31 Dec Africa in 2021: Will political crises persist?
The world’s largest free trade zone
On New Year’s Day 2021, Africa’s economies will ring in a new era with the official launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The coming months and years will see the creation of the world’s largest free trade zone. Experts say the agreement has enormous potential, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made implementation difficult.
Showdown in Uganda
Police operations targeting the opposition — including challengers and protesters — have resulted in dozens of deaths. Images from Uganda’s election campaign have sparked worldwide concern. On January 14, citizens will choose between long-term president Yoweri Museveni and former pop star Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine. Observers have stressed the importance of holding free and fair elections.
A fateful year for the Horn of Africa
Will Ethiopians find unity after the central government’s offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)? Or will the country fracture under the weight of its many internal conflicts? 2021 could decide whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can achieve democratic balance in Ethiopia. The elections planned for June 5 may be his best chance.
One consequence of the conflict in Tigray is clear: Tens of thousands have fled the embattled region to neighboring Sudan, where the fledgling government is struggling to provide for them. Elsewhere too, it is feared that ongoing conflicts will lead to new refugee crises in 2021, while old ones remain unresolved. It will be another difficult year in Cameroon, northern Nigeria and DR Congo.
Alongside Uganda and Ethiopia, Benin, Somalia, South Sudan, Zambia, Cape Verde, Chad and the Gambia, will head to the polls in 2021 to elect new heads of state. While some countries are hoping for relatively uneventful elections, the situation in Somalia and South Sudan is already tense due to challenging security environments.
Hope for a COVID-19 vaccine
Although African countries are making it through the pandemic better than expected, the health and economic consequences are immense. Hopes for a vaccine are high, but Africa is not yet ready for “the largest vaccination campaign ever,” Matshidiso Moeti of the World Health Organization (WHO) said recently. Experts don’t expect vaccination to begin until mid-2021 due to logistical difficulties.
Is debt relief coming?
One consequence of the coronavirus pandemic won’t simply disappear even after vaccinations are rolled out: Some African countries are facing state bankruptcy. Although the G20 initiated debt relief at the onset of the outbreak, NGOs are now calling for a comprehensive debt cut to mitigate the humanitarian consequences of COVID-19.
The climate crisis looms
Droughts, locust plagues, floods: No continent is suffering so acutely from the climate crisis as Africa. But young activists like Vanessa Nakate from Uganda no longer want the lip service of the Global North. She is fighting for Africa to be heard on the global stage and will be one of the continent’s most vocal representatives the at the UN Climate Chance Conference in November 2021.