The Year in Africa

January 7, 2020

     By Duncan Green     

If you don’t receive ‘This Week in Africa’, check it out – it’s an amazing and wide-ranging round up of links put together by Jeff (American) and Phil (Zimbabwean) and hosted by the University of San Francisco. And their annual version is even better. Their 2019 summary is way too long for a blog, so I’ve cut it down by more than half just to give you a taster. Unfortunately, that means I’ve dropped some of the broader stuff on African cuisine, random links on daily life or whether it’s OK to photograph dead bodies – read the full piece if you want more on those.

Here are our top stories of the year 2019:

1. The Sudan uprising
Sudanese protesters took to the streets for months to demand political change, even while security forces killed and detained protesters. Sudan’s protesters unified a fractured coalition of ethnic and religious groups against the government. Women were at the heart of the protests. This is the song at the heart of the movement and this photo was the image of the uprising. This post explains why. Check out dispatches from Sudan: Love in the time of protest. The protests have spurred a cultural reawakening. This Reddit page is a great resource. This BBC investigation provides superb reporting on Sudan’s crackdown.
In April, longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power. What’s next in Sudan? These are five things to watchNaunihal Singh and Alden Young provide their take. The situation has important similarities but also key differences with the Arab Spring. Mai Hassan and Ahmed Kodouda explain what might happen next, as does Zachariah Mampilly. Read this new article “Sudan’s Uprising: The Fall of a Dictator.” And make sure to read Isma’il Kushkush’s beautiful piece: “Sudan’s uprising, Bashir’s fall, and my father’s passing.”
Sudan’s ruling military council and pro-democracy protesters signed an agreement that will pave the way for civilian rule. But it will not be easy. “The transitional period will not be a picnic, but successive challenges, hard work, diligence and success are our responsibility,” said pro-democracy leader Mohamed Nagy Alassam. These are 12 defining moments in the uprising. Sudan’s transitional government has been in power for 100 days. What’s next?
2. Africa’s protracted conflicts
Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis and the Ethiopian-Eritrean Spring were two of the top stories of the year in 2018. These stories spilled over into 2019. In Cameroon, tensions between Anglophone regions and the government continue, and thousands of people were displaced and fled the country. University of Toronto’s Database of Atrocities tracks the conflict. At times, the country was on the brink of civil war. Here is a good summary of the conflict. This is a fascinating story about how Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis has created refugees at the Mexican border, waiting to get into the US.

Attention turned to the role of the international community in fueling the conflict. China quietly wrote of a significant portion of Cameroon’s debt, while the US cut its aid due to alleged human rights violations. France failed in its effort to stop the conflict. Paul Biya spent a lot of his tenure in Geneva at a luxury $50,000 a night five-star hotel. He, and Switzerland, is now facing intense scrutiny for his escapes. The United Nations made efforts to solve the crisis. Read more about gender in the crisis. Cameroon did hold a five-day dialogue. Cameroon needs more than dialogue to solve the political challenge. Claire Hazbun and Ken Opalo are clear: Cameroon’s government needs to make concessions to end the crisis.
In Ethiopia, ethnic divisions are threatening the political reforms of Nobel Peace Prize winning president Abiy Ahmed. Abiy faces internal ethnic divisions, party divisions, and tensions with Eritrea. President Abiy implemented many reforms, but is now resorting to tricks from the old regime. Abdi Latif Dahir’s articles on Abiy provide important context. Olivia Woldemikael argues that it is time for Ethiopia to move beyond ethnic federalism. Is Abiy really the future of global democracy?
3. Africans confront climate change
African countries experienced significant drought and floods as a result of climate change. Kruger National Park fought drought. Baobab trees are dying. The Nile is drying upDesertification expands across the continent. These challenges are not going away anytime soon. Importantly, an influential new study in Nature finds that climate variability only contributes modestly to conflict. This is how Africans will be affected by climate change, and this is how young people are fighting back. This is very cool multimedia journalism of how African megacities adapt to the climate crisis.
Two cyclones ravaged southern Africa. Tropical cyclone Idai tore through Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, leaving devastation. “Everything is destroyed.” This is all you need to know about the storm. Idai shows the devastating impact that climate change might have on poor, urbanizing nations. Extreme weather is expanding to more cities. Mozambique’s second largest city Beira was destroyed in the storm. Entire villages were wiped out. Follow this one man as he attempts to find the dead. Weeks later, Mozambique was hit by Cyclone Kenneth. Mozambique’s cyclones affected more than one million children. What have we learned from Cyclones Idai and Kenneth?
5. Insecurity in the Sahel
The Sahel faces rising instability and insecurity. ISIS and other terror groups threaten the livelihoods of thousands of people, and weak governments are unable to counter their rise. 2019 is on track to be the deadliest year in the Sahel since 1997. Climate change, food insecurity, and rising Jihadism are partially to blame for the unrest in the Sahel. A mix of communal rivalries and a weak state is fueling terrorism. This investigative report examines the rise of Jihadism in the Sahel. Hilary Matfess writes that all Jihad in Africa is local. Olajumoke Ayandele disagrees, and calls attention to jihad as armed political struggle that seeks to create radical social change.

This is a good summary of the rising violence in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso is amidst one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country has experienced a significant increase in fatalities in the last year, and is now the epicenter of the Sahel’s security crisis. What has changed in Burkina Faso in the past five years after its 2014 “insurrection”? Judd Devermont explains how politics is at the center of the crisis in the Sahel.
7. Cure for Ebola
More than 2,000 people contracted Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kim Yi Dionne and Laura Seay explain why Ebola is so difficult to contain. Ordinary citizens lost trust in health workers, and militants attacked health centers. The New England Journal of Medicine went so far as to call it an “epidemic of suspicion.” The outbreak reached a “truly frightening phase.” Community mobilization is essential for stopping the spread of Ebola, and The Lancet agreed.
But there was a medical breakthrough. Two Ebola patients were cured of the virus. The new Ebola treatment cures patients in under an hour. The cure builds on the work of Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe who has dedicated his life to the effort. The success of these two new treatments is a global health game changer.
9. Russia’s increasing engagement in Africa
Russia is expanding its influence in Africa. Putin is increasing his footprint on the continent as he tries to expand his influence in the world. Putin is resetting its Africa agenda to counter China and the US. Russia invited African leaders to Sochi for a large summit, and African leaders returned from Russia with agreements to boost their own militaries. Judd Devermont explains how the US should react to Russia’s increasing engagement with African countries.
Russia has also unleashed a widespread disinformation campaign on Facebook to promote its agenda and criticize French and American policies. Shelby Grossman and her team at the Stanford Internet Observatory have done an amazing job investigating these tactics, and she explains how Russia is using misinformation campaigns to expand its influence across the continent. What does this mean for the continent?
10. Peace deals in Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Mozambique

Warring sides in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Mozambique came to the table to sign peace deals. Fourteen armed groups reached a peace deal in the Central African Republic. The deal attempts to end more than five years of violence. There is new hope for the country. But it is far too early to say that the war is over. Is peace possible in Central African Republic?
South Sudan’s leaders agreed to form a unity government by November 12, but missed the deadline. The proposed unity government is still delayed. This is a very good interactive that examines the scale of the conflict. South Sudan is so broke that it cannot pay government employees or public sector workers. The UN has sent troops to halt a recent escalation of violence in the country. This is a good analysis of the security arena in South Sudan. The history of peace negotiations is also a history of violence.
A peace agreement offered hope for stability in Mozambique. To recognize the achievement, the Pope visited the country. But cracks are already forming in Mozambique’s latest push for peace, especially after the recent elections. These settlements beg the question: When do local peace deals work?