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Flashpoints, elections and tech: What to watch in Africa this year

By The Africa Report staff
Posted on Tuesday, 16 January 2018 11:13

The continent’s ability to resolve violent conflicts seems to have reached its current limits. Wars in Libya, South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) have no viable peace roadmaps or ends in sight. The African Union (AU) says it has been sidelined in Libya, but its intervention in Somalia is about to end before the Islamist rebel threat has been resolved. A mishmash of initiatives are not moving South Sudan any closer to peace, and halfhearted efforts are not leading to the creation of a viable central government in CAR.

The AU says it is hopeful that new initiatives, such as the G5 grouping of five countries, will provide a robust res­ponse to insecurity in the Sahel, but so far it does not have the resources and equipment to do so. Support for the proposed AU African Standby Force is not gaining traction, and the contin­ental body continues to work through ad-hoc arrangements because of the lack of resources and political will to see a permanent African invervention force created.

There are also several restive regions in the headlines that have yet to become full-scale national conflicts. There, too, strong initiatives are lacking. In Cameroon, President Paul Biya’s government has arrested Anglophone leaders and refused to dialogue. In Ethiopia, the ruling party has lost some high-ranking Oromia support after it met protests in the region with violence. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has promised substantial reforms, but oppositionists doubt that political competition will be tolerated. And in Egypt’s restive region of Sinai, the government’s brutal response to Islamist attacks on the security forces is exacerbating anger focused on the central government in Cairo. If governments hope that today’s restive regions do not become tomorrow’s flashpoints, they needs to rethink their approaches.



The government’s efforts have weakened Boko Haram’s grip, but they maintain the ability to launch murderous attacks in the north-east. In the oil-rich Niger Delta, militant group the Niger Delta Avengers promied a new round of attacks after ending their ceasefire in November. Meanwhile, pro-Biafra secession groups continue to mobilise supporters in the south-east.

Central African Republic

The country is low on the international mediation agenda, and the government controls just a small portion of the country’s territory. Tit-for-tat attacks continue between Muslim and Christian rebel groups, and the 2016 election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has done little to change the balance of power on the ground.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The government finally agreed to speed up preparations for national polls that have been postponed since late 2016. Oppositionists say President Kabila still has more twists and turns prepared after the opposition rejected the December 2018 date for the polls. Fighting continues in Kasai and other regions.


President Pierre Nkurunziza is closing down all non-violent means of opposition to his government in his quest to become a president for life. A new rebel group, the Forces Populaires du Burundi, has formed and the government has quit the International Criminal Court in order to try to protect senior officials from potential prosecution.


The United Nations-backed peace initiative is not finding support on the ground as regional and European powers pursue their own initiatives. Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and strongman Khalifa Haftar have few incentives to work together, and plans for elections in 2018 could complicate mediation efforts.


The coup/not coup of November has thrown the country into deep uncertainty. Even without President Mugabe, the transitional period is full of risks as big personalities in ZANU-PF, the military and the opposition jockey for position in the post-Mugabe fallout.

South Sudan

The United Nations and East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development are running out of options. Rebel leader Riek Machar is under house arrest in South Africa, but President Salva Kiir seems unable to stop the splintering of factions and is not interested in mediation that would weaken his position.


The African Union is due to begin withdrawing its troops in 2018, and the government says that its security forces are not prepared to take over. The Al-Shabaab Islamist fighters showed their continued strength with a massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu in October. In November, about 2.5 million people were in a food security crisis, adding to the massive challenges for the government of Muhammed ‘Farmaajo Abdullahi.


Presidential elections in 2018 will test the grips of several strongmen, from President Sisi in Egypt to President Biya in Cameroon. Votes in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe bring uncertainty with them, if they actually take place as planned. Mali’s vote is shaping up to be a referendum on the government’s peace plans in the north.

1. Egypt

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is assured of an easy victory in elections due before the end of May. The eco­n­omy is struggling and there is violence in Sinai, but Sisi’s government runs a tight ship that does not tolerate differences of opinion. Trumped up charges could sideline candidate Khaled Ali, and the political scene remains dominated by former soldiers and other Sisi allies.

2. Sierra Leone

The governing All People’s Congress (APC) has had few successes in its two terms in power. In March, the APC’s Samura Kamara will face off against the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP)’s repeat candidate Julius Maada Bio and SLPP defector Kandeh Yumkella.

3. Mali

Despite making little progress on peace in northern Mali, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is likely to win the August poll against Soumaïla Cissé, unless Cissé can form a coalition and maintain the momentum of 2017 protests that led the government to abandon its plans for constitutional reform.

4. Democratic Republic of Congo

President Joseph Kabila is constitutionally barred from running for the presidency, and his allies have suggested holding a referendum to change the country’s laws and clear his way. Kabila has not publicly stated his plans and it is not clear who would be his party’s presidential candidate. In the opposition, Félix Tshisekedi and Moïse Katumbi are likely contenders. A united opposition would have a stronger chance of winning, but agreement on a joint candidate is not assured.

5. South Sudan

President Salva Kiir wants to hold elections in July 2018, but the United Nations argue that elections without a roadmap for peace will only exacerbate the conflict. A large percentage of the population has been displaced by violence and the government does not seem to have the money necessary to hold the polls.

6. Madagascar

Things have been looking up for President Hery Rajaonarimampianina, but a plague outbreak in late 2017 and the prospect of facing heavyweight former leaders in the December 2018 presidential race cast a dark cloud over his upcoming year. Former president and yogurt baron Marc Ravalomanana and former transitional president Andry Rajoelina promise to put up tough fights in the coming months.

7. Zimbabwe

After a slow-moving coup started over the sacking of vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa in November, President Robert Mugabe finally resigned. The political crisis puts elections slated for July or August in doubt. There is likely to be a transitional regime and it may not be possible to hold a vote by the original deadline. Mnangagwa is likely to be the ruling party’s presidential candidate, but it is not yet clear if the anger that swept Mugabe from power will take ZANU-PF with it.

8. Cameroon

President Paul Biya, 84, and his allies control the political scene with an iron grip but are looking around uneasily as pressures mount on other long-serving presidents. Unless there is a seismic shift, he is likely to win another term in October 2018. However, increasing agitation in the Anglophone regions and the threat of Boko Haram attacks add a new level of uncertainty to the campaigning.


Though no match for the stellar fundraising year of 2016, 2017 still produced a number of promising companies. Nigeria’s digital payments firm Interswitch continues to shine as the continent’s only startup unicorn (a term for a company valued at more than $1bn). But others are showing enormous potential. Nigeria and Kenya remain the two most active tech hubs in the continent.

Nigeria’s tech scene is abuzz about Farmcrowdy, which allows users to fund small-scale farmers through a mobile app. Kenya’s delivery platform Sendy, which links customers with motorcycle drivers, raised $3m in November to expand its operations. The startup was one of the first recipients of telecoms behemoth Safaricom’s Spark Fund. In South Africa, Aerobotics, which uses satellites and drones to create data that can be used in agriculture, finance and insurance, raised $570,000 to boost its operations in Australia, South Africa and the UK.

This article came from the December/January 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine

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