GOODBYE 2014. It was a year that produced a mixed record for African countries and governments. Here is an overview of the idealistically conceived New Year resolutions that each African government should aspire to for 2015, and might produce better results:
Quit that addiction
Some countries in Africa have a deeply worrying drug habit. Mozambique has become an important transit point for heroin and other drugs into Africa while in West Africa, Guinea Bissau is considered Africa’s first narco-state, with huge quantities of cocaine from Latin America passing through to consumers in Europe. Profits from these drug flows is said to have funded the corruption of state institutions and officials.
For other countries such as Zambia, Angola and Algeria their addiction is far more entrenched. In Algeria and Angola, their addiction to oil makes them incredibly vulnerable - the recent plunge in oil prices demonstrating how this addiction could be fatal considering their lack of economic diversification.
In Angola, oil accounts for 97% of exports and almost 80% of state revenues. Similarly in Algeria, oil revenues make up 97% of the country’s hard currency earnings and 60% of the government’s budget. In Algeria the government is now in a situation where it has to roll back it’s generous subsidies, risking social unrest, whilst Angola will need to brace itself for the youthful generations who will be demanding jobs.
In Zambia’s case the country has an addiction to copper - in 2012 copper exports amounted to nearly 70% of Zambia’s total export market - but the government is in “rehab”, introducing policies that would support non-traditional export earnings. They just need to stick with it. In Sao Tome and Principe’s case the country appears to need to quit the habit before it’s even begun. The country has been on an 11 year quest for oil and though it has received roughly $60 million in oil exploration revenue between 2003 and 2013, so far none has been discovered. Perhaps efforts are better placed elsewhere.
Listen more to others
For decades they have managed to rule without having to answer to anyone, but now governments are slowly starting to be held accountable by their citizens. A clear example of this manifested in Burkina Faso when a popular uprising forced long-term leader Blaise Compaore, who ruled for almost 30 years, from office in October 2014 after he tried to change the constitution.
Among the countries where letters need to listen more this year are Gabon, Benin and Togo. In Gabon, the Bongo dynasty looks like it is starting to take its toll. The capital Libreville has been hit by protests over recent months, as citizens question the legitimacy of Ali Bongo. But this could get worse. Considering previous reports of corruption and embezzlement, frustrations run deep and could explode unless the government starts to respond to them.
Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Guinea, Benin’s citizens are protesting electricity shortages and delayed polls - another dynasty there also needs to listen more.
And in a sign of bigger things to come, thousands of citizens in Togo have been protesting with demands that the constitution be changed, barring current leader, Faure Gnassingbe, from seeking a third term of office in the 2015 vote. The Gnassingbe family has run the small West African nation since the current president’s father took power in 1967.
Look after my environment
Despite expanding cities and a heavy economic reliance on the environment, countries such as Ghana, Madagascar and Tunisia are neglecting rather than attempting to reversing the devastating damage to their ecosystems and need to develop ways to protect it.
Ghana is becoming a digital dumping ground, Agbogbloshie - an area close to Accra - is the biggest e-waste landfill in the world and is also considered the most toxic. Tunisia is also at risk from pollution. The country is the fifth largest exporter of phosphate in the world, but its by-products are toxic and one factory in the coastal city of Gabes still channels 13,000 tons of the dangerous pollutant into the sea every day.
In Madagascar, Lesotho and Comoros extensive deforestation, for crops or due to logging, has resulted in widespread soil erosion and environmental degradation - a grave threat to the populations and their livelihoods.
In Tanzania, despite a heavy reliance on tourism, there has been an escalation in elephant poaching - the worst on the continent - and strong allegations that this is linked to rogue elements in the state.
Meanwhile Cape Verde needs to invest more in the environment as the country is poised to become a leading tourism destination - it needs to quickly recover from the devastating effects of recent volcanic eruptions and brace for the negative impacts of climate change and rising sea levels.
Treat everyone with equal respect
There are several African governments that either appear to, or openly, discriminate against certain communities within their countries - a factor that may contribute to extreme economic and political instability in the long run. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has once again scapegoated and kicked out white farmers despite an economic meltdown so severe that the treasury is unable to pay soldiers or civil servants their monthly entitlements. Even though white citizens can still own businesses and live in towns, this is a big disincentive for international investment.
Unlike the white community in Zimbabwe, in Mauritania the population being suppressed cannot even be considered a minority - the Haratin community accounts for 40-45% of the total population of Mauritania, yet a huge number of them are slaves, or emancipated slaves trying to reintegrate into the society but have their land rights frequently violated. Considering they are estimated to number 2.5 million, their frustrations should be taken more seriously.
For the San in Botswana the situation is looking bleak. Even though the San are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, nearly all of the San have been forcibly evicted from Botswana’s Central Kalahari Reserve in 1997, 2002 and 2005. Though they won a landmark case in 2006 against the government that allowed them the right to return to their ancestral land after they were evicted, they are banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter their land. A black mark against one of Africa’s “blue eyed” nations.
At a time when global corporates are looking to invest in Africa, some countries are not taking advantage of this and instead continue to turn to the begging bowl. Burundi is one of the most aid dependent nations in the world. Recently the government announced that, due to large infrastructure projects, the economy is set to grow by 5.4% in 2015 against an estimated 4.8% in 2014 - however just under half of Burundi’s planned $970 million budget for 2015 will be funded by international donors.
Malawi is another country heavily dependent on foreign aid with almost 40% of its budget attributed to donors who have the ability to heavily influence internal policy.
It is imperative that the governments mobilise domestic revenue, curb spending and tackle corruption as much as possible. In Malawi the government already adopted the Aid Management Platform – an aid information management system - but this is just a technical fix and there needs to be deeper political reform.
This, inevitably, had to be long so see PART 2 of New Year resolutions here….