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Another year wasted to achieve peace, prosperity

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Picture: AFP / Taken on December 20, 2023 – People displaced by the conflict in Sudan cheer as a Sudanese army truck drives by in the city of Gedaref, on December 20. The war in Sudan has killed more than 10,000 people, most of them unarmed civilians and led to the displacement of millions of people which has created a massive humanitarian crisis. This has scuppered the AU Agenda 2063 – a detailed plan for making Africa a peaceful and prosperous Continent by 2063, the writer says.

By Sizo Nkala

This year marked the 60th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now known as the African Union (AU). The launch of the OAU represented Africa’s move from the colonial to the post-colonial era which held so much promise and hope for a continent that was emerging from the brutality of colonial oppression. The year also marked the tenth anniversary of the AU Agenda 2063 – a detailed plan for making Africa a peaceful and prosperous Continent by 2063.

However, 2023 will go down as another wasted year towards realising Africa’s goals of peace and prosperity. This year saw the breakout of a deadly civil war in Sudan in April just a few months after a peace deal paused another destructive civil war in Ethiopia. To date, the war in Sudan has killed more than 10,000 people, most of them unarmed civilians and led to the displacement of millions of people which has created a massive humanitarian crisis.

All this has happened under the watch of the African Union and its Peace and Security Council (PSC) which was created for the purpose of preventing and resolving conflict in the Continent. That the Sudanese war has dragged on for this long is a testament to the weakness of continental and regional institutions. While African leaders found time to visit Ukraine and Russia under the so-called Peace Mission, no such mission has been to Sudan. It has taken external players like the US to try and hammer out a peace deal between the warring parties. However, these efforts have also hit a snag.

The year has also seen the unfortunate continuation of military takeovers as happened in July in Niger and in Gabon in August. There was an attempted coup in Sierra Leone in November which was foiled by the government of that country. There have been nine military takeovers and one failed attempt in Africa since 2020. This certainly does not augur well for the development of democracy in the Continent.

In most cases, these coups are caused by the misgovernance of a rapacious and repressive political elite whose rule has only brought poverty, suffering and misery to the people they rule. The military uses the governance failures as grounds to justify its take-over promising to resolve the country’s problems.

However, as history has shown time and again, unequipped to govern a country, military rule only exacerbates the problems thus creating fertile ground for a vicious cycle of coups. While the African Union has sanctioned and suspended military regimes from its structures, this has not been effective in deterring coups. If the trend of military takeovers is allowed to continue, Africa will suffer major setbacks in its development targets because military regimes do not have development as a top priority in their agendas.

Still on African politics, more than 25 countries in Africa held elections at various levels including local, parliamentary, and presidential. However, in some countries that held presidential elections like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, the outcome was disputed by the losing candidates. It seems there were many cases of intimidation and rigging which meant that the results of these elections did not reflect the will of the voters.

The lack of integrity in the electoral processes in African countries makes a mockery of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which seeks to promote the quality and credibility of elections in Africa. Only in Liberia did the losing candidate concede and accept the results of the elections. Disputed elections create a loophole for military takeovers thus plunging countries into political instability. Moreover, the lack of legitimacy for the parties that emerge victorious in disputed elections hampers the inflow of foreign direct investment thus constraining economic growth.

In another significant development, the African Union attained permanent membership in the Group of 20 (G20) in September. This marked a turning point in the global presence and agency of the AU as it will for the first time sit as a voting entity in an important international forum. The AU’s permanent membership means that it can now influence global policy in more meaningful ways through voting and intimate interactions with some of the most influential global policymakers.

While African countries are accustomed to participating in these platforms as individual countries, the accession of the AU to the G20 will force African leaders to think hard about the modalities of a multilateral approach on international platforms which is far more efficient than participating as separate countries. If this approach is effective in the G20, it may be used in other platforms which may lead to better outcomes for the continent.

Economically, Africa is still in the doldrums as it struggles to recover from external shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The African Development Bank announced that the continent’s GDP growth rate for 2023 stands at 3.4 percent representing a 0.6 percentage decline from 4 percent in 2022. The bank cited high interest rates, growing political instability and sluggish global recovery as the factors suppressing Africa’s economic growth. While the bank has forecast Africa’s GDP to rise by 3.8 percent in 2024, without addressing political instability in the continent and improving the business environment this growth rate is unlikely to be realised.

The continent has over 400 million people living in absolute poverty and this number will rise if economic growth continues to be low. Disappointingly, there seems to be silence around the progress of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which was launched with so much fanfare in 2021. The last we heard about AfCFTA was during the launch of its pilot phase involving seven countries in 2022. However, not much has been said about the progress of the pilot phase. One can only hope that the AfCFTA is not turning into yet another failed continental project.

Overall, 2023 has not been a good year for the Continent especially in the context of the objectives of the AU Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Africa will need to get its house in order in 2024.

Dr Sizo Nkala is a Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies