The African Jotter

Five Issues to look out for in Political Africa in 2019

2018 was a very eventful year for the African continent. Not the obnoxious coups and violent outbreaks typical of Africa in early 2000s. 2018 saw real developments on the continent.

On the political side, we saw instability and power shift rock South Africa in the south. To the east, Ethiopia sprouted high levels of confidence following the emergence of Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister. And to the north, Morocco continues to make a comeback to continental affairs. To the west, terrorism is crippling activities in the Chad Basin. And in Congo in Central Africa, Kabila’s decision not to contest elections the 2018 gave hope to the country’s struggling democracy.

And on the continental level, China was alleged to have spied on AU activities thanks to the fact that it built the AU headquarters. In addition too, we saw Africa bandwagon together to create the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Yet 2018 was also the year Africa unknowingly slipped back into the arms of cold war intrigues. With Russia making a comeback into the continent, clawing its way into some of the continent’s deprecated conflicts spots. The US has taken notice and has made a drastic change to its stale policy on the continent.

All these issues are key drivers of what to expect in political Africa in 2019. However, they are not the only issues to consider.

Political Africa in 2019 will see a lot of changes across many of Africa’s most powerful countries. It will also be the year, Africa gets to understand what the new US policy towards the continent actually looks like.

So without further ado, here are the five (5) issues that will define political Africa in 2019.

Ratification and Implementation The AfCFTA Treaty

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) was signed last year in March. The agreement is expected to chart the way to help foster deeper economic integration on the continent. However, I have always felt the agreement was both rushed and unrealistic. Modeled after the sort of customs union already in practice in the EU, the AfCFTA makes unrealistic projections and assumptions that all African countries are okay with the negotiations and will thus sign the agreement. However, this is far from reality.

The AfCFTA requires ratification by just 22 African nations for it to come into effect. But only 15 have done so since March 2018. Nigeria, the biggest economy on the continent, did not even bother to attend the official declaration of the Treaty in March. This creates doubt about the actual realization of the agreement.

Yet, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa did not disregard the agreement entirely. Rather, they said it needed more domestic consultation before finalization. Hopefully, 2019 will decide whether or not the agreement will be ratified.

Important African Elections in 2019

Atiku Abubakar aims to unseat Nigeria’s current president in the 2019 election in February

Nine African countries are going to hold elections in 2019. It’s a significant figure. In fact it’s now 10, considering that Congo’s election is yet to be concluded. The most important elections will however hold in Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Senegal, Algeria and Tunisia.

These countries represent some of the continent’s most powerful and, some, most stable countries. The whole world will be keen to see the results of these elections.

New US Policy Towards Africa Takes Effect

Many people are yet to realize it, but the US has significantly altered its Africa strategy.

John Bolton, Donal Trump’s National Security Adviser, believes the US should stop wasting taxpayer money on non-responsive issues in Africa

For years, stretching back to Clinton, US policy towards Africa has been cooperative. Unlike the direct approach it uses in Asia and the Middle East, the US has given so much support and even free hand to activities and countries in Africa. It has supplied various countries with aid and has been less confrontational with even the most aggressive regimes.

However, Trump promised to end this, quite frankly, unproductive engagement. He considers US aid to many African countries as largesse that has made them lazy and “shitholes”.

So in December 2018, hawkish US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, issued a statement describing the new US stance on Africa. And it’s quite scary.

According to Bolton:

the US will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the continent, without focus or prioritization.

“Unfortunately, billion upon billion of US taxpayer dollars have not achieved the desired effects… They have not stopped the scourge of terrorism, radicalism and violence.”

So judging by these statement, expect a lot of things to change in political Africa in 2019. For instance, the US Agency for International Development doled out $8.7 billion across Africa in 2017. That sum could reduce drastically in 2019.

Russia in Africa Reignites Cold War Mentality

2018 was the year Russia made its full comeback into the African continent. Before then, the last time Russia had serious relations with Africa was before the crash of the Soviet Union. It has now began courting relations in places like Zambia and Congo.

The president of the Central African Republic shakes hands with Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

Importantly, many of the locations it now engages with are low-level countries, with less foreign interest to attract suspicion, especially from the French. This has helped it stay off the radar.

However, the death of a Russian journalist in CAR last year, brought the spotlight back on Russia and its activities on the continent. And it was one of the key pointers that forced the US to change its policy towards Africa.

In his statement last year, John Bolton criticized Russia and China directly. He called their practices “predatory” and that they risked the growth and independence of African countries.

Note, the US has always had reasons to worry about China’s presence in Africa. But the entry of Russia is the main reason it now worries about trends on the continent.

With the policy change coming so late in December last year, 2019 will definitely show the new US practice in Africa.

Boko Haram Terrorism Across the Chad Basin

Although ISIS has lost in the Middle East, its ally in West Africa, Boko Haram, are still causing so much destruction in the Chad Basin. In 2018, Boko Haram made several bold assaults across the region, but surprisingly, many of them were against the military itself.

In 2018, the group strategically attacked Nigerian military personnels and was responsible for the death of hundreds of soldiers.

This bold attacks are not going to recede in 2019. But unfortunately, the Nigerian military is losing the battle with several soldiers retreating and complaining of inadequate weaponry.

Yet, the Nigerian government is lax about the terror groups and the issue is not even the most significant talking point in the country’s election in February.

Nevertheless, the US is determined to stamp them out, and is working with countries like Chad and Niger to accomplish this. But it requires willingness from Nigeria to fully rout the terrorists, a feat that will only be possible if the US ignores Nigeria’s terrible recent human rights violations.