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Africa in 2024: A year of mixed fortunes — By Alex Vines

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Africa in 2024 will be the second fastest-growing economic region in the world (after Asia) at 4%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but behind the headline figure is a less auspicious reality.

Fresh conflicts, more military coups, the renewed Israel-Gaza conflict, and the lingering Russia-Ukraine war are contributing to stifling better growth across the continent.

Many African states were already suffering due to slow post-Covid-19 recovery, climate change shocks, increased food insecurity, political instability, weak global growth, and high interest rates.

Thirty-three of the continent’s states are classified as least developed and these economic shocks have pushed an estimated 55 million people into poverty since 2020 and reversed more than two decades of progress in poverty reduction.

However, it is not all bad news. South Africa is set to overtake Nigeria and Egypt as the continent’s largest economy in 2024, the IMF predicts. Some African regions are also expected to outperform others.

East Africa, once again, is expected to perform better – location, human and physical infrastructure and politics have contributed to this trend.

Debt Burdens

The debate over African debt will be prominent in 2024.

Elevated interest rates and a stronger dollar make it more expensive for African countries to service dollar-denominated debt, something that has pushed many countries into further debt distress.

At the beginning of 2024, nine African states are in debt distress, a further 15 are at high risk and 14 are at moderate risk.

Zambia and Ghana defaulted on their debts, joined recently by Ethiopia.

There are several Eurobond maturity payments due in 2024 and 2025, with prohibitively high yields, making debt rollovers a less viable option.

A Eurobond is an international bond that is denominated in a currency not native to the country where it is issued.

South Africa can manage its repayments. Ethiopia, despite the civil war and entering the G20 common framework, continued to pay its coupons but is now struggling and defaulted in December 2023. It will need to reprofile its bond repayment schedule, which is due to end in December 2024.

Kenya has also been negotiating its Eurobond and plans to use funds drawn from the IMF’s programme and the World Bank to repay its Eurobond debt over the year.

Tunisia and Egypt also have Eurobond repayments due in 2024.

A pan-African payment system that will allow African nations to trade among themselves, using their currencies, is, however, gaining momentum.

This Pan-African Payment and Settlement System, developed by Afreximbank, is hosted by Kenya. All central banks are expected to join by the end of 2024, followed by many commercial banks by the end of 2025.

Commodities

Accessing strategic and critical minerals from Africa, and protecting their supply chains, will continue to b the focus of foreign powers.

Africa is rich in strategic minerals, including rare earths, such as lithium, graphite, bauxite, manganese and cobalt, all essential for modern technologies.

This year will see the first full year of operation of the upgraded Lobito Corridor in Angola, a US and EU-backed rail project which will ultimately connect the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia’s mineral deposits to the Atlantic coast.

Due to increased demand and prices, some African governments will continue to review their contracts with mining companies and seek additional value. Major contract renegotiations are ongoing in Botswana and DRC, and there are new mining regulations in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Conflict hotspots

Worsening political instability in parts of the continent, exemplified by the nine military coups since 2020, including in Gabon and Niger in 2023, has sharpened the focus on the fragility of constitutional rule.

Countries already under military leadership are increasingly unstable, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and further coups are possible in them.

The Sahelian region will continue to be a terrorism epicentre in 2024.

In 2023, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48% of global deaths from terrorism. Attacks have spread beyond historical hotspots such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa to Southern Africa and the coastal regions of West Africa.

Prolonged conflicts, poor rule of law, human rights abuses, discrimination, exclusion, and unemployment have contributed to this crisis.

Other conflict hotspots
will continue to be of concern in 2024, particularly eastern DRC, northern Mozambique, parts of Cameroon and Somalia, and another flare-up in Ethiopia is possible.

Sudan’s armed conflict could evolve towards a de facto partition of the country.

*Elections*

This is a record year for elections globally and Africa will have 17 national presidential and/or legislative polls.

Elections in Burkina Faso and Mali to transition from military rule are uncertain as their juntas keep postponing them.

A December 2023 referendum to approve a new constitution for Chad, after nearly three years of transition from military rule, is expected to pave the way for transitional president Mahamat Déby to run for president in the 2024 national elections.

In SADC, Botswana, Comoros, Mauritius, Namibia, Mozambique, and South Africa will go to the polls.

The elections that will be most scrutinised will be Mozambique, which will have a new president (the incumbent is stepping down), and South Africa, where all eyes are on whether the ruling ANC can win an outright majority.

Senegal’s presidential elections in February will be fiercely contested and December’s in Ghana might result in the defeat of the National Patriotic Party at the ballot box and the return of ex-president John Mahama and his National Democratic Party to power.

Algeria’s and Tunisia’s elections will draw attention, elections in the Comoros, Mauritania, Rwanda, and South Sudan are expected to return their incumbents. Togo will hold legislative and regional elections in early 2024.

The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union will in February 2025 vote for a new chair and deputy chair of the commission. There will also be voting for the commissioners and these results will inform the future direction of the AU.

At the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa, in October 2024, a new Secretary-General will be elected and it’s Africa’s turn – Gambia, Ghana and possibly Tanzania are fielding candidates, so far.

Joining Mozambique to sit on the UN Security Council this year are Algeria and Sierra Leone; Uganda has also been elected to preside over the UN’s Group of 77 + China for 2024.

Multiple Summits

This will be a busy year of international summits for Africa’s leaders. In November 2023, the first Saudi Arabia-Africa summit was hosted in Riyadh, the latest in a growing list of “Africa+1” summits. It attracted over 50 leaders, in comparison to the second Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg in August 2023, which attracted 17 leaders. Like Russia, though, Saudi Arabia invited countries suspended from the AU.

Will Beijing invite Africa’s juntas to the ninth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2024?

This comes as China marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of its global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, and new data shows its lending to Africa has fallen to its lowest level in almost two decades.

This year will see an increased pace of forum shopping. A second UK-African Investment Summit in London is scheduled for May 2024 and 25 governments have been invited.

An Italy-Africa conference will be held in early 2024 and Rome, which is president of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, has pledged to make the continent a central theme while it is at the helm.

The next Korea-Africa Summit will be held in June 2024 and New Delhi has announced its next triennial India-Africa Forum Summit is planned for 2024.

Under India’s G20 presidency, in August 2023, the AU joined the organisation and has the same status as the EU, previously the only regional bloc with a full membership. Its previous designation was “invited international organisation”.

From January 2024, BRICS has expanded to include two African nations – Egypt (representing Africa and the Arab world) and Ethiopia (headquarters of the AU).

However, managing continental politics can be tricky. An AU-Arab League summit planned for November 2023 was cancelled due to disagreements among African states about the Sahrawi Republic’s attendance.

Celso Amorim, a special advisor to Brazil’s presidency on international affairs, said Africa would be central to Brazil’s foreign policy in 2024. Brazil is the chair of the G20 in 2024.

International engagements with Africa will increase further in 2024, and many African states welcome this and are looking to diversify their global partnerships or revive old ones.

Managing how to promote national, regional, and continental priorities with the growing number of foreign suitors will require African states to prioritise better and could result in having to make difficult choices, more often.

Dr Alex Vines, OBE is the Africa Director at Chatham House, London.

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