Africa in a Changing Situation: Crisis and Opportunity Coexist

  In 2021, the political and security situation in Africa will become more volatile, and systemic crises will begin to emerge. Affected by multiple factors such as the epidemic, the economic and social crisis in Africa has become prominent and transmitted to the political and security levels, and inherent geographical conflicts, ethnic conflicts and social problems have been intensified. Faced with the severe and complex political and security situation, African countries have deepened their concerns, and have further strengthened their willingness and actions to jointly address regional challenges.
Coups buck the trend on the rise

  In 2021, there will be five coups in Africa, one successful coup in Mali, Guinea and Sudan, and one attempted coup in Niger and Sudan. After Chad’s President Deby was killed, the military appointed his son Mohamed Deby as the new president and headed the Military Transition Council, which was also accused by the opposition of a “military coup”. Coups used to be the main way for African countries to change power. According to relevant research data, since the late 1950s, there have been more than 200 coups in Africa, and about half of them have successfully seized power. In 2000, the Organization of African Unity (the predecessor of the African Union) adopted the Lomé Declaration, which stipulated that any member states that “unconstitutionally change the government” would be suspended. After that, the number of coups in Africa once tended to decrease, from an average of four per year in the first 40 years (1960-2000) to an average of about two per year in the next 20 years (2001-2019). But so far in 2021, the number of coups and attempted coups in Africa has been significantly higher than the previous average. The reasons for the “return” of the African coup d’état from the internal point of view are that the epidemic is difficult to control, the economic downturn, and the deterioration of public security have led to aggravation of social conflicts; externally, the external side has only verbally condemned the coup d’etat in Mali, Guinea and other countries, and almost no sanctions have been imposed. Experts from the International Crisis Group believe that the acquiescence of the West has created a favorable atmosphere for the military regime, which may bring about a “demonstration” effect in Africa.
New and old crises are multi-point concurrent

  On the one hand, regional powers have become “epicenters”. In 2021, the political and security situation of major African countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria will deteriorate. As the seat of the African Union headquarters and the “political heart” of Africa, Ethiopia has been in civil war for more than a year. The conflict between the Ethiopian government forces and the “Tigray People’s Liberation Front” (“Tigray People’s Liberation Front”) has continued to escalate. The United States, Britain, France, etc. Evacuation from many countries. There are several reasons for the intensifying civil war in Ethiopia. First, tribal conflicts are difficult to resolve. There are more than 80 tribes in Ethiopia. The Oromo, Amhara and Tigray have constant disputes and deep historical grievances. The federal system based on tribal zoning autonomy and the centralization of power implemented by the current Prime Minister Abiy during the ruling period of the “Tibet People’s Front” (1991-2018) have led to the intensification of tribal conflicts and the rise of local separatist forces. Second, the warring parties have taken a tough stand, rejecting ceasefire and dialogue. The third is the strong intervention of external forces. The United States and the European Union have criticized Abiy for “violating human rights” through the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, cut off aid to Ethiopia and imposed sanctions. In view of the difficulty of reconciling the positions of all parties, the Ethiopian civil war has a tendency to expand and protracted. In 2021, the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma in many parts of South Africa sparked the worst riots since the end of apartheid in 1994, resulting in many deaths and injuries. The riots are the result of increasingly intensifying conflicts between tribes, parties and classes in South Africa. In addition, the new crown epidemic has also exacerbated the economic and social contradictions in South Africa. In 2021, the unemployment rate will reach a record 32.6%, and the number of poor people will surge. Nigeria faces multiple challenges such as attacks by extremist groups, conflicts between herdsmen and farmers, separatist movements, and organized crime. There are frequent killings, kidnappings, and robbery incidents across the country, and social security is seriously out of order. Nigerian President Buhari sought international assistance and cooperation under heavy pressure. In April 2021, he asked the US Africa Command to move from Germany to Africa.
  On the other hand, security problems continue to ferment. As the “Arc of Unrest in Africa”, the situation in the Sahel region has accelerated and deteriorated, with two successive coups in Mali, and the President of Chad and the rebels were killed in battle. In Central Africa, armed conflict continues in much of the Central African Republic, which has affected the stability of the entire region. The security situation in eastern Congo (DRC) has deteriorated, and the illegal armed violence that has occupied the area for nearly 30 years is very active, resulting in a new wave of refugees in the region. In West Africa, the Gulf of Guinea remains a hotspot for piracy and kidnapping around the world. According to the International Maritime Bureau report, from January to September 2021, piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea accounted for about 30% of the world. In East Africa, the geopolitical game between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the water resources of the Nile River has intensified. The Renaissance Dam dispute has become an important threat to the stability of Ethiopia and East Africa. Despite the formation of a transitional coalition government in February 2020 and the determination of President Kiir to share power with former top opposition leader Machar, the security situation in South Sudan remains volatile in 2021.
  At the same time, in 2021, Africa’s economic recovery will be sluggish, the number of poor will increase, inequality will increase, and social conflicts will intensify, causing social unrest and conflict. First, social protests have increased. In 2021, large-scale demonstrations will take place in South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Angola and other countries, and there will be social unrest in countries such as Senegal that have been rare for many years. Second, the public security situation has generally deteriorated, and vicious cases such as kidnappings, robbery, and attacks have occurred frequently in many countries. Crime rates have skyrocketed since South Africa eased lockdown restrictions. Armed kidnappings and attacks against foreign and local citizens have occurred in several states in Nigeria. In addition, the security situation in Uganda, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and other countries also deteriorated.
Extremist forces take the opportunity

  Extremist organizations such as the “Islamic State” took advantage of the chaos and hindered development caused by the new crown virus pandemic to accelerate their expansion in Africa, mainly showing the following characteristics: First, the intensity of violence and terrorism has increased. Since 2021, serious violent terrorist incidents have occurred frequently in Africa. On March 21, several villages in the Tawa region of western Niger were attacked, and 137 civilians were killed. On May 30, at least 55 people were killed in an attack on two villages in Ituri province in eastern Congo. On June 4, a terrorist attack in a village in the Sahel region of northern Burkina Faso killed more than 160 people, the deadliest attack in the country since 2015. The second is the increase in the number of attacks. According to statistical analysis by the Armed Conflict Locations and Events Data (ACLED) project, at least 5,110 violent incidents related to extremist groups in Africa are expected in 2021, an increase of 3% from the record 4,956 incidents in 2020. The third is the expansion of geographical scope. Previously, the activities of African extremist groups were mainly in the central Sahel, Somalia, the Lake Chad Basin and North Africa, but in 2021 they will further expand to the coast of West Africa, Central Africa and Southeast Africa, such as the first violent terrorist attack in Benin, and explosions in Uganda. The attack turned Mozambique, which has always been stable, into a new terrorist base in Africa. Fourth, the “Islamic State” has stepped up its infiltration. The United Nations counter-terrorism chief Voronkov pointed out that in early 2021, the “Islamic State of the Greater Sahara” branch of the “Islamic State” has killed hundreds of civilians in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The expansion of Africa, especially Mozambique, will have a “profound impact” on regional security.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that sub-Saharan Africa will grow by 3.7% year-on-year in 2021, slower than the 5.2% in advanced economies and 6.4% in emerging market and developing economies. The picture shows the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa.

  In the face of the increasingly complex and severe political and security situation under the superposition of epidemics, fears and social situations, African leaders will take security issues as their main concern in 2021 and increase their joint efforts. In South-East Africa, at the Extraordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in June 2021, the 16 SADC heads of state approved the dispatch of the SADC standby force to Mozambique. In central Africa, on November 30, the Congolese (Kinshasa) and Ugandan troops launched a joint military operation aimed at fighting the rebels in the eastern part of the “Allied Democratic Forces”. In addition, Rwanda and Cameroon have successively sent troops to support the government of the Central African Republic to combat the country’s rebels. In West Africa, the regional organization Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is very concerned about the frequent coups and has repeatedly announced sanctions to restore constitutional order in Mali and Guinea. In East Africa, regional countries and organizations are actively mediating to seek a ceasefire in Ethiopia.
Organic in crisis

  Due to the single economic structure, Africa’s high dependence on foreign countries, and the huge impact of the epidemic on foreign trade and logistics, Africa’s economic recovery in 2021 will be relatively slow. According to the International Monetary Fund, sub-Saharan Africa’s economy will grow by 3.7% year-on-year in 2021, which is lower than the 5.2% in advanced economies and 6.4% in emerging market and developing economies. At the same time, African subregional economic performance was mixed. According to the data of the African Development Bank, East African and North African countries have a high level of economic diversification and strong development resilience, and their economic growth is above 4%. Most West African countries rely on resource exports, and their economic performance is poor, with a year-on-year growth of only 2.8% in 2021, and the economic growth of Nigeria, the “leader” of the West African economy, is only 2.6%. In southern Africa, pillar industries such as mining and agriculture have recovered rapidly, with an average growth rate of 3.2% in various countries. The economic growth of South Africa is expected to reach 5% in 2021.
  Under the impact of the epidemic, the chronic economic ills that have plagued Africa for a long time have become more prominent. First, the budget is very tight. African governments have limited means of generating revenue. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, African countries’ export revenue, tax revenue, and remittances have all dropped sharply. The government’s resources to help small and medium-sized enterprises, implement social relief, and stimulate the economy are very limited. According to World Bank statistics, since January 2020, the average budget of African countries to stimulate economic recovery has only accounted for 2.8% of GDP, compared with 17.3% in developed economies and 4.1% in emerging economies. Second, the debt problem is still severe. After the outbreak of the epidemic, the international community paid close attention to Africa’s debt and took action to ease its debt burden, but the public debt of African countries remains high. The 2021 average is estimated to remain around 56.6%, an improvement from 65% in 2020, but still higher than pre-pandemic levels. According to IMF statistics, more than half of low-income African countries are already in debt distress or at high risk of debt. Third, social inequality has increased. According to the African Development Bank, the epidemic in 2020 has already pushed about 30 million people into extreme poverty, and about 39 million people will fall into poverty in 2021. At the same time, affected by factors such as the new crown epidemic, climate change, and tight supply, Africa has faced further upward pressure on food prices since 2021, resulting in increased upward risks of overall inflation in the region.
  In response to the huge economic and social impact of the new crown epidemic, African countries have taken a number of measures to stimulate economic recovery and sustainable development. The first is to speed up the transformation of the economic structure. Countries that are highly dependent on resource and energy exports, such as South Africa and Nigeria, are speeding up their economic transformation and launching reindustrialization and energy reform programs to change the vulnerability of their economies that are highly dependent on the external environment and stimulate faster economic recovery. The second is to continue to promote digitalization. Under the epidemic, new economic formats such as e-commerce, online education, and mobile payment have flourished in Africa, providing new development opportunities for traditional industries hit by the epidemic. In order to support the development of the digital economy, African countries are also stepping up efforts to improve the network communication infrastructure and incorporating the development of the digital economy into their national long-term development plans. The digital economy is expected to become a new economic growth point in Africa. In addition, the construction of the African Continental Free Trade Area will also drive the development of the African shipping market. A study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa found that if the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is implemented smoothly and the necessary infrastructure projects are built, it is expected that by 2030, African ship cargo volume will jump from the current 58 million tons / year to 132 million tons / year year. In the context of the accelerated recovery of global shipping, the construction of the African Continental Free Trade Area will improve the efficiency of African shipping and further unleash the potential of African trade and transportation

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