What will 2013 bring for Africa and MENA?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 15:23

Today I’m continuing my predictions on what will be the major political and economic developments around the world in 2013.

Having started with the BRICS, US, China and Europe, today I’m focusing on Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, two parts of the world that saw significant changes in 2012.


Economic trends continue to be positive in countries at peace, but there are fewer countries fully at peace these days.

Even where the economic statistics are good, economic policies continue to foster a dangerous level of inequality. Though in this regard the countries are, of course, following the model of countries like the US whose approach was foisted upon the region by the IMF and World Bank.  

Specific countries to watch:

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is poised to explode once again into a series of local militia wars and the government is teetering toward collapse. Should instability and violence indeed increase in DRC, it could have serious implications for its many neighboring states.  Until the issues of land and natural resource rights are dealt with head-on – something that could probably only be done by some sort of national unity government with some sort of participation by the UN or AU – this problem will fester.  The IMF’s recent drastic decision to suspend DRC’s program, on the grounds of not releasing adequate information on mining deals, could make the government’s grip on power even more tenuous.

ECOWAS has announced it will intervene in the standoff in Mali to help the shaky Bamako government oust the Islamist secessionists who now control the northern half of the country.   It is not hard to imagine a scenario in which France and the US, and possibly even NATO, feel compelled to intervene in Mali and the broader Sahara/Sahel region, given the plausibility of the establishment of a very radical Islamist state there, and many countries that are already unstable to one degree or another.  

Kenya is holding presidential elections in March 2013 which will feature candidates indicted for crimes against humanity in the last election round.

Sudan and South Sudan are always just minutes from renewed war over their need to cooperate on oil exports and unresolved boundaries. Sudan has for many years created turmoil for its rulers’ own political preservation, and that’s likely to continue. 

In Swaziland the last absolute monarch in Africa continues to spend his country into a hole it cannot get out of, with opposition forces building.

Zimbabwe will also have elections that will almost certainly be won by ruling party ZANU-PF, though not without rampant intimidation.  The power-sharing arrangement with the opposition will most likely end, re-juggling the entire political equation. 

Nigeria continues to struggle with the radical Islamist terror group Boko Haram in the northeast; with its forays into other parts of the country it has succeeded in creating a sense of fear and instability. The federal and state governments’ abuses and missteps in the region have created popular support for the group, which threatens to make this standoff intractable. It is not clear how prevalent radical Islamist views are now in the country’s north, but the situation represents a new kind of danger for a country that has already endured great turmoil. 2013 is likely to be a decisive year, with things either spiralling into chaos, or a broad-based restoration of order and national consensus.


Middle East & North Africa

The MENA region also presents serious concerns, with the Israeli attack on Gaza possibly signalling a new phase of hot conflict there, and other Arab states less likely to be patient than in the past.

The new Egyptian president, Morsi, followed a promising intervention for peace in Gaza with a very worrying grab for autocratic power and has now called a referendum on the controversial draft constitution.

Since Egypt is being watched closely as a new Islamist government, this may not only be the opening bell for new instability there, but for greater mistrust within the “Arab Spring” coalitions around the region.

Restoring trust among the Tahrir Square allies looks like it will be extremely difficult now; we may see instability in Egypt and other countries like Tunisia and Jordan. Some place hope in the Egyptian government’s economic problems, and its recent agreement with the IMF, to keep it tethered to the West, but this seems a slim reed.  

The Syrian opposition is apparently splintering even as it fights a civil war, making it likely that even once peace does come there (by no means certain for 2013), it will join Libya as a volatile state. The implications of darker sides to the post-Arab Spring moment could roil the entire region, from Iraq to Yemen and Morocco.  

The World Social Forum in Tunisia in late March could be a significant opportunity for civil society to grapple with how it can position itself in these tense times.

Iran continues to play the global gadfly, and may be looking to foster new kinds of alliances in the Arab world as its old allies in Syria become useless to them. Whether Israel decides to attack Iran over its presumed building of nuclear bombs is, unfortunately, largely up to Netanyahu’s sense of the domestic political moment rather than any objective facts regarding Iran’s capabilities. If Israel attacks, Iran might try to build an alliance with Arab states, including Egypt and Iraq, to fight back. The idea of Iran gaining the trust of Arab governments seems far-fetched, but it does have a toehold in Iraq. If Netanyahu continues to take an aggressive posture toward the Palestinians, such an alliance cannot be ruled out.  Needless to say, the results could be catastrophic.


Tomorrow I'll be looking towards Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.