Ten reasons to keep your eyes on Africa in 2022
The discovery of the Omicron Coronavirus in South Africa, another military coup in Sudan, and a deepened conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region made headlines in 2021. But what does 2022 have in store? We asked our researchers what they will be keeping their eyes on in the coming year.
1. Will enough Africans get the jabs?
Will Africa manage to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by the end of 2022? This is necessary to have a chance of controlling the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
More than 7.6 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses had been administered worldwide. Africa, however, accounted for less than 3 percent of doses. Developed countries secured their own orders from pharmaceutical companies first, which at the beginning slowed down procurement for the Covax global vaccine-sharing programme. Covax has increased deliveries of vaccines in recent months, although, now weak healthcare systems and limited infrastructure are hindering national vaccine rollouts.
“Despite the significant health burdens that African countries face, they do not adequately invest in health services and infrastructure, with healthcare borne mainly by individuals and volunteers”, NAI researcher Patience Mususa says.
Consequently, Africa lacks capacity to deal with the pandemic. On average, the continent has 135 hospital beds and three intensive care units per 100,000 people. There are fewer than 2,000 working ventilators to serve hundreds of millions of people. Nor can electricity be guaranteed — only 28 percent of sub-Saharan African health facilities have reliable power sources. In addition, human resources are lacking in Africa — for every 1,000 people there are only 0.2 doctors and one nurse.
However, blaming underfunded healthcare systems and vaccine infrastructures in African countries is not enough, according to NAI researcher Jesper Bjarnesen.
“We have seen how wealthy countries have repeatedly closed their borders to Africa under the pretence of limiting Covid-19, when the spread of the virus has been centred in the global North. The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the lengths that wealthy states will go to in order to protect their own interests at the expense of the world’s poorer regions”, Bjarnesen states.
2. Can Africa electrify without using fossil fuel energy?
Half of Africa´s population — 600 million people — do not have reliable electricity or live completely without it. Extending the power grid is key to Africa’s industrialisation, which is necessary for much-needed economic progress and social development. However, the catch is that Africa must electrify without using its rich resources of coal and other fossil fuels.
“Developed countries have already exploited fossil fuels to get where they are now. Should African countries leave their resources untapped, they must be supported to use other means. It is in developed countries self-interest, too – because the climate emergency affects us all”, NAI Head of Research Eleanor Fisher says.
African countries will have to increase power supply to produce steel and concrete to build resilient infrastructure. They will also need power-intensive solutions to provide air conditioning, cold storage and desalination. Unfortunately, rich countries have so far failed to meet their pledge to provide 100 billion US dollars a year to African and other developing countries to address climate change-related costs.
“People on the continent are experiencing extreme climate shocks that further reinforce existing vulnerabilities. Not least in the East African region, where a persistent drought has pushed smallholder farmers and pastoralist communities towards the brink of a catastrophe”, NAI researcher Shilpa Asokan says.
For the region’s countries, local-level adaptation is key to building climate resilience that reaches local and marginalised communities. Asokan points out that more work needs to be done to support local adaptation mechanisms within national frameworks.
“This requires robust institutional and financial mechanisms, which are lacking in many African countries. Nevertheless, expectations and priorities on climate finance and adaptation strategies are very high on the COP27 agenda in Egypt next year”, Asokan concludes.
3. Will African economies get back on track?
Recovery in African countries is likely to be slower than in rich ones where governments could increase spending dramatically that protected both the private sector and households during the pandemic, according to NAI development economist Jörgen Levin,.
“State interventions, in combination with changing consumption patterns due to closed restaurants and a shrunk social life, have in many developed countries increased savings. When people now start to consume their saved money, it will kick-start growth in these countries”, Levin explains.
In African countries, however, households have had to use their own savings to cushion lost incomes, as governments often lack the resources and administrative structures to implement broad-based income-support programmes. With the support of aid, some countries were able to scale up cash transfer programmes targeting poor and vulnerable groups. But on the whole, savings did not increase. Consequently, people will not be able to go shopping after the pandemic and thus not boost growth with consumption, says Levin.
Another factor in Africa’s recovery is the debt burden. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that 18 of 35 low-income countries in Africa are in debt distress. The number has increased during the pandemic, even though the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) suspended debt service payments owed to official bilateral creditors worth 10.3 billion US dollars.
“No doubt next year will be challenging as the DSSI will expire at the end of 2021, forcing participating countries to resume debt service payments”, Levin says.
4. Will the world wake up to Burkina Faso’s humanitarian crisis?
For more than two years, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has called on humanitarian actors to increase resources to Burkina Faso where more than one million people have fled from armed conflict between government forces and jihadist groups. Yet this humanitarian crisis receives little attention from media and decisionmakers in the global North.
“There is clearly a limited attention span among international organisations and the public, with serious displacement crises happening in Afghanistan, Venezuela, Yemen, the Central African Republic and elsewhere. So, it is also a matter of competing for attention on a very unfortunate list – and Burkina Faso does not yet qualify for the most attention”, NAI researcher Jesper Bjarnesen says.
So far in the crisis, which has worsened in the past year, those displaced have depended largely on local communities in central Burkina Faso for food and shelter.
The violence shows no sign of abating. Burkinabe citizens in major cities have started taking to the streets, accusing the government of mismanaging the security situation.
“It is of great importance how the government of Burkina Faso will respond to the growing pressure to perform better in terms of challenging the jihadist violence”, Bjarnesen says.
Equally vital in the coming year will be the continued strategy of international security actors in the Sahel region, such as former colonial power France and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
“The Sahel region is in the midst of a security crisis related to threats from jihadist groups. France is already restructuring its intervention in Mali. Will there be a growing presence of peacekeeping forces in Burkina Faso or will Mali remain the main priority?”
5. Will Kenya’s female candidates have a fair chance?
Getting into politics can come at a high personal cost, especially if you are a woman living in a country where female candidates face considerable risk of being harassed or exposed to violence. In August 2022, we will keep our eyes on the general election in Kenya, which adopted a progressive constitution in 2010 but where real development in women’s political representation has been slow.
The 2017 elections saw a remarkable increase in the number of women who contested and won elected positions. Compared to the 2013 elections, there was a 29 percent increase in the number of women candidates, and an 18 percent increase in the number of women elected to office. However, these developments were also met with an increase in violence against women politicians. The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights documented at least 201 cases of sexual violence in 11 of 47 counties, which happened alongside other forms of violence, physical and psychological, which often went unreported.
As we approach the 2022 elections, questions on representation and attitudes towards women in politics again come into focus. Kenyan researcher Shillah Memusi, who has conducted a NAI study on violence and women in politics in Kenya, identifies three developments to watch.
Will political parties ensure gender parity in their candidate selection processes? Will there be adequate institutional preparedness to support and protect women candidates throughout the process? Will Kenyans elect enough women to fulfil the constitutional requirement that no more than two thirds of the legislature is of the same gender?
The situation is similar in many countries on the African continent. In Ghana, 72 percent of female politicians have been exposed to verbal abuse, 41 percent to emotional/psychological violence, 29 percent to sexual violence and 14 percent to physical violence, according to a report from the Gender Centre for Empowering Development and the One Sky Giving Circle in Ghana.
“In Ghana, a politics of insults, ridicule and rumours about women political candidates makes politics a rather hostile space for women. There have also been examples of other forms of violence, including the burning of property of a woman political candidate in the 2020 election”, says NAI Senior Gender Researcher Diana Højlund Madsen.
She stresses the need for political parties to ensure that politics is a safe space for women and to set up mechanisms to address questions of violence against women in politics.
“Even though a number of African countries have introduced quotas, there is a need to look beyond formal gender equality reforms and also tackle the culture which upholds patriarchal structures”, Højlund Madsen concludes.
6. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for the Horn of Africa?
2021 has seen war in Ethiopia, brutal military rule in Sudan, and political deadlock in both South Sudan and Somalia. Three years ago, the outlook was completely different: Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s appointment brought hopes of uniting the troubled Ethiopia, a power-sharing deal in South Sudan enabled a unity government. And people in Sudan took to the street to protest against the 30-year-old regime of dictator Omar al-Bashir. Then, there were real prospects of peace and democratic development in the Horn of Africa. Now, many of those expectations have been shattered.
However, according to NAI researcher Redie Bereketeab, not everything is hopeless. “There are signs pointing in the direction of state stabilisation, where functions and structures are becoming less fragile. This is an absolute pre-condition if the region’s countries are to move towards peace and stability”.
Somalia has finally elected 54 senators to the upper house in parliament. Soon, appointed clan representatives will also elect 275 parliamentarians to the lower house. “When that process is completed, it will mean that all the different stakeholders should accept holding a presidential election”.
According to the agreement in South Sudan, members of armed groups and militias will be integrated into government forces. Progress has been slow, but joint military training for both groups has recently taken place. “It may seem like a small thing, but it is crucial for a lasting, sustainable peace in South Sudan”, Bereketeab says.
In Sudan, when General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdouk, having removed him in a coup in October, it was on the condition of appointing a technocratic government. While it is unclear how much power such a government would have, considering that the military remains dominant, Bereketeab is cautiously optimistic that a government consisting of people without loyalties to political parties or particular groups could lead Sudan on a path to free and fair elections in 2023.
In Ethiopia, however, predictions are hazardous. While the federal army currently seems to have the upper hand, this could change. The fighting must stop at some point, Bereketeab says, and then serious talks about the nation’s future must take place, involving all stakeholders and ethno-linguistic groups.
7. Can Europe unlearn old habits?
Will the planned AU – EU summit in February 2022 be the foundation for an equal partnership or is Africa already looking elsewhere for less paternalistic options?
Whatever support Europe is not prepared to grant, Africa can find elsewhere. China, the Gulf countries, Russia and Turkey are all increasingly making investments on the continent. However, external help is not the only thing on the table, NAI associate Adebayo Olukoshi points out. “Diaspora funds are substantial. Remittances to Nigeria, Ethiopia and Ghana annually account for billions of dollars”.
EU has devoted a fair amount of time to persuading Africa to turn away from China, arguing that the Chinese are setting a debt trap that will lock African countries into servitude, Olukoshi says. But increasingly, European countries seem to now accept that China is economically too powerful to keep out of Africa.
The entrance of other emerging powers onto the scene, however, generates outcry. A Russian private security company operating in Mali and the Russia-backed regime in the Central African Republic are dislodging France from its historic role as the dominant external actor in the region.
Such changing global dynamics can, if used wisely, offer African countries the possibility to redefine and reset old relationships, Olukoshi says. But both Africa and Europe need to unlearn old habits.
“Europe has to unlearn its colonial mentality and assumptions that it has all the answers to Africa’s problems. And Africa has to unlearn its assumption that there is a certain altruism about European intervention on the continent”.
The way to achieve an egalitarian partnership based on mutual respect, Olukoshi says, is not through the EU insisting on returning so-called illegal migrants to countries of origin.
“It is a very sore point for Africa. Governments as well as citizens object strongly to the idea of the EU returning migrants and giving Africa money for it. It is like trading in people”.
8. How will the Namibia-Germany reconciliation agreement unfold?
When the Namibia-Germany reconciliation agreement was initialled in May 2021 it was a historic step towards dealing with colonial injustices. Germany agreed to pay Namibia 1.1 billion euros as a ‘gesture of recognition’ of the Herero-Nama genocide at the start of the 20th century.
The negotiations have been watched nervously by the UK, France, Portugal and other former colonial powers. Germany’s steps to take responsibility for its colonial crimes paves the way for other processes on colonial abuses across the African continent.
However, when the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the planned ratification of the agreement, the process took an unexpected turn. In June, a heated debate began in Namibia’s National Assembly, with calls from all parties except the governing South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) to reject the agreement.
“MPs from the opposition parties argued that the bilateral negotiations side-lined the affected communities, since the main agencies of the descendants of the Ovaherero, Mbanderu, Nama and Damara were not included. Also, the demand for reparations remains unfulfilled and the agreed amount of money is considered much too low”, says NAI Associate Henning Melber.
Realising the agreement is now in jeopardy. Although SWAPO could push it through the National Assembly with its absolute majority, the political cost might be too high, according to Melber.
The agreement was expected to set an important example for how to deal with colonial injustices in Africa. Now, there may be no deal at all, or one which divides the different groups in Namibia rather than strengthening them.
9. Where do we look for Africa’s next Abdulrazak Gurnah?
“I’m delighted that an African won. This will do so much for Gurnah, and I hope, for other African writers. It’s about time”, wrote Nigerian author Leye Adenle when online magazine Brittle Paper asked 103 African writers to respond to the Swedish Academy’s decision to award Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gurnah is only the second black African writer (and first East African) ever to win the prestigious prize.
“The Swedish Academy has, in the past, not been good at recognising literature from outside Europe. We can only hope that this means that they have started to expand their perspective”, says Erik Falk, a former NAI researcher specialising in East African literature.
Awards are important for African literature, not least as a vehicle for young writers, Falk says.
“This is true, whether we are talking about national literary prizes or, one step up, the Commonwealth and AKO Caine prizes. And just seeing that an African writer can get the most prestigious literary prize of all, certainly that must be inspirational for many”, he says.
Perhaps the massive recognition for African writing in 2021 – including prizes such as the International Booker Prize and Prix Goncourt being awarded to Senegalese writers David Diop and Mohamed Mbougar Sarr – shows that something really has changed in the world of literature.
So, after the successes of 2021, where should we look to spot Africa’s next Abdulrazak Gurnah?
“There is so much interesting literature coming from the African continent, it is hard to keep track”, Falk says, but offers a few tips on where to look for upcoming writers.
Falk mentions two annual awards, the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, as events worth looking out for.
“The AKO Caine Prize, for short stories, is well known for recognising upcoming talent. Among previous winners are writers such as NoViolet Bulawayo [from Zimbabwe] and Helon Habila [from Nigeria]”, Falks says.
The AKO Caine Prize, sometimes called the ‘African Booker’, publishes its shortlist in June, with the winner announced a month later. In 2021, the prize was awarded to Ethiopian writer Meron Hadero for her short story ‘The Street Sweep’.
Another award that recognises upcoming writers is the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, which publishes its shortlist in April, announcing regional winners in May and the final winner in June.
“Our well-kept secret is out in the open!”, wrote Sudanese author Leila Aboulela about Gurnah’s Nobel Prize win in Brittle Paper (‘Gurnah’s fans cherish him without shouting about him’). While it is unlikely that the world’s biggest literary award will be given to Africa two years in a row, there will no doubt be a wealth of ‘secrets’ to discover in 2022 as well.
10. What does a South Africa with a less dominant ANC look like?
After two serious blows in 2021 – the deadly riots and looting that followed the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma in July and poor results in local elections in November – the African National Congress (ANC) party faces an uncertain and possibly difficult 2022.
“The results in the municipal elections impact on general policies and people’s voting behaviour. The political landscape is changing!”, says NAI Associate Henning Melber.
For the first time, the ANC’s vote fell below an outright country-wide majority, winning 45.6 percent of the vote, down from 53.9 percent in 2016.
A battle within the ANC, between the rival camps of its former leader Zuma and current leader President Cyril Ramaphosa, climaxed in July after Zuma began a 15-month jail sentence for contempt of court. This likely had an effect on voter confidence in the 1 November local elections, according to Melber.
“The fights in the ANC fuelled uneasiness among people as to who would gain the upper hand. This and the ongoing leniency as regards corruption might have led some voters to opt for other parties”, he says.
In the wake of ANC’s worst-ever election result, mayoral candidates from its main rival, the Democratic Alliance (DA), won in the three metropolitan areas of the country's most populated province of Gauteng: Johannesburg, Tshwane, including the capital Pretoria, and Ekurhuleni.
The results have led to complicated negotiations, with the ANC being forced into alliances that were previously unthinkable, according to Melber.
“Do these coalitions offer an opportunity to regain voter support or will they reinforce the loss? Johannesburg now has a DA mayor tolerated by the ANC. Who benefits from such new constellation? My guess is that the DA does more than the ANC”.
TEXT: Johan Sävström and Mattias Sköld