2019 second-quarter forecast

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is a study in diversity. Covering an area that spans the entire width of the continent beginning at the Sahara Desert and ending at the southernmost tip of South Africa, the region is home to countless cultures, languages, religions, plants, animals and natural resources. It’s no surprise that it captured the imagination of Europe’s earliest explorers — and that it continues to capture the imagination of current world powers eager to exploit it. And yet despite the region’s diversity, Sub-Saharan African countries have common challenges — transnational terrorism, rapid population growth, endemic poverty and corruption — that prevent them from capitalizing on their economic potential. The coming years will be critical for the region, especially as its political institutions mature in a rapidly globalizing world.

5 MINS READMar 10, 2019 | 21:46 GMT
Covering an area that spans the entire width of the continent beginning at the Sahara Desert and ending at the southernmost tip of South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to countless cultures, languages, religions, plants, animals and natural resources.

Covering an area that spans the entire width of the continent beginning at the Sahara Desert and ending at the southernmost tip of South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to countless cultures, languages, religions, plants, animals and natural resources.

(Radek Borovka/Shutterstock.com)

Key Trends for the Quarter

Africa's Growing Counterterrorism Profile

Africa's prominence will rise as global terrorism's center of gravity shifts, thanks to the tapering of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Syria and Afghanistan. The eventual suppression of militant groups in the Middle East will make African theaters an appealing destination for foreign fighters and financiers. This shift will put the onus of the global fight against terrorists in the hands of other external actors, notably France, which has taken the burdensome lead in the Sahel and Sahara. Nevertheless, Washington's counterterrorism efforts will endure — particularly in the Horn of Africa — even as U.S. strategy, resources and personnel adjust to contend with the rising great power competition with Russia and China. For more on the shifting dynamics of global counterterrorism, read our latest assessment exploring the changing geography of the fight against jihadism.

A map tracking security incidents in central Africa

South Africa Struggles to Balance Business and Populism

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) faces crucial national elections May 8. President Cyril Ramaphosa's "Open for Business" narrative has faltered as a result of economic malaise, intensifying pressure on the incumbent administration. In an attempt to develop momentum, Ramaphosa will drive ahead with longer-term goals of land expropriation without compensation and reforming inefficient state-owned companies. The decision to move forward on land expropriation — with implications stretching well beyond the second quarter — is unlikely to play well externally and will limit foreign private investment, despite Ramaphosa's calming rhetoric. 

 

State enterprise reform will also be crucial, with Eskom, the heavily-indebted power utility, taking the lion's share of state resources to improve.

The government's push to revitalize state companies will, however, come up against powerful unions opposing job losses and privatization. If reform efforts fail and the ANC incurs larger-than-anticipated losses, it will open the door to future populism in sub-Saharan Africa's most industrialized economy. The early turnaround efforts of state-owned electricity provider Eskom will be critical to watch over the quarter, because long-term failure will limit South Africa's economy and its ability to project political power beyond its borders. Read our deeper assessment of South Africa's reform struggles.

The Aftermath of Nigeria's Election

As the dust from Nigeria's Feb. 23 election settles, the opposition People's Democratic Party will challenge the election results in the courts. President Muhammadu Buhari's recent suspension of the country's chief justice, viewed by some as a move to neutralize the opposition, only adds fuel to the fire. Should evidence of serious election irregularities emerge, internal competition will intensify, leading to violent demonstrations against the government. Moreover, certain militant groups in the oil-producing Niger Delta — including the Niger Delta Avengers and others — have threatened terrorist activity should Buhari win. While the capabilities of such groups were eroded in recent years by military operations and concessions from Abuja, the potential for new waves of attacks against energy infrastructure cannot be ruled out. For more analysis on Nigeria's recent election, take a look at our assessment exploring what's at stake.

Risks to Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea

Normalization between Ethiopia and Eritrea will likely deepen in 2019, but key components of the relationship remain unsettled. Matters including trade, the use of ports and Ethiopia's handing over of the border town Badme will need to be formalized to prevent backsliding in the months ahead. Furthermore, lingering distrust between Eritrea's leadership and the Tigray region of Ethiopia will be a festering problem and important to watch. Poor relations between the two sides could risk flare-ups along the border between Eritrea and the Tigray region that cause ties between Addis Ababa and Asmara to deteriorate, an issue not only for the quarter but the year ahead. For more on the continuity of Ethiopia and Eritrea's peace deal, read our latest assessment

A map showing newly reopened border crossings between Eritrea and Ethiopia

In the Congo, the Kabila System Holds Strong

Despite Felix Tshisekedi's rise to the Democratic Republic of the Congo's presidency, the system of former President Joseph Kabila remains firmly in place. This quarter, the new president will struggle to overcome the tightly controlled system he inherited. Kabila's People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy holds a supermajority in the parliament, the loyalty of the security services and other key levers of power. 

Kinshasa has the upper hand over international mining companies because the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the greatest reserves in the world of cobalt, a metal much in demand.

The country's political continuity and its deeply entrenched mining interests mean that Kinshasa will stick with hardball economic measures, such as newly increased taxes against international mining companies that began in 2018. The dynamic between the new president and his behind-the-scenes master, however, will be important to monitor over the quarter and beyond. Simply put, if interests diverge and Tshisekedi steps out of line, he could be ousted by Kabila's allies. For more on the aftermath of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's election, read our latest assessment.

Additional Forecasts

These Stratfor analyses provide additional insights for the Quarter

Key Dates to Watch

  • May 8: South African general elections.
  • June 12: New Nigerian president to be sworn in.
  • June: Malian legislative elections.

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