Africa Overview

Africa: Looking ahead at 2016


If 2015 was a difficult year for Africa, it seems that 2016 will be as challenging, with many of the old problems persisting.

The Johannesburg summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) gave the continent reason to end 2015 on a positive note on the economic front. China announced a $60 billion package over three years to help accelerate the continent’s development.

Much is also made of indications that China will be increasing its security footprint in Africa, with high expectations that it will help to bring more stability to unrest areas such as South Sudan where China is focusing on protecting its extensive interests.

The summit energised the African belief that the continent is well on its way to take its rightful place in the world. President of Senegal, Macky Sall, said, “[this] shows a new day in China-Africa relations, which will show the world a new phenomenon that has Africa playing a large role in world affairs”.

Africa Standby Force (ASF)       

Next year could see the first deployment of the ASF and its rapid deployment capability (RDC). This became a distinct possibility with the first-ever continental field training exercise, involving 12 different defence forces, under the African Union (AU) flag. Operation Amani Africa II took place in November at the Northern Cape Lohatla military training facility.

If deployed, ASF would constitute a giant step after years of planning and setbacks towards the goal of “African solutions for African challenges” without relying on foreign intervention and assistance.

Where and when it will happen is uncertain, but there are ample opportunities. Africa remains the continent with most active United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations.

Funding of the ASF will, however, remain a challenge and an impediment.  

Challenges for next year

Many, if not most, of Africa’s current challenges will be carried over into 2016.

Among those we identified are:


The World Economic Forum in 2015 identified food crises as some of the biggest risks facing Africa. This trend will continue in 2016, with many African states having to deal with crippling droughts.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that Africa’s 2015 food production projections are likely to be far lower than last year’s.

In Southern Africa alone close to 29 million people are already facing food shortages due to an El Niño-induced drought, perhaps the strongest ever recorded – and worse could still be in store.

El Niño and climate change are causing havoc, with droughts in some regions and flood risks elsewhere, for instance in some parts of Southern and East Africa.  

Some countries will have to increase food imports in the face of tightening budgets.  Expert consensus is that governments should invest considerably more in long-term solutions to counter the effects of global warming on agriculture and food production.

International Criminal Court

Africa’s disagreement with the ICC will continue in 2016, as the AU has expressed its displeasure with its perception of the court’s undue prosecution of African leaders. The AU vowed to speed up the formalisation of an African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR) as alternative to the ICC.

But the spat between Africa and the ICC, following on South Africa ignoring its obligation to arrest Sudanese President Al Bashir, has had some positive consequences as well.

The ICC was forced to take a hard look at itself. Some fundamental changes and adjustments to improve its image and wobbly credibility might be on the cards.

It compelled signatories to the Statute of Rome to own up to their responsibilities or face the consequences and also sent an unmistakable message to transgressors, as illustrated by Omar al-Bashir being forced to cancel his planned attendance at the FOCAC meeting.

It also exposed the duplicity of some states in demanding retribution and enforcement of the law for others, while not subjecting themselves to the same set of rules or, like the USA, even remain unwilling to domestically ratify the Statute of Rome.    

Radicalism and terror

Arguably Africa’s most serious threat will remain radicalism and terror, mostly in the form of militant Islamic groups active in large parts of Africa, particularly in the western, eastern and northern parts of the continent.

Intelligence sources claim the Syria-based Islamic State (ISIS) group has expanded its reach in Africa, courting Islamist extremists from Nigeria to Somalia while establishing a major nerve centre close to Europe in the Libyan city of Sirte from where there they plan to export terror into Europe and beyond. 

Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan head of state, who not only predicted the disintegration of Libya into its current failed state status should he be overthrown, but also the formation of ISIS, was ironically born near the city of Sirte.

In West Africa parts of Nigeria (considered the world's third most terrorised country), Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin are under siege from Boko Haram, listed as the world’s deadliest terror group.

Despite claims by the Nigerian military that Boko Haram is on the run, it is unlikely that a self-imposed deadline of December 2015 to defeat the organisation will be met. Boko Haram is set to continue with its campaign of terror in 2016,

The group poses as much of a danger to civilians now as it did when it fought to control cities and towns.

In East Africa Somalia remains under siege from Al Shabaab, Neighbouring Kenya will have to keep alert for possible reprisal terror attacks in response to its military campaign against Al Shabaab.

More than a military response is needed to come to grips with terror in Africa. As long as socio-economic deprivation and unemployment under especially the youth prevail, recruitment for jihad will remain a possibility.    


The country remains in free fall and according to US intelligence “an importer of terrorists and the most important nexus for the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Africa” –yet nobody seems to have the answer or staying power to look for a permanent settlement. Libya will remain a recruitment base and also a launching pad for terror and political instability into North Africa and elsewhere.

Great Lakes region

As always, peace seems almost intentionally to bypass the Great Lakes region and it arguably remains the most volatile region in Africa. True to its reputation, tiny Burundi keeps the region in the news.

Emerging from a 12-year-long civil war a decade ago, it began spiralling into chaos in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a third term in office. Months of protests and a failed coup followed.

With no signs of the violence abating, the US warned that Burundi was on the brink of civil war and needed regional mediation to establish a peace process to avert a new conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also warned that “Burundi stands on the brink of another armed conflict that could have potentially disastrous effects in an already fragile region”. He stressed that current violence could degenerate into genocide.

In neighbouring Rwanda there is mounting domestic and international opposition to plans for constitutional changes to allow 58-year-old President Paul Kagame a third term in office, potentially until 2034. It adds to the tensions in the region. There are suggestions that President Joseph Kabila is contemplating similar moves in the DRC.

And in Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is accused of using intimidation tactics against opponents in the run-up to the February 2016 presidential elections.  Meanwhile CAR is still ablaze.

All indications are that the Great Lakes region will remain a hotspot, along with the ongoing turmoil in war-torn South Sudan. 


Zimbabwe is moving closer to an abyss. Facing its worst economic crisis since its virtual collapse in 2008 and in the grips of a devastating drought, Zimbabwe must now also prepare itself for a messy succession battle, almost certain to erupt after the demise of 91-year-old President Robert Mugabe.

The end of an era is inching closer, with no obvious successor in place for a smooth takeover. Uncertainty and distrust are the order of the day.

Mugabe might still be nominally in charge, but jockeying for his replacement is overshadowing everything else, including a litany of serious socio-economic challenges faced by the country.

Deputy President Emmerson Manangagwa might be the frontrunner but faces a number of determined contenders, none less than former and now discredited Deputy President Joyce Mujuru and the unscrupulous current first lady, Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s own Marie Antoinette.

A smooth transition will be a miracle and is of little comfort to the country’s people and the region.    

Pliny the Elder once wrote, “Out of Africa always comes something new”.

It is likely to hold true in 2016.

                                                                                                                                                                                        by Garth Cilliers

Also read: Africa-Chinese relations scale new heights

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