The Africa ‘uncertainty index': Why these 10 countries are keeping their money under the mattress

What next, citizens of these nations keep asking themselves. No one seems to know.

EVERYONE likes a bit of predictability. You want to know that the small kiosk at the corner will be open tomorrow, or the children will be kept occupied in class rather than tearing up the house because school is forcefully closed.

Africa has in recent years turned the headlines from leaders seeking to pinch or hold on to power to a focus on its economy to who has struck a better deal with who, or which is the latest big-name investor to troop into town.

But as with every class there are always some stubborn pupils—the new boy who swaggers in and keeps everyone occupied, the small quiet girl by the corner who suddenly loses it, the gangly fellow who keeps repeating class, and the whirlwind who is often sent home, with only his parents retaining any hope in him.

These 10 countries would fit in the laggard section, with a lot of remedial work needed for them to achieve their potential. We chronicle them in descending order, from the more improved to that which most needs to come back with their parent.

10: Burkina Faso

Population: 16.9 million
GDP (nominal): $11.6 billion

The late October 2014 popular protests that saw president Blaise Compaore dislodged from a 27-year stint in power gave rise to talk of Africa’s first “Black Spring”, but also bred uncertainty over the future of a nation that had been one of the more stable ones in a West African region near synonymous with volatility.

The revolution did not catch on in sub-Saharan Africa, and Burkina Faso has been slowly finding its way back, under the eye of an interim administration that has at times threatened to come apart at the seams, as old loyalties compete with those positioning themselves for the post-electoral era.

The country is however on track to hold a presidential poll in October, with a new voters roll and electoral code in place. “All the conditions are in place,” prime minister Isaac Zida, a former army man under the old regime, said last month.

A successful election would allow the country to rebuild its economy, while a setback would be more grief for the long-suffering citizens, while roiling the region.

9: Central African Republic, CAR

Population: 4.6 million
GDP: $1.54 billion

Unlike Burkina Faso, the CAR missed its one-year deadline to transition from an interim government, and tensions continue to simmer under the surface.

The country has attracted headlines following allegations that UN troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea sexually assaulted minors early last year and there was at first some kind of cover up.

The country fell into crisis in 2013 after president Francois Bozize was deposed by rebels, leading to religious conflict that has claimed the lives of at least 3,000 and forced nearly a million refugees to flee their homes. The UN estimates more than 2.7 million need humanitarian aid.

A presidential vote is set for October, but regular and deadly clashes given the government’s inability to establish its influence outside the capital Bangui, suggest it will require a monumental effort to get back on track.

8: Democratic Republic of Congo

Population: 67.5 million
GDP: $32.7 billion

On the surface the vast once very restless country has been relatively calm, with investors in its mineral industry continuing to snap up deals, but the deadly protests that erupted following concerns president Joseph Kabila would seek an illegal third term suggest a bumpy road. Campaign groups said at least 40 people died in the January protests, while official figures were lower.

The country in October enters a 14-month electoral period that would see presidential and House elections in November, but Kabila is yet to state if he will be a candidate. Churches are calling for a delay in local elections to 2017, a call the incumbent has so far rejected.

The government has taken to labelling pro-democracy supporters terrorists, with hundreds of protestors having been arrested this year. The uncertainty would add to economic clouds after the central bank cut its 2015 growth target by a percentage point to 9.2%, citing falling commodity prices and a punishing power deficit. Only Ethiopia has a faster projected growth forecast for this year.

7: Mali

Population: 15.3 million
GDP: $11 billion

A daring siege at a Mali hotel last week highlighted the militant challenge that Mali is grappling with. Twelve people, including five people linked to the UN, died as the conflict that arose since a March 2012 coup continues to bubble.

The resulting vacuum allowed Islamists to tie up with northern separatists and were only pushed out by a combination of UN and French forces. The government has however struggled to regain control over the militants’ northern strongholds, while having to contend with low-level but sustained attacks. Nearly 50 peacekeepers have been killed in the country since 2013.

Neighbours such as Ivory Coast remain on edge over infiltration by the Islamists, who are also said to be seeking to create safe bases in the sparse north, where a criminal economy exists.

A peace deal signed in June and brokered by Algeria has been struggling to hold.    

6: Libya

Population: 6.2 million
GDP: $74.4 billion

It is a measure of how events in Libya matter that US presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been highly distracted by her handling of an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi when she headed the State Department.

This week, the country’s internationally recognised prime minister said he would resign in an attempt to appease critics who have rounded on his inability to stem violence and improve the quality of life in the once-prosperous but oppressed North African country.

Abdullah al-Thinni’s move would only be adding to the uncertainty in Libya, which has since last year been run by two rival governments, with opportunistic militias exploiting the chaos. UN-backed attempts to form a unity government are fledgling, as the country is set to mark four years since the brutal ouster of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi.

5: Somalia

Population: 10.5 million
GDP: $5.7 billion

This past month Somalia received its first economic report card from the International Monetary Fund, its first in 25 years, showing how an upturn in fortunes has come in recent years. But the report also came as politicians conceded it would be impossible to hold universal suffrage elections next year as scheduled, due to the security situation.

This week, Somali lawmakers lodged a vote of no confidence in its president, a move that will be examined by a court of law. Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud is accused of among others corruption and violating the constitution, with the motion said to be supported by 90 lawmakers.

The country’s prime minister fell to a similar motion last year.

Islamist terror group Al-Shabaab remains stubborn despite advances against it by an AU-backed force, and was featured sharply in US president Barack Obama’s message to the region during his recent visit.  

4: Zimbabwe

Population: 14.15 million
GDP: $13.5 billion

Despite is best efforts, Zimbabwe remains a country frozen in time and whose economy is still bleeding badly, as investors and citizens alike size up the battle to succeed veteran president Robert Mugabe, 91.

Mugabe, in power for 35 years and doing his best to remain indefatigable, has shown signs of slowing, and despite attempts to remain out of sight, a major behind-the-scenes scrap is on.

A purge early this year was linked to the succession battle, with former vice president a high-profile victim, accused of plotting to depose Mugabe, which she denied.

The message from would-be investors has been consistent: we see the opportunities, but worry about the policy environment and need to see more clearly how a post-Mugabe Zim might look like.

3: Lesotho

Population: 2 million
GDP: $2.3 billion

The tiny mountain kingdom will be prominently on the agenda when the Southern Africa Development Community meets next week. It has been  caught in a vortex since the former prime minster tangled with army over an alleged coup attempt in August 2014.

Tom Thabane had to flee to South Africa, and was in February this year replaced following a election that led to a coalition. In June the country’s former defence force commander was shot dead during an operation to arrest suspected coup plotters, leading to concerns that the tense political situation would spiral out of control.

Three major opposition leaders are in exile in South Africa, while strikes and protests against political instability and lawlessness have been recorded in recent weeks.

2: South Sudan

Population: 11.3 million
GDP: $11.8 billion

You would be hard pressed to find another country that begun with so much hope, but which many have given up on. Despite sustained international pressure to find a solution to a conflict that broke out in December 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and fighters allied with former Vice President Riek Machar, there has been little movement, with previous peace deals broken even before the ink on them had dried.

There is seemingly little incentive: both sides have retained hope that they can win outright on the battlefield. In the meantime, the fighting has left tens of thousands of people dead amidst some of the most horrific rape and mass killing atrocities the continent has ever witnessed. More than two million have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

Many are at their wits end.

 1: Burundi

Population: 10 million
GDP: $2.7 billion

President Pierre Nkurunziza’s successful effort to win a third term has stoked uncertainty in the politically fragile country, with hundreds of thousands having fled to neighbouring countries fearing a return to civil war.

At least 77 people died in protests against his candidature, which opponents said violated the terms of a peace accord that ended a 12-year civil war in 2005.

The July election was internationally condemned, and the assassination of key Nkurunziza ally Adolphe Nshimirimana two weeks ago, and a member of the ruling party, has regional neighbours such as the DRC and Rwanda fretting over the tinderbox situation in the country.

AU chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has urged Burundians to “exercise utmost restraint, not be provoked and to refrain from any acts of retaliation that would only further escalate and complicate the already bad situation.”



Population: 1.7 million
GDP: $960 million

Just a year after a new government took office in the troubled West African country, president Jose Mario Vaz this week dismissed the government, saying his relationship with his prime minister was not just working out.

Guinea-Bissau has been beset by coups since independence in 1974, while its military continues to hold an outsized role in a country American officials view as a “narco-state”.

—This article has been amended to correct the name of Lesotho’s ex-premier.

Related Content


blog comments powered by Disqus