(Newsweek) — Like much of the world, 2016 has been a struggle for sub-Saharan Africa
The region recorded its slowest overall growth in more than two decades, as low commodity prices and political uncertainty elsewhere put the brakes on economic progress. Civil conflicts have continued raging in countries including South Sudan and the Central African Republic, while extremist and Islamist groups have posed significant threats in nations including Nigeria, Somalia.
As 2017 approaches, Newsweek looks ahead to six stories that could shape the next year on the continent.
Ethiopia’s State of Emergency
Ethiopia has been one of sub-Saharan Africa’s economic success stories in recent years; the Horn of Africa state has averaged 10.8 percent growth between 2003/04 and 2014/15, double the regional average of 5.4 percent. But such rapid expansion has masked a delicate situation in a country with clear ethnic divisions and where much of the population still lives in poverty.
Tensions exploded in November 2015 with the outbreak of the so-called Oromo protests—led by members of the majority Oromo ethnic group—against government plans to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, which protesters said would result in forced evictions of Oromo farmers. The government abandoned the plans in January, but the fuse had been lit: security forces were heavy-handed in dealing with the protests, killing and injuring demonstrators, while the government accused protesters of damaging private property and outside forces, including Eritrea, of fueling the discontent. Amnesty International estimates that at least 800 people have been killed since the protests began, thousands have been detained, and authorities have cracked down on media freedom.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn imposed a six-month nationwide state of emergency on October 9, hoping to defuse the protest movement. The government has began releasing thousands of detained protesters, but this may simply be a way of papering over the cracks in the country. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), in power since 1991, is dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic minority; Oromos and other ethnic groups have complained of being discriminated against and deprived of socioeconomic opportunities. The country’s parliament is also 100 percent-controlled by the EPRDF and a coalition partner, leaving little room for opposition voices. The state of emergency may be simply a sticking plaster, rather than an antidote, for the country’s problems.
The Risk of Genocide in South Sudan
“The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda.” That was the stark warning from Yasmin Sooka, the head of a U.N. human rights commission that reported at the end of a 10-day fact-finding mission to South Sudan in November. Sooka was, of course, referring to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when extremists from the Hutu ethnic majority killed more than 800,000 members of the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus.
Since fighting broke out between President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar’s forces in December 2013, South Sudan’s civil war has had a devastating impact on the world’s youngest nation. Thousands have been killed; 3 million have been displaced; the economy has gone into freefall. The signing of a peace agreement in August 2015, and the return of rebel leader Machar to the capital Juba in April, provided tantalizing glimmers of hope. But these were washed away as fresh blood was spilled in July; Machar and his troops fled, and the country reverted to a situation of war, alleged human rights abuses and large-scale displacement.
In Rwanda in 1994, the international community looked on as extremist Hutus carried out ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen before in Africa. The outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, writing in Newsweek, urged the world not to let the same thing happen in South Sudan. “Time is running out as the warring parties ready themselves for another vicious cycle of violence,” said Ban. “If [the South Sudanese leaders] fail [to restart an inclusive dialogue], the international community, the region, and the Security Council in particular, must impose penalties on the leadership on both sides. We owe this to the people of South Sudan, who have suffered far too much, for far too long.”
The African National Congress Reinvents Itself
Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, was vigilant about putting party loyalty to his African National Congress (ANC) ahead of justice for South Africa’s people. “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government,” Mandela told a trade union congress in 1993.
It has been 22 years since the ANC came to power, bringing to an end decades of racial segregation and heralding a liberated South Africa. 2016 must rank as one of the party’s worst years since that pivotal moment. South African students have risen up against the party, accusing it of marginalizing them with expensive tuition fees; the party leader, Jacob Zuma, has been dogged by seemingly endless scandals; and in August’s local elections, the ANC lost control of key metropolitan areas, including the commercial hub Johannesburg, as urban voters made clear their disillusionment with the party.
Those results gave rise to factional infighting within the party and calls for Zuma to resign before the expiration of his second, and final, presidential term in 2019. The ANC is due to hold its elective conference in December 2017; if he survives until then, Zuma is expected to bow out at the conference. There are several prominent candidates to succeed him—his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, and outgoing African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who happens to be Zuma’s ex-wife, seem the most likely.