2023 – a dramatic year for Africa

People carry bags of relief grains at a camp for the Internally Displaced People in Adadle district in the Somali region, Ethiopia, January 22, 2022. Picture taken January 22, 2022. Claire Nevill/World Food Programme/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

In 2023, the stage was set for intense geopolitical tensions and economic crises, often appearing as an escalation of ongoing issues from previous years. Fresh conflicts, both internal and external, arose and flawed elections paved the way for military coups to persist.

The supply chain disruptions caused by the persistent impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine continued to have profound effects. Climate-related disasters intensified, and African governments took decisive steps to shape their futures, for better or worse.

The drought in the Horn of Africa region, now in its third year and sixth consecutive season of failed rainfall, reached a crisis point worse than the 2011 famine. Data from the World Health Organisation in August revealed that the drought alone displaced 2.3 million people across the region.

However, relief from the drought brought its own challenges. Floods hit the region, causing further hardships. The floods claimed lives in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. In southeastern Africa, cyclones brought havoc in Malawi and Mozambique, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands displaced.

These climate-related shocks prompted leaders to address concerns at the inaugural African climate summit in Nairobi. Leaders underlined that African states had been disproportionately affected by climate change and called on Western nations with higher average carbon emissions to contribute their fair share of climate taxes.

Building on this momentum, African negotiators at COP28 advocated for a fossil phase-out with equity and differentiation. The African leaders stressed the need for historical beneficiaries of emissions and fossil fuel development to phase out first, redirecting funds towards renewable energy infrastructure for developing nations to industrialize.

Across the continent, a rising cost-of-living crisis resulted from the enduring economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated by disruptions in global food supply chains due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Frustration spilled onto the streets, leading to massive protests in countries such as Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, and Tunisia.

In Malawi, where the president restricted travel for officials to conserve foreign reserves, more women turned to the sex trade. In Nigeria, amid soaring fuel prices following the end of a longstanding fuel subsidy and the devaluation of the naira, some resorted to old kerosene stoves or a two-tier cooking contraption fueled by sawdust.

Experts noted that African economies remained vulnerable to global tensions due to lack of macroeconomic flexibility and fiscal space, characterizing 2023 as a year of setbacks in social and human development progress, triggering renewed forms of conflict.

Continuing a trend from the past few years, West and Central Africa witnessed a persistent surge in military coups in 2023. The sixth and seventh military takeovers within the last three years occurred in Niger and Gabon, while attempted coups were thwarted in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

Military leaders capitalized on widespread dissatisfaction among citizens and resentment towards the ruling class, exploiting the lack of democratic benefits. Contested national elections throughout the year reinforced the military’s narrative of political corruption and undue external influence. Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Eswatini, Gabon, Sierra Leone, and Madagascar experienced heavily contested elections denounced by citizens. Liberia was an exception, where outgoing President George Weah gracefully conceded to former vice president Joseph Boakai.

In April, a fragile accord between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces collapsed, plunging Sudan into a war that has claimed over 10,000 lives and displaced millions. The conflict has jeopardized the stability of the Horn of Africa and Sahel regions, escalating tensions between self-autonomous regions Somaliland and Puntland in Somalia.

In Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo faced renewed violence with a fresh offensive from the M23 rebels, accused by the Congolese government, the European Union, and the United States of receiving support from Rwanda. Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, a year after the truce with Tigray forces, tensions flared between the federal government and Fano militias in the Amhara region, former allies during the Tigray war.

As more countries from the Global South seek alternatives to Western economic dominance, the BRICS bloc gained prominence. South Africa hosted the 15th summit, and Egypt and Ethiopia officially joined, expanding the bloc’s influence in Africa. BRICS criticized the bombing of the Gaza Strip, signalling a more political stance amid growing friction between major powers.

France experienced a decline in influence as coups in Gabon and Niger added to previous disruptions in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. Russia appeared to be stepping in, with West African governments aligning with Moscow for security, although the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin in August raised questions about the extent of Moscow’s influence in areas where France’s influence waned.

In a positive development, Africa’s major economies opened up to each other by dropping visa requirements, facilitating travel and trade. Throughout the year, several high-profile visa agreements were announced, including Mozambique waiving visas for 29 countries, Rwanda abolishing visas for all Africans, and Kenya signing a visa waiver with South Africa. South Africa also signed a visa waiver with Ghana.

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