. Unfortunately the EAC is also becoming an autocrats club. Politics in Uganda and Rwanda are going the wrong way, in fact they are regressing in terms of open political space and respect for human rights. Kenya’s constitutional problems paralyze its ability to play a leading role in the region. While Tanzania is coming the closest to a true multi-party democracy the main opposition, Chadema, is probably two five-year election cycles away from maturity; while the ruling CCM party moves to limit its political room. Burundi is closer to a low-level insurgency than a functioning and secure country. Strengthening economies, political consolidation, and weakening democratic institutions could be a volatile mix in the near future.

10 –ECOWAS – While the EAC consolidates and improves its institutions the ECOWAS is seemingly in decline. A successful election-monitoring mission to Liberia was a rare success in 2011 for the regional group. Violence in Guinea, Burkina-Faso, and Cote d’Ivoire marred the year and politically paralyzed the organization. Religious strife is rampant in the region (and Africa’s) most populous country and largest market. While new resource extraction has the potential to fuel future growth the jury is out on whether the new producers go the way of Nigeria or Norway. AQIM will expand its footprint into non-Sahelian states during 2012 due to increased pressure by regional security forces working with Western allies. Senegal’s elections will be a bellwether for the region and could herald an increasingly unstable future for the regional bloc.