Despite robust economic growth over the last decade, political instability remains an ongoing concern for continued growth on the African continent.
These concerns were highlighted during a Frontier Advisory seminar in Johannesburg that examined the political outlook for the continent in 2012. Although it was generally acknowledged that it is difficult to predict what the year has in store for Africa, it is possible to identify the medium- to long-term trends that threaten political stability in a number of African countries, which is a direct indication of economic performance.
These threats were highlighted by South African Institute of International Affairs director Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, who argued that there are a number of structural issues that need to be overcome before Africa can fully take advantage of the increasing foreign investment the continent is experiencing, driven particularly from China.
Sidiropoulos explained that the first threat is derived from religious fundamentalism in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, stoking tensions between Muslims and Christians. This threat is particularly evident in southern Nigeria in the conflict between Southern Christians and the Islamist group Boko Haram.
The second challenge is the threat of arms proliferation to the sub-Saharan countries in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution. Countries particularly at risk are Niger and the West African states, with the fear that these arms could end up in the hands of terrorists.
On the socioeconomic front, the growing urbanisation of the youth translates into an increased politicisation of the population. Sidiropoulos argued that the growing youth bulge in many countries, if not managed correctly, would eventually reach a tipping point that would resemble events similar to those that occurred in countries affected by the Arab Spring.
She noted that there are 200-million people on the African continent between the ages of 15 and 24. Of these, 60% are unemployed. Compounding this problem is the growing inequality and the increasing social deprivation on the continent.
Meanwhile, 2012 will see several countries holding elections in what could be a landmark year, particularly for countries such as Angola, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Taking the lead from countries like Cote d’Ivoire, it is unlikely that countries such as Zimbabwe and Kenya would consider going into another power-sharing agreement, as elections are no longer instruments for elite negotiation but rather an expression of the will of the people, noted University of the Witwatersrand’s Gilbert Khadiagala. He argued that this needed to be recognised as an important element for substantive democracy and political stability.
He further stated that Cote d’ Ivoire, as well as Zambia, with its peaceful transition of power from Rupiah Banda to the newly elected President Michael Sata, had set a new precedent to African politics and would be influential in the continents busy election schedule for 2012.