Picture: The African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
By Dr Sizo Nkala
The year 2022 is coming to an end. It was yet another eventful year for Africa.
Among the most significant milestones was the 20th anniversary of the African Union (AU). The AU was formally launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa in a bid to transform the continental governance framework whose transformative capacity was severely limited under the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
A lot has been achieved under the AU namely the creation of institutions such as the Pan African Parliament, Peace and Security Council and more recently, the African Continental Free Trade Area among other things.
While the AU is a more coherent body than its predecessor, the OAU, it still lacks the powers to effectively drive the continental integration agenda.
Hence, Africa still lags behind other regions in terms of economic and political integration. The much-hyped AfCFTA finally took off when seven African countries including Egypt, Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Mauritius began trading under the Guided Trading Initiative which is a pilot programme meant to test the effectiveness of the AfCFTA system. Although it is still too early, the reviews of the pilot test have thus far been positive which is an indication that the new free trade area has the potential to operate on a full scale.
Moreover, the initiative has been ratified by 44 countries with only 10 countries yet to complete the ratification process. If implemented fully, the AfCFTA’s economic potential would be massive. According to the World Bank, the AfCFTA has the potential to boost Africa’s income by $571 billion, create 18 million jobs and lift over 50 million Africans out of poverty.
Notably, 2022 marked the third year since the beginning of the global Covid-19 pandemic which started at the end of 2019.
Like the rest of the world, Africa was not spared the impact of the pandemic. As of November 2022, the continent had recorded over 12 million Covid-19 infections and 256 000 Covid 19- related deaths.
The disruptions caused by the pandemic saw Africa experiencing its first recession in 2020 with the economy contracting by up to 3.4%.
Millions of livelihoods were destroyed, and tens of millions of people were pushed into extreme poverty as a result.
The pandemic brutally exposed the vulnerability of Africa’s economy to global shocks. The continent’s dependency on the export of primary commodities led to a drastic reduction in incomes as trade and the movement of goods were restricted under lockdown regulations.
As such, 2022 was the year African countries set about rebuilding their economies that had been battered by the pandemic.
However, this proved to be a tough ask as the African economy recorded a slow growth rate of 3.3%, a significant decline from the 4.1% registered in 2021. Further, Africa is still trailing behind other regions in terms of Covid 19 vaccination rates.
As of December 2022, only 33% of the people in Africa had received at least one vaccine dose which is way below the global average of 71%.
This was due to a number of factors including vaccine supply bottlenecks, lack of vaccine acquisition and distribution capacity and vaccine hesitancy and resistance within the population.
One of the most dominant issues affecting the continent in 2022 was the Russia-Ukraine war which began in February following Russia’s invasion of its western neighbour.
The invasion was in response to Ukraine’s attempt to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), a military alliance led by Russia’s rival, the US.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that this represented an existential threat to his country which left him with no option but to invade Ukraine to push back against Nato’s eastward advancement.
The war had a devastating global economic impact as it undercut the supply of key commodities such as gas, oil, wheat, corn, sunflower and fertilisers a significant share of which are supplied by Russia and Ukraine.
The ensuing destabilisation of global energy and food markets led to a rise in global inflation as food and energy and prices soared.
As many countries in Africa depend on imports of the said commodities from the warring countries, their economies were greatly affected.
For example, Kenya imported 30% of its wheat from Ukraine, Cameroon imported over 40% of its fertiliser needs from Russia while Ghana sourced 60% of its iron and steel imports from Ukraine. As such the blockade of the Black Sea and the imposition of sanctions on Russia disrupted the supply of critical imports for African countries which had the potential to exacerbate food insecurity and drive inflation.
The AU chairperson, Senegalese President Macky Sall, met with Putin to try and find a solution to the Black Sea blockade and also called on Western countries to lift sanctions on Russia which would expedite the resumption of grain and fertiliser imports.
Africa’s geopolitical reaction to the Russia-Ukraine war has been mixed. In a United Nations (UN) resolution to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine conducted early in March, 28 African countries voted in favour of the resolution, 17 abstained and Eritrea was the only African state to vote against.
In a later resolution on granting humanitarian access to Ukraine, 20 African countries abstained from the vote, 27 voted in favour while Eritrea was again the only African country to vote against.
A third vote on the suspension of Russia from the human rights council also revealed similar patterns with 23 African countries abstaining, 9 voting against and 10 voting in favour of the resolution.
Africa’s voting patterns at the UN reflected the continent’s lack of a co-ordinated approach to global issues which prioritises continental interests.
The pattern is yet another confirmation that national interests still trump continental interests as countries behave in a way that maximises their national interests.
Politically, Africa had mixed fortunes in 2022. It was a busy year on Africa’s elections calendar. About 13 African countries held either presidential, national assembly or local elections which saw the emergence of new leaders in Lesotho and Angola.
While elections represent a peaceful and constitutional transfer and assumption of power, military takeovers especially in west Africa also continued into 2022.
Burkina Faso and Sudan suffered coups in February and October respectively continuing that has seen seven coups in two years in west Africa.
For much of 2022, Ethiopia was engulfed in a bloody conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
However, the two parties committed to a peace deal brokered by the AU in November. Worries persist over the relations between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda concerning the M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC.
The DRC President Felix Tshisekedi accused his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame of sponsoring the M23 insurgents. It remains to be seen how this potentially destructive state of affairs between the two countries will be handled.
Going into 2023, there is much to look forward to in Africa. First, it will be another milestone year as it will mark the 60th anniversary of the formation of the OAU and the 10th anniversary of the AU Agenda 2063.
Africa will receive the Chinese foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, as he makes his traditional January trip to Africa. The trip will come hard on the heels of the US-Africa Leaders Summit which is currently in session.
It will be interesting to see how China responds to the US overtures in Africa. The Russia-Africa Summit pencilled for mid-2023 is also something to look forward to.
About 25 African countries have scheduled elections in 2023 with countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somaliland, Libya, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, and Gabon holding presidential elections. As such, democracy will once again be put to the test across the continent.
Dr Sizo Nkala is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.