David Pilling has written a review of what he sees as some of the most important African events of 2018 for the Financial Times, a highly influential paper with respect to Western perspectives of Africa, published in London. He recalls the popular challenge now underway against Omar al-Bashir’s rule in Sudan; the deaths of Kofi Annan, the first African secretary General of UN, and Winnie Mandela, a flawed leader of the South African liberation movement; the highly positive emergence of the reform-minded Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister; and the international attention to Congolese surgeon Denis Mukwege, who won a Nobel Peace prize for his work with rape victims. He notes a continent-wide growth rate of 2.7 percent that was highly uneven: disappointing in Nigeria and South Africa, while among the highest in the world in Ghana, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Senegal and Tanzania.
His “five things that shook Africa in 2018,” and my comments:
- The African Continental Free Trade Area: I agree with Pilling’s characterization of it as a “step in the right direction.” Over time, and in concert with other factors such as infrastructure development, it has the potential for transforming African trade and therefore development. It is to be hoped that the big hold-out, Nigeria, will eventually sign-on. South Africa, the other hold-out, already has.
- Abiymania: Prime Minister Ahmed’s political reforms in Ethiopia are remarkable so far. I wholeheartedly endorse the enthusiasm for Ahmed and the new possibilities he has created domestically and internationally, such as the rapprochement with Eritrea.
- Zimbabwe’s flawed election: I do not believe that it was realistic to expect much change given the ZANU-PF’s continuing grip on power. Mugabe’s departure was just that, and little else.
- Bobi Wine: The Ugandan rapper is challenging the hold of autocrat Yoweri Museveni. While encouraging, it remains to be seen how much staying power he has at the moment. It is definitely something to keep an eye on.
- The China debt scare: I believe that it is much exaggerated, and I generally agree with Pilling’s point that, irrespective of the actual seriousness of African debt to China, it has certainly drummed up a lot of interest in Africa, and, for better or worse, was a central theme in the Trump administration's rhetoric around the new Africa strategy, if not its substance.
Instead of Zimbabwe’s flawed elections, the rise of Bobi Wine, and the China debt scare on Pilling’s list, I would add:
- The change of leadership in South Africa: Removing Jacob Zuma and replacing him with Cyril Ramaphosa, all done according to party procedure and the rule of law, is no small feat. President Ramaphosa’s turn-around of governance in South Africa, especially his efforts to dismantle the corruption networks associated with former president Jacob Zuma, is encouraging. Though there is much to be done, Ramaphosa has deftly managed a divided ANC.
- Boko Haram’s resurgence: It poses a serious challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection and could further destabilize the Giant of Africa, threatening the stability of its neighbors and the lives of millions of those displaced by the violence.
- Ebola’s resurgence in eastern Congo: Ebola appears no longer to be episodic but is now becoming endemic. By itself, it poses a major challenge to public health, if not of the same magnitude as HIV/AIDS. The real issue is that the outbreak, now present in some urban areas, is occurring in a highly-populated conflict zone near international borders during election season.
But, Pilling’s bottom line is right: “the continent took baby steps towards a brighter future.”
For what it is worth.