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Africa in 2015: 10 things to consider

Following the success of last year’s 10 things [you need] to know about Africa in 2014 blog post, Policy Researcher Jamie Hitchen looks at what the year ahead holds in store. 

1. Volatile Elections

With hotly contested, and possibly violent, elections expected in Nigeria, followed by Burkina Faso’s first elections in almost 30 years without Blaise Compaoré’s candidacy, this could be a defining year for West African states. Elsewhere on the continent, the polls are likely to mean the further entrenchment of the status quo in Sudan, Ethiopia and Burundi, while Tanzania will have a new president whatever the result, as President Jakaya Kikwete is standing down after serving the maximum two terms. (Find our Elections Resource page here – we will be keeping it updated throughout the year)

2. Commodity Price Crash

The continuing decline in the global oil price will have severe revenue shortfall consequences for major exporters, Angola and Nigeria. In November 2014, Nigeria devalued the naira by 10% in November 2014 to protect forex reserves. Conversely, for consumer states, like Senegal, Ethiopia and Kenya, the declining oil price may actually have economic benefits. In short, there will be winners and losers. Looking beyond oil, the drop in copper and iron ore prices is prompting some exporters to revise economic growth forecasts downwards. Could this prompt states to think more seriously about adding value to natural resources exports and creating more in-country jobs through local content provisions?

3. The End of Ebola

The World Health Organization estimated that 7,905 people died of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014. According to Anthony Banbury, the man who led the UN’s response last year, the virus will be defeated by the end of 2015. An even more optimistic President Koroma has suggested that his country, Sierra Leone, will be Ebola-free by May 2015. Economic recovery and social reintegration will become the major focus of attention for the international community, as will reflecting on a response that has been heavily criticised for being slow, inadequate and poorly led.  But will any lessons be learned for the future?

4. China-Africa Cooperation

The Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in South Africa will be the first since Chinese President Xi Jinping took charge. Jinping’s China has made a point of taking Africa’s priorities – such as agriculture, manufacturing and job creation – seriously. Although China has deviated from its policy of non-interference, as evidenced by its engagement with rebel forces in South Sudan, it remains to be seen whether it will adopt a financing model more amenable to Africa’s long-term interests. Alternatively, might Africa’s strengthening ties with Brazil, India and Turkey lead to a reduced engagement with China?

5. Presidential Term Limits

With the recent turmoil in Burkina Faso still fresh in the memory, African leaders seeking to amend constitutions to retain power may be feeling a little bit apprehensive. President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) seems intent on staying in power beyond 2016 and similar efforts on the part of incumbents can be expected in Burundi, Togo and the Republic of Congo.  Will the citizens allow it?

6. A New Era for the African Development Bank (AfDB)

Donald Kaberuka, President of the AfDB will step down in May 2015 having been at the helm for a decade. Under his leadership, the bank’s credibility across the continent has been rebuilt.  Early front-runners to replace him include Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina and Sufian Ahmed, Ethiopia’s longstanding Minister of Finance and Economic Development. Whoever ends up taking charge will need to help the beneficiaries of the commodity boom, the superstars of the Kaberuka era, recover from the current slump. In addition, the next president will have to deliver on the promise of securing the huge financing requirement for infrastructure and to ensure that infrastructure development is inclusive. The Ebola crisis has shown how vital it is for the Bank not to overlook the needs of fragile states.

7. Turning Away from the International Criminal Court (ICC)

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni is hoping to make 2015 the year that African leaders withdraw from the ICC. Of the 21 cases before the court, all have African defendants. This fact will likely add to the growing impression across Africa that the court has disproportionately targeted the continent’s leaders while trampling on sovereignty. The decision to try a sitting president, Uhuru Kenyatta, angered many heads of states. The subsequent withdrawal of the charges has raised doubts about the ICC among Kenya’s citizens, who were generally in favour of the process. Museveni’s promise to hand over recently captured Lord’s Resistance Army Commander Dominic Ongwen to the ICC is not the sign of a thaw in relations, but a political calculation.

8. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UN has acknowledged that sub-Saharan Africa will not meet many of the Millennium Development Goals before they end in 2015. The process of carving out a final list of SDGs from the current list of 17 goals and 169 targets is ongoing.  Three key prongs, which align with Africa’s own needs – job creation, peace and security, and infrastructure and governance – will drive the SDG agenda but is there a danger of overcomplication? What measures must be put in place to ensure that progress can be charted?

9. Tackling Terrorism: Nigeria & Kenya

Terrorist activities on the borders of Nigeria and Kenya, two of Africa’s leading states, have led to severe criticism of the governments’ responses. In Nigeria’s case, territorial integrity is under threat. Insecurity in the north-east, fuelled by Boko Haram’s activities, will be a defining issue in the 2015 Nigerian election with President Goodluck Jonathan viewed as unwilling or unable to act. In Kenya, an increasing number of attacks by Al Shabaab have put public pressure on President Kenyatta and he has so far responded by sacking the security minister.  Can either state address these threats in 2015?

10. Urban Infrastructure

Addis Ababa is expected to open its Chinese-backed metro rail system in January 2015 and a light-rail transport system is currently under construction in Lagos – although it is well behind schedule. Both of these developments speak to a gradual effort to address the economic cost of traffic jams that clog urban centres across the continent. A regular and predictable supply of electricity still remains a significant challenge. Load shedding, blackouts and so forth mean that businesses run on generators in many of Africa’s major cities. To encourage investment, this must change. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Grand Inga Dam in Congo and Kenya’s ambitious renewables programme, among others, are targeting the power shortfall.  2015 will be another year of increased urban development – and urban population growth.