By Douglas Okwatch
a successful 20the The Communist Party of China (CCP) congress that signaled continuity was the highlight for Africa as the curtain fell on 2022, a generally turbulent year globally.
Steps toward recovery from the global coronavirus pandemic have been reversed. The Russia-Ukraine conflict unleashed an energy crisis that set off alarm bells about the cost of living.
Africa seemed very affected.
The continent also witnessed increased geopolitical activity. Africa hosted the world climate conference, COP 27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt’s Red Sea port city. Loss and damage finally entered the agenda, a key point. A pair of military takeovers obliterated the political landscape in West Africa. In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, civilians attacked UN troops stationed there, signaling fatigue with the world’s longest-running peacekeeping mission in an intractable conflict.
On a lighter and brighter side of things, Morocco became the first African country to reach the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in Qatar. Sport once again proved to be a powerful tool for diplomacy and global unity.
Importantly, 2022 also once again highlighted the different styles of engagement that China and the US implement in Africa.
China showed consistency. Under Trump decoupling. The Biden administration tried to repair the damage. His ad-hoc summit of US and African leaders was an attempt to make up lost ground.
Active since 2002, when it was established, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) exemplifies China’s consistency. Through this mechanism, China-Africa relations have broadened and deepened. Trade flourished. So did foreign direct investment (FDI). The real hallmark of this cooperation has been infrastructure development. Equally consistent has been China’s African policy: a policy of non-interference. In more recent years, China has agreed to sit at the dialogue table to help mediate conflicts in Africa. He’s been doing this in South Sudan. The number of Chinese peacekeepers in UN peacekeeping missions in Africa has also grown. The United States still preferred a boots-on-the-ground approach, Somalia being an example of this modus operandi. But even in the Horn these contrasting styles are evident. China, a more development-oriented approach and US militarization China has appointed a peace diplomat to the Horn.
The past year has seen an escalation of geopolitical activity, a flurry of high-profile visits and hissing diplomacy. King Philippe of Belgium paid a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his former colony. A bizarre ritual of handing over the tooth of Patrice Lumumba, one of colonial Africa’s most promising leaders, was the highlight of the visit. Lumumba was killed in the prime of it. King Philippe did not apologize for Belgium’s atrocities in the Congo. Prince Charles, now King Charles III, also came calling. He was in Kigali, Rwanda, to chair the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, a belated and rather feeble attempt to resurrect the Empire. He got a little bite of the cherry when two African countries, not formerly British colonies, joined the Club.
France suffered a major setback after Mali ordered the withdrawal of its troops. Francafrique was on the ropes, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, visited more than once. His visits to Algeria, where he was quoted as saying that “a shared painful past prevents us from looking to the future together,” were perhaps the most notable of French decline in Africa.
Sergei Lavrov, the well-known Russian Foreign Minister and Vladimir Putin’s most trusted aide abroad, also came to Africa. So did Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State.
An attempt to carve up Africa, Cold War-style, over the conflict between Russia and Ukraine largely failed. African countries refused to be drawn into geopolitical alignments.
Bad US proposed legislation targeting Russia in Africa and attempting to push African countries that do business with Russia into an “either you’re with us or they…” situation failed to pass the US Senate
The coming year is full of promise but also uncertainty. The recession looks big. On the optimistic side, it is the second year of doing business on Africa’s largest trading platform, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
Eight countries (Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia) are already participating in the AfCFTA’s Guided Trade Initiative (GTI).
The $3 trillion borderless market, says UNCTAD in its Economic Development in Africa 2021 report, could be a game changer.
Intra-African trade remains low at just 14.4% of total African exports, according to UNCTAD, whose study also shows that 34% of households in Africa live on less than $1.9 a day.
Meanwhile, Benin, Gambia and Seychelles are the only African countries that allow visa-free entry to all Africans.
But AfDB says that travel has become more open for African citizens.
A 2021 Maritime Transport Review by UNCTAD shows that AfCFTA has the potential to boost maritime trade in Africa, which goes hand-in-hand with seaports and vessels, railways, airports and roads.
A decade after its launch, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers in 2023 an opportunity to develop important regional and continental transport infrastructure links critical to the movement of goods and labor to markets in the AfCFTA.
(Douglas Okwatch is a Senior Editor at CMG Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya)