What lies ahead for Africa in 2024?

Sometime in February 2023, less than two months before India overtook China to become the world’s most populous country, Africa preceded it, zipping briskly past the East Asian giant. By the end of the year, Africa’s population was grazing 1.48 billion; India was panting in the dust, at 1.43 billion, and China was fading into the distance.

This, arguably one of the most consequential geopolitical events of the year, was overshadowed by other stories, and got practically no coverage in the mainstream press. This is perplexing, especially since, for the first time ever, the press started grappling with the prospect of population collapse in the rest of the world, a trend that will not spare even India, whose fertility rate is already below replacement.

No matter. Africa’s population will continue to grow into the future, and its people will remain the youngest in the world for the lifetime of nearly everyone alive today. The continent’s demography presents it, and the world, with a multitude of opportunities and perils. This century will be shaped, in large part, by how these are handled.

Many other things happened in Africa in 2023. In June, a group of African leaders attempted to kickstart the process of securing a negotiated peace between Russia and Ukraine. Their biggest achievement was that they were the first delegation to meet with the leaders of both countries in succession since the war started.

Their effort nevertheless fell short, and they were brushed aside by the press and its coterie of experts. At the time, many still expected Ukraine’s hyped counteroffensive to smash through Russian lines and turn the course of the war. Given that this didn’t happen, and that Russia even ended the year with the upper hand, perhaps the African peace mission wasn’t so misled after all.

But perhaps these leaders could have spent their energies better by giving their attention to more pressing issues on the continent itself, some of which festered through the year, neglected by a world obsessed by the war in Ukraine and, later, the one between Israel and Hamas.

War and coups

The first of these crises is the internal displacement situation in Burkina Faso, which gradually got worse throughout the year, having started the year as the world’s “most neglected crisis”; that is, until it was surpassed in ignominy by the displacement of over six million people, and the death of over ten thousand, from the war in Sudan, which broke out in April. Both crises seem set to continue deep into 2024.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an election at the end of the year questionably granted Félix Tshisekedi a second term as president, 1.5 million voters in the country’s restive east were left out of the polls on account of security concerns. Mr Tshisekedi has failed to stamp out rebel activity in the region in his first term; sadly, his odds of doing so in his new (and hopefully last) term are slim.

Further north, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also secured a third term as president of Egypt, with a landslide victory over a field of low-profile challengers. Egypt’s economy is in the doldrums, and Mr Sisi is struggling to complete the construction of a brand-new capital outside Cairo, but the war in Gaza and Egypt’s central role in succouring the Muslim population trapped there, gave Mr Sisi a timely boost.


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Elsewhere on the continent, the sad recent resurgence of coups continued apace. In July, the democratic government of Niger was overthrown by a self-centred general. Initially, to my delight, Niger’s democratic neighbours talked tough and demanded the reinstatement of the president and his government; but then they blinked first, and the military men remained in power through the end of the year.

The spinelessness of these countries might have emboldened the members of the Gabonese military, who, a month later, kicked out their president in turn. Having run Gabon for 14 years (after his father Omar Bongo’s 42 years) Ali Bongo, the deposed president, had just fraudulently secured a third term. His deposers have promised credible elections, but haven’t specified a date. What’s most likely is that Gabon has just gotten a new dynasty. I’ll be quite glad to be proven wrong.

Good news

Thankfully, there were also several bright spots across the continent. Liberia, once one of our most benighted countries, delivered the best election experience of the year. In October, the one-term incumbent there, George Weah, conceded a tight election to his competitor before it was even called, setting the stage for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, only the second in the country’s history.

Liberia also delivered the goodies in other areas. An attempt to liberalise the country’s abortion legislation largely failed, despite being heavily pushed by well-funded foreign activist organisations, complete with dodgy data. It’s not yet time to celebrate, because the issue is still being debated by Liberian senators, but its trajectory is encouraging for all who value life.

A few countries west, and months earlier, Nigeria also held a presidential election to replace Muhamadu Buhari. Bola Tinubu won, and his victory was upheld by Nigeria’s Supreme Court in October. His main challengers, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, who appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the election, based their complaints on voting system deficiencies and Mr Tinubu’s lack of qualifications to hold office; but the pair most likely lost the election because they divided the opposition vote.

On the opposite side of the continent, Kenya stepped up to lead an international security mission to pacify Haiti, where gangs have run amok and the government is overwhelmed. Assuming a court rules in favour of the plan sometime this month, the country will deploy 1000 police officers, to be joined by hundreds more from other countries, to help restore order in Haiti.

Various issues

Of course, as we’ve already noted, much else of consequence happened on the continent in 2023. Some of those not mentioned here might eventually turn out to be the most momentous in the long run. Should that happen, you should be kind to your correspondent. Reading crystal balls is hardly the easiest of pursuits.

That said, several African stories are worth watching this year. The first, naturally, is whether any more governments will fall to putschists. So far, none of the recent coup-generated regimes has been able to credibly justify itself. Their countries are neither safer nor richer nor freer than they were before they came to power; in many cases, they’ve gone off a cliff in the opposite direction.

Will realism take away the allure of military rule, or will soldiers seeking to take the reins still be able to count on civilian support? And what will democratically elected governments around the continent do to secure themselves against the possibility of being overthrown? Will they become more authoritarian, or will they hunker down and try to deliver on their mandates instead?

A second subject worth following is how the continent will grapple with life issues and the LGBT+ agenda. Thankfully, on both fronts, Africa proved a tough nut to crack throughout 2023. Efforts to prise open our legal and cultural protections for life and public morality largely failed, though some countries, like Uganda, arguably went a little too far (severely proscribing homosexuality, in this case).

Nevertheless, late in the year, the Vatican’s declaration Fiducia Supplicans, which touched on, among other things, the matter of blessings for people in homosexual unions, threw the continent’s Catholic community into a tailspin. Africa accounts for most of the demographic growth of the Catholic Church, and the Church is one of the most influential non-governmental institutions on the continent. Its handling of the matter will be consequential.

And the third African subject we would do well to keep tabs on is the performance of the African economy. Three years of depressed growth, caused by multiple internal and external crises, threaten to undo the gains made over the last decades, leaving ever larger numbers of Africans in poverty and illiteracy. Is this the year things turn around, or will the bad news continue?

Of course, we’ll keep an eye on many other stories as well.

For now, let’s kick off the new year with some football. The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (named so because it should have taken place last year), kicks off on Saturday, 13th January, in the Ivory Coast. Senegal are the defending champions. And Morocco nearly got to the finals of the last World Cup… It should be good.

Mathew Otieno is a Kenyan writer, blogger and dilettante farmer. Until 2022, he was a research communications coordinator at a university in Nairobi, Kenya. He now lives in rural western Kenya, near the shores of Lake Victoria, from where he's pursuing a career as a full-time writer while concluding his dissertation for a master's degree. His first novel is due out this year.

Image: Pexels


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