Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), recently echoed the sentiments of many economists that Africa’s emerging nations have become a driving force for world economic growth. However, she also warned that armed conflicts pose the principal threat to the continent’s future development.
Resource-rich African nations have continued to post impressive growth even as the European economies stagnate and a US recovery slowly progresses.
The IMF is projecting economic growth of 5.25% for sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, a rate second only to Asia’s booming economies and well above a world forecast of 3.6%.
Looking ahead in 2013 there are a number of armed conflicts that lend weight to Lagarde’s warning.
The most influential and powerful state in North Africa is facing a turbulent year on both the political and economic fronts. The possibility of renewed unrest and violence is a constant reminder of the precariousness of the situation after Mubarak.
This reality was clearly demonstrated with the public unrest and violence that accompanied the adoption of a new constitution.
With immediate political danger averted, economic uncertainty appears to be nearing the point where rapidly growing discontent could explode into a new wave of unrest which some observers predict might be Egypt’s second Arab Spring.
The consequences will undoubtedly reverberate throughout the rest of North Africa and the Muslim world.
Mali is one of the major flashpoints on the continent and all-out war later in the year seems inevitable. Plans for ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) forces to intervene and move into the disputed northern part of the country are well under-way.
The coalition of rebel and fundamentalist groups controlling northern Mali is, according to reports, preparing for a prolonged struggle. lLike the Libyan conflict spilled over and contributed to the current chaos in Mali so too could this struggle. Militants claiming to be from Mali on Wednesday killed two foreigners and took others hostage just outside a gas plant in Algeria.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have already been uprooted. Over 400 000 people have fled the country’s north and an estimated five million have been affected by the conflict.
Radical Islamists and Al-Shabaab, that have terrorised much of the country over the past five years now appear to be on the run. But Somalia will remain a flashpoint in 2013.
It would be a serious mistake and outright foolish to proclaim that Al-Shabaab and associates are finished.
The elimination of Al-Shabaab and all its radical associates is essential to lasting peace and security in Somalia. This is, however, unlikely to be achieved by military force alone. An internationally supported, coordinated and sustained regional effort is essential to remove the underlying causes of the growth of Islamist radicalism in Somalia and in other African nations grappling with this problem.
It will not be easy but is worth the effort because the benefits would be enormous should these countries be able to join the emerging countries of Africa to become part of the club that in Lagarde’s words, “has become a driving force for world economic growth”.
In the aftermath of Gadaffi’s defeat Libya, as predicted, degenerated into factionalism and on-going conflict, not only causing internal havoc but also in neighbouring countries with Mali the prime example.
The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi that led to the controversial death of the US ambassador and two of his personnel is a stark reminder that it is highly unlikely that Libya’s weak and divided interim government will succeed this year in placing the country back on the road to peace and prosperity.
Sporadic clashes between Sudan and South Sudan have the potential, in coming months, to erupt into a full-blown war with devastating consequences.
It will put the brakes on the fledgling oil industry which is the lifeline for both countries and escalate an already deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
According to UN reports, hundreds of thousands of people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces are already affected by current fighting. Any escalation will result in a human catastrophe nullifying the hard-fought progress made in recent years to resolve the Sudanese conflict.
The Great Lakes Region
Central Africa and the Great Lakes region were probably foremost on the mind of Laggard when she singled out conflicts as the principal threat to Africa’s development.
The most conflict-ridden region in Africa, with casualties running into millions over many years, must undoubtedly be the Great Lakes region, with the eastern DRC currently carrying the brunt of the violence.
The vast and in many places still untamed region, immensely rich in mineral resources, has been a battlefield for local and foreign interests and insurgents for over 50 years. This trend is set to continue in 2013, and beyond, despite all the efforts to bring some calm.
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic, where a coalition of rebel forces is threatening to overthrow the Bozize regime, typifies the challenges facing modern African nations which are resource rich but lack the internal cohesiveness and ideological orientation to foster progress and national unity.
The recent peace agreement between the government and the rebels to form a national unity government will hopefully embolden not only the new rulers but also other governments in this troublesome neighbourhood to move forward with renewed energy to bring stability and peace to the whole region.
It may be early days but the region’s traumatised people can, for the first time in a long time, be cautiously optimistic.
The many conflicts raging across Africa are not the only hurdle in the way of economic development on the continent.
The scourge of piracy (now a real threat in West Africa), drug and human trafficking, climate change, droughts and floods causing food scarcity coupled with rising food prices with possible resultant food riots and the expectancy of violence during the election processes in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Madagascar are all obvious challenges to economic development and growth in Africa.
However, the potential remains for Africa to improve on its already positive growth rate during 12013.