Terror, political transitions threaten fast-growing sub-Sahara
SUB-SAHARAN Africa is poised for another year of fast economic growth in 2016. But countries of the region must contend with falling commodity prices, an upsurge in terrorism and a widening gulf between aging leaders and newly assertive urban voters, write World Review experts Professor Dr. Jaime Pinto and Teresa Nogueira Pinto.
Political and macroeconomic challenges will make 2016 a testing year for the countries of the sub-Sahara. Key economies – including South Africa, Nigeria and Angola – will continue to struggle with the effects of slower global growth, especially lower commodity prices, depreciating currencies and shrinking investment inflows.
On the political front, challenges abound in a region where threats to peace and security seem to evolve faster than improvements in governance and public safety. Terrorism will remain the main threat to stability in countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Mali, Kenya and Somalia. The maturity of these nominal democracies will also be tested by 19 elections scheduled for this year. In states such as Uganda, the Republic of the Congo (the Congo) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), these polls will expose growing cleavages between the ambitions of longstanding leaders and the aspirations of increasingly informed and mobilized civil societies.
Despite these significant challenges – and the undisputed fact that Africa`s growth momentum has slowed – there are still reasons to be optimistic. Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to be one of the world’s fastest developing regions. In the long run, its future remains bright.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa slowed to 3.8 percent last year from 5 percent in 2014. For the past two decades, the region’s expansion has been mostly commodity-driven, fed by China’s appetite for Africa’s oil and raw materials and favorable global financial conditions. However, as China’s economy undergoes a structural transformation, oil prices plunge and monetary tightening in the United States heralds an end to the era of “easy money,” many of the region’s economies are being forced to adjust to a new, harsher reality.
Against these downsized expectations, some countries look poised to outperform. The economies of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia are all projected to grow at 6-8 percent rates over the next three years, as rapid urbanization, favorable demographics, infrastructure investment and regional integration spur domestic demand.
Mobile technology will help drive growth and attract investment in countries with skilled work forces and large service sectors, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. Bottom-up innovation in technology is expected to accelerate throughout the region in 2016, contributing to the spread of branchless banking, m-commerce and mobile money. Better communications will also benefit rural development and allow for improved health and education services.
Africa has become something of a new frontier for terrorist attacks in recent years. The emergence of groups such as al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram has multiplied the frequency of attacks and the number of victims.
Even with recent improvements, countries in the region still do not possess the capability necessary to neutralize these enemies. Foreign assistance – particularly from the U.S. and France – will play a decisive role in this fight.
Washington’s favored approach will continue to be indirect, focusing on logistical support, training and equipment for local troops, supplemented if necessary with surgical strikes by U.S. Special Forces.
France, by contrast, has a substantial military presence in the region, especially since the 2012 crisis in Mali. At the moment, more than 3,500 French troops are spread across Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad as part of Operation Barkhane. This antiterrorist mission may be reinforced and widened in scope over the course of next year, as security challenges in the region increase.