Coups, climate and cost of living: Key issues that shaped 2023 in Africa

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A man holds a placard as supporters of Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) protest outside the Niger and French airbase in Niamey on September 2, 2023 to demand the departure of the French army from Niger [AFP]

It was a year full of high-stakes geopolitical drama and economic crises for Africa.

Lagos, Nigeria  – Like 2022, 2023 was a year full of high-stakes geopolitical drama and economic crises that sometimes seemed like an escalation of existing issues of previous years.

New conflicts – internal and external – emerged and a series of flawed elections opened the door for the military to extend the trend of coups into another year.

The disruption in the supply chain brought about by the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine continued to bite. Climate disasters have become more acute. But in all these, African governments stepped up to chart their destinies, for good or bad.

As the year draws to a close, Al Jazeera looks at seven of the key issues that dominated the continent in 2023.

Climate shocks

Declared worse than the 2011 famine, the drought in the Horn of Africa region entered its third year – and sixth consecutive season – of failed rainfall. According to data from the World Health Organization in August, 2.3 million people were displaced across the region due to the drought alone.

But when it rains, it pours. After the drought, floods hit the region, bringing more painful effects of extreme weather. Displacing several thousands of people, the floods killed 65 in Tanzania, 15 in Kenya, and dozens of others in Somalia and South Sudan. In southeastern Africa, cyclone devastation wreaked havoc in Malawi and Mozambique, killing hundreds of people and displacing thousands. In southern Angola, the drought is still endangering dozens of pregnant women.

These climate shocks have sparked concerns among leaders, leading to an inaugural African climate summit in Nairobi where leaders reiterated that African states have been disproportionately affected by climate change and urged Western nations  – which on average have higher carbon emissions  – to pay their fair share of climate taxes.

On the back of this, African negotiators at COP28 were vocal in demanding a “just fossil phase-out with equity and differentiation,” said Lerato Ngakane, communications director at the Global Oil and Gas Network, a coalition of nonprofits working to reduce fossil fuel use globally.

“Those that have historically benefitted from emissions and development from fossil fuels need to phase out first and then redirect public finance and investment into the renewable energy sector, for those developing nations to build renewable energy infrastructure and transition, in order to industrialise,” she told Al Jazeera.

Cost-of-living crisis

Across the continent, the cost-of-living crisis is escalating due to the persevering economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, intensified by disruption of global food supply chains due to the Russia-Ukraine war. In some cases, frustration spilled on to the streets which led to massive protests in multiple countries including Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tunisia.

In Malawi, where the president has suspended travel for all officials in his government to conserve draining foreign reserves, more women have turned to the sex trade. In Nigeria, some have reverted to old kerosene stoves or a two-tier cooking contraption fuelled by sawdust – that became popular under dictator Sani Abacha in the ‘90s – after fuel prices rose astronomically following the abrupt end of a decades-long fuel subsidy and the devaluation of the naira.

Experts say African economies remain susceptible to global tensions even as the effects of the pandemic and war in Europe are yet to subside.

“[These] were exogenous shocks but Africa does not have the macroeconomic flexibility and fiscal space of rich countries,” Carlos Lopez, former executive secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, told Al Jazeera. “This succession of events has made 2023 a terrible year with social and human development progress being reversed, provoking renewed forms of contestation.”

Coups

A carryover from the past few years, the coup trend continued in West and Central Africa in 2023. The sixth and seventh military takeovers in the last three years happened in Niger and Gabon this year. Elsewhere in West Africa, attempted coups were also curtailed in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

Military leaders continued to seize power, exploiting deep satisfaction among citizens and anger towards the ruling class over the absence of democratic dividends.

A series of contested national elections throughout the year also fuelled the military’s narrative of pervasive political corruption and overbearing external influence. Elections in Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Eswatini, Gabon, Sierra Leone and Madagascar were heavily contested and denounced by citizens. The exception was Liberia where outgoing President George Weah conceded the election to former vice president Joseph Boakai.

“Democracy has not centred the interests of many of the citizens in these countries,” Leena Kofi-Hoffman, Africa programme associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House told Al Jazeera. “The [lives] of these citizens have not improved in many contexts because [political] stability has been prioritised over true democratic dividends.”

Continuing conflict

A fragile accord between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces ripped open in April. That threw Sudan, Africa’s third largest country, into a war that has now killed more than 10,000 people and displaced millions of others, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The war has continued to threaten the stability of the nearby Horn of Africa and Sahel regions. In Somalia, clashes over territory between the self-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland ballooned into full-on crisis.

In Central Africa, the longrunning conflict in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo took a deadly turn with a renewed offensive from the M23 rebels. The Congolese government, like the European Union and the United States, accused Rwanda of supporting the group which now controls significant territory in the DRC’s North Kivu province.

A year after the truce between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray forces, normalcy is gradually returning to the northern region. However, the federal government has fallen out with Fano militias in the Amhara region, a former ally of the federal forces during the Tigray war. So both allies have now become foes, triggering heavy fighting.

BRICS expansion

As more countries from the Global South look to diversify from the current Western economic hegemony, the BRICS bloc continues to emerge as a serious alternative.

This year, Africa was at the focal point; South Africa hosted the 15th summit since the group was formed in 2009; Egypt and Ethiopia also officially joined the bloc, expanding its footprint on the continent. Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, has declined to join the bloc.

Afterwards, BRICS criticised the continued bombing of the Gaza Strip, a signal of an increasingly political stance in a global climate where the United States and many European countries have backed Israel.

“This new environment presents the nations of the Global South with options about how to respond to growing friction among major powers and how to position their nations in the midst of great power competition,” Ahmad Ali, an executive fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, wrote for Al Jazeera.

France out. Russia, maybe?

Paris has lost more of its allies in what is becoming a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape.

Coups in Gabon and Niger this year followed previous coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea – amplifying the decline of France’s influence in its former colonies. A last grasp at straws in Niger sparked a diplomatic row with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), bringing the region to the brink of a regional conflict, as Paris backed the Nigeria-led bloc to reverse the July coup.

As France slips, Russia seems to be making inroads as West African governments align with Moscow for security provisions. But the August death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the arrowhead of Russian diplomacy in Africa, cast a wide shadow on the scale of Moscow’s ability to increase its influence in places France has been pushed out from.

Open borders

Africa’s big economies are opening up to one another as governments increasingly drop visa requirements for travellers from other African countries. The year, a string of high-profile visa agreements were announced as diplomatic efforts to boost trade and generate more revenue revved up.

In May, Mozambique waived visas for 29 countries in May, including Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal. Rwanda abolished visas for all Africans, while Kenya followed suit after signing a 90-day visa waiver with South Africa. South Africa also signed a visa waiver with Ghana.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA

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