Prospects for Africa in 2017

French Version here: https://assodesire.com/2016/12/27/lafrique-en-2017-opportunites-et-defis/

We have just entered into the year 2017! It is bringing a number of uncertainties but it also carries with it, seeds of hope…

As I always do at the beginning of each year, I would like to share with you some personal reflections on the major challenges and opportunities that our continent, its institutions and sons and daughters will face in 2017 and of course beyond this year.

In 2017 and in the years to come inequality, conflicts and insecurity, youth and unemployment, migration, electoral democracy, civic space, free movement of people, China, new American policies etc. will occupy the political debate and the daily life of Africans. Africans will expect much from the promises made by the African Union with its new leadership and an improved structure, but the regional economic communities will have increased responsibilities in the management of crises linked to democratic governance and conflicts. The African Development Bank with its  new “High-Fives” and its dynamic leadership team, will have a major role to play in our economic space, especially in the area of youth and employment. In the discourse below, I  touch on some of these issues in details.

Economic Growth, Inequality and Poverty

The continent’s average growth rate will continue to plummet to below 2%, the lowest  in 20 years, mainly due to the fall in commodity and oil prices and the difficulties faced by the largest economies on the continent (Nigeria, South Africa). Interestingly, some countries will maintain a good record, a high rate for several reasons (Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal) according to recent estimates. Given that economic growth does not have an automatic and immediate impact on poverty reduction, the most challenging task for us is to ensure that the products of growth are distributed fairly and that they are no longer used to widen the gap between rich and poor, knowing that this is an important source of conflict.

Africa now has good reasons for investing in agriculture, encouraging and sustaining productivity, introducing modernization in the sector and, of course, increasing cultivable lands. This will have the threefold advantage of meeting the food needs of our people, creating jobs and diversifying our economy to reduce poverty. This will also have the advantage of promoting regional trade among African countries.

2017: The African Year of Youth:

The African Union declared 2017 as the year of youth. The two Summits of Heads of State in January and July as well as other major continental gatherings will dedicated to this – focusing mainly on  unemployment, migration and education. It is important that the different actors on the continent and elsewhere and their partners agree to give young people the necessary push that they need  for both their integration as well as emancipation. The African Development Forum that will  be organized  by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) will focus on the issue of migration from an African perspective. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also promised to make it a priority during the next G20 summit. She has even evoked a “Marshal Plan” for Africa to boost investment and create employment. I do not personally like the idea of a “Mashal Plan” for Africa though. If our Western partners can assist us to stop the 60 Billion illicit financial flows out of Africa every year – an amount systematically stolen by multinationals from Africa in complicity with our own leaders – we would be fine and in absolute no need for Marshal plans. At the end of January, the African Union in Addis Ababa will certainly consider a short- and medium-term action plan to better “harness the demographic dividend of Africa by investing in the youth”. It remains to be seen whether the political will and the financial means will be there to implement a possible plan. In any case, it is necessary to quickly work on this important part of our populations to prevent that they fall further into the temptation of radicalization and extremism as it is already the case in certain parts of the continent. Our youth are the hope of the continent. We must carefully take care of them so that they are fully part of the progress towards our sustainable development agenda.

Free Movement of People in Africa: An Unavoidable Prerequisite

Any plan for African youth must include free movement of people on the continent as a prerequisite. The process under way in the African Union must be accelerated to the maximum in order to allow exchange of ideas and experience among young people. Pending on the drafting and the adoption of the Treaty on Free Movement, why not take an immediate Africa-wide decision to cancel visas for short stay, or at least allow the issuing of visas upon arrival? A few African countries have already recently done so.

Civic Space at Risk: According to the African Union’s new vision expressed in the Agenda 2063, citizens are front and centre of our development and our people are a critical enablers of this vision. Citizens must have the right to organise themselves and  the ability to speak out against poverty, inequality and injustice. Yet across the continent, there is an alarming and growing trend of citizens’ fundamental rights to assembly, association and free speech being restricted. In addition, many governments are (mis)using new and existing laws to limit the creation of legitimate civil society organizations (CSOs), restrict their operations, and control their funding. Since 2012, 29 restrictive laws have been adopted in Africa… What is certain is that in the coming years citizens’ movements will rather consolidate and strengthen in Africa regardless of the restrictions and this brings a serious risk of conflict between power and citizens. Our regional institutions and the African Union must table this problem for discussion as soon as possible. For example, they should consider a study on those restrictive laws in Africa and come up with a moratorium to stop them. (See the blog I recently published jointly with a colleague on the issue as well as Oxfam’s policy brief  here: http://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/why-is-africas-civil-society-under-siege/#.WFJTocPTjhI.twitter)

Human Rights, Governance and Electoral Democracy: Unfinished Business

Declared as the Year of Human Rights by the African Union, 2016 was rather the year when liberties and freedoms, civic and democratic space, justice, protection of civilians etc. have been shamelessly and systematically reduced in our continent mostly under the silence of regional and continental institutions. In the Gambia for example a young activist has been tortured to death by the police in 2016 with no consequence for the perpetrators; opposition leaders were arrested for no reason and a President lost elections and refused to go.

Africa must find a way out of the vicious circle of conflicts related to the credibility of elections and the political alternation in power. Without this, our continent will continue its progressive falling into hell, thus undermining any prospect of economic development. Countries to be observed in 2017 include the Gambia, DRC, Cameroon, Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda, Angola, Libya, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. Countries where an election hold-up has already been consumed are not safe from worries (Gabon, Congo, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea etc.). The alternation to power is part of the democratic game especially when  institutions are still weak and the electoral system is vulnerable. We have to talk about limiting presidential terms sooner or later. This is the only way in many of the current cases to get rid of leaders who are permanently clinging on power. For the moment good students are still few in Africa: Ghana, Senegal, Botswana, Burkina Faso, South Africa.

In addition, 2016 showed us in Ethiopia that the developmental state ideology alone is not enough to guarantee peace, stability and sustainable development. A bigger portion of pluralist democracy and more respect of civil liberties are needed.

The African Union: a New Start?

If all goes as planned, the current leadership of the African Union Commission will be renewed. The current President of the Commission, the South African Mrs. Dlami-Zuma, the Vice-President Erastus Mwencha from Kenya and most of the commissioners should hand over power to new elected officials late January for 4 or 8 years. Out of the 5  current candidates, the battle for the post of President of the Commission will be mainly between the Senegalese Abdoulaye Bathily, former Representative of the United Nations in Central Africa, the Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat, former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Kenyan  Amina Mohamed, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In addition Guinean President Alpha Condé is likely to be appointed Chairman of the AU for 2017 to replace  Chadian President Idriss Deby.

The most important and most expected project is the in-depth reform of the African Union spearheaded by  Rwanda President Paul Kagame. He will propose the headlines of this reform during the January Summit in Addis Ababa. The reform will have to take into account the thorny issue of the financial dependency of the Union that his compatriot, the former boss of ADB Donald Kaberuka is already working on.

Shared Values: While it is clear that the African Union in its current structure is not suited to fully implement the ambitious Agenda 2063, it is also certain that the structural change of the Union will not suffice on its own to make progress. The African Union needs a profound and courageous change in the way it operates in terms of respect for its own fundamental principles and “shared values”. The Union needs a serious mechanism of accountability in relation to its principles and values. It needs a strong Commission with real powers to “compel” member states to respect and implement their own decisions.

In the case of elections, for example, the African Union must have the prerogative and the capacity to raise, denounce and put an end to serious breaches of electoral standards and frauds. If not, it is not worthwhile that the Union continues to observe elections. It will be nothing but a waste of resources. It is very embarrassing to see that elections in Uganda, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and so on have been described as fair, equitable, transparent and democratic without further debate.

Peace and Security:

Peace and security remain the sine qua non conditions for the development and progress of our continent and the well-being of our people. Africa has not made enough progress in this area in recent years. In many cases, such as in Burundi and South Sudan, our institutions did not take into account early warning signs that were nevertheless quite visible. In reality what our regional institutions need are courage and the political will to cut with old methods. For example, the African Union Commission and, more specifically, its leadership must be able to speak out loudly whenever our shared values are being violated by national leaders and challenge them. That is why we need a strong and audible leader for the AU Commission.

In 2017 the African Union will still have to manage the chaos in Burundi and South Sudan. The risk of ethnic cleansing in these two countries must be taken seriously. The AU must consolidate the progress made in Somalia and in the Central Africa Republic and accompany the political and security process. The Continental body should redouble vigilance in Mali (even if the UN is technically in charge), support the political dialogue initiated by the Catholic Church in DRC and its encouraging progress, but remain firm on the respect for democratic principles, the rule of law, human rights and justice. The unfinished business of Darfur should not be neglected and the entire Sudan should be under serious observation.

Silencing the Guns by 2020: Beyond the Slogan: This campaign unfortunately remains a slogan without serious action to realize it. Let us be clear: we cannot silence the guns if dictators are allowed to continue terrorizing and martyrizing their populations willingly and with impunity in flagrant violation of democratic principles, human rights and the shared values adopted by the Union and more, clinging to power for life! We cannot silence the guns if we close our eyes to the massacres of civilian populations for political reasons. We cannot silence the guns if we promote impunity of heads of state without considering the gravity of the crimes in which they are implicated against their own populations. We cannot silence the guns if the votes of citizens are systematically robbed, leaders of the political opposition harassed and jailed before, during and after elections. Above all, the continent’s ambitious development projects can only be realized if there is peace, security and stability.

With or Without Morocco?

At the end of January, we will know if Morocco will make its historic comeback to the African Union and under which conditions…  All procedural formalities have already been completed. The Summit of Heads of State should therefore be able to take a decision on this. If all goes well, Morocco will have to subscribe to all the fundamental principles of the Union including the right of peoples to self-determination and agree to cohabit with the Sahrawi Democratic Republic as a member state of the Union.  Logically the return of Morocco to the continental organization is a tacit recognition of Western Sahara. It is just a simple logic if we remember the reason why Morocco slammed the door in 1984. I hope that the accession of Morocco to the Union will create an opportunity to settle the thorny question of the Western Sahara, considered as the last colony in Africa to be liberated. Member States of the Union, especially the “friends” of Morocco must ensure that the return of Morocco contributes to the consolidation of the Union rather than to divide or shatter it. (See my blog on this topic here: https://assodesire.com/2016/09/29/moroccos-return-to-the-african-union-opportunity-or-challenge/ )

China, America and Others

Africa has everything to gain by continuing to diversify its economic partners. The spectacular entry and positioning of China and other new partners in Africa has openly changed the balance of power with traditional partners and reoriented African economy and development process. But we must keep our eyes wide open … Our partnerships (old and new) must contribute to the realization of our agendas 2030 and 2063 and we must ensure that social, human rights and equity standards are absolutely respected in the pursuit of these partnerships. Non-state actors have a major watchdog role to play here.

With Donald Trump in power in the United States, it is unlikely that Africa will be among the priorities of “Uncle Sam”. This may give free way to China and others to better position themselves in Africa. Is this an opportunity or a challenge? Only the future will tell us.

Calendar of key meetings in 2017

13-14 January: Africa-France Summit: Theme: Partnership, Peace and Emergence – Bamako, Mali.

23-31 January: 28th African Union Summit – Theme: Youth – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

23-28 March: Continental Conference of African Experts and Ministers of Finance, Development, Planning and Integration – Dakar, Senegal

3-5 May: World Economic Forum for Africa, Theme: Inclusive Growth – Durban South Africa

End of June: 29th African Union Summit – Theme: Youth

Date TBC: 10th Africa Development Forum, Theme: Migration, UNECA, Addis Abéba, Ethiopia.

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