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What to remember from 2020 in Africa

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  • A pandemic that devastated the economy

Like all regions of the globe, Africa has been caught up by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which first appeared on the continent in Egypt on February 14. Like what has been put in place elsewhere in the world, many African countries have declared containments and closed their borders before the arrival of the first wave to fight against the spread of the virus. The epidemic, however, seemed to play a different role in Africa with a relatively low number of contaminations. All together, the 54 countries of the continent officially recorded less than 65,000 deaths at the end of December, about as many as France and less than the United Kingdom or Italy. Great African personalities have, however, been swept away by the Covid-19. In the world of politics with the former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings and Burundian Pierre Buyoya or the Malian opponent Soumaïla Cissé; in that of the arts with the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, the Algerian singer Hamdi Benani; or that of sports with the former Senegalese president of the Olympique de Marseille Pape Diouf, to name a few.

Read also Slower diffusion, much lower mortality, in Africa, the coronavirus plays a singular score

At the end of the year, the epidemic seemed to be accelerating markedly in certain countries of the continent such as Mali and Kenya, raising fears of a second wave more formidable than the first. More importantly, the virus has caused considerable economic damage. In 2020, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to experience its first recession in twenty-five years. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its growth is expected to fall by 3%. And per capita income should fall back to its 2013 level, seven years of progress erased in a few months.

On August 18, Mali was the scene of a fourth coup d’état since its independence in 1960. In power since 2013, former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, nicknamed IBK, was overthrown by a quintet of colonels led by the very secret Assimi Goïta. A fall that occurred when the country was in the grip of a deep socio-political crisis since the beginning of the summer. At the call of a motley coalition of opponents (the M5-RFP) and the Wahabite Imam Mahmoud Dicko, the demonstrations multiplied in Bamako to demand the resignation of IBK, some of which were severely repressed (18 dead and 150 wounded on July 10 and 11).

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In Mali, the fall and the thanks of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta

This putsch was above all the result of the slow and inexorable deterioration of the security, economic and social situation in this Sahelian country. Since coming to power, President Keïta has never managed to restore state authority over Malian territory. The north and now the center are under the thumb of jihadists and armed groups, and intercommunal clashes are increasing. The legislative elections of March and April served as a trigger for the protest, while the opposition has continued to denounce fraudulent results.

The junta that toppled IBK ended up appointing former colonel and defense minister Bah N’Daw, 70, as president of a transition that was supposed to last eighteen months, until new elections were held.

  • A mess of elections

From Togo to Ghana, from Burkina Faso to the Central African Republic, a slew of ballots punctuated the year 2020. Electoral processes some of which gave the impression of a democratization in danger, in West Africa in particular. This was particularly the case in Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire where constitutional arrangements allowed aging presidents, in this case Alpha Condé (82 years old) and Alassane Ouattara (78 years old), to run and win in October a third disputed mandate.

Analysis: From Houphouët to Ouattara, a heritage ivory tower

In Côte d’Ivoire, the Head of State had however first assured that he would not stand again in order to cede power to the ” young generation “. But the sudden disappearance in July of his designated dolphin, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, changed his mind. Alassane Ouattara was finally re-elected in the first round with a massive score (94%) after a vote boycotted by the opposition and which leaves a fractured country after him.

In Burkina Faso (November 22) and Niger (December 27), the elections were held under threat from jihadist groups but took place in a relatively peaceful political environment. In the Central African Republic, on the other hand (December 27), the double presidential and legislative elections revived the crisis in which the country has been sinking since 2013. Federated around the former president François Bozizé, excluded from the race for the supreme office, powerful militias prevented the vote in several provincial towns.

  • A deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray province

In early November, latent tensions between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (FLPT), the party at the head of the Tigray region, escalated into armed conflict. On November 4, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive against this province of 5 million inhabitants whose representatives declared their dissent. The region has since been under military and humanitarian blockade. The death toll is difficult to establish, due to the cut-off of telecommunications resources. But more than 50,000 people have already fled to Sudan to flee the fighting and the UN says it fears serious war crimes.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also In Ethiopia, the specter of dislocation

This deadly conflict has rekindled fears of dislocation in this country of 110 million people – the second most populous in Africa. Divided into ten semi-autonomous regions to respect the ethnic peculiarities of its inhabitants, Ethiopia had already been plagued for several months by intercommunal violence, in particular from the majority Oromo ethnic group to which the prime minister belongs. The war in Tigray now threatens to spill over into neighboring provinces and is already disrupting the countries of the region. A strange change in fate for Abiy Ahmed, crowned with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his rapprochement with the Eritrean neighbor.

  • NGOs and schools targeted

Mozambique, Sahel, Nigeria… The activity of jihadist groups of various persuasions has increased in intensity in multiple parts of the continent. In northern Mozambique, for example, the Islamist insurgency of the Chabab has seen a real breakthrough. More than 500,000 people have already fled the violence in this region rich in gas resources, according to the Mozambican government. The spiral of insecurity has also been accentuated in the Sahel and in Central Africa, maintained by groups such as the one which detained in northern Mali the Malian opponent Soumaïla Cissé and the French humanitarian Sophie Pétronin, released in early October against several hundred jihadists.

Humanitarians were also regularly targeted in 2020, as recalled by the assassination in August in Niger of six French employees of the NGO Acted, their Nigerian driver and guide in an attack claimed by the Islamic State organization. Employees of these international organizations have also been frequently targeted in northern Nigeria, both by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, and its dissident branch called Iswap (Islamic State in West Africa).

Read also “We heard the cries of those who asked that we come and save them”: Cameroon in shock after the murder of 7 students

Schools have been another prime target for armed groups and jihadists. The Global Coalition to Protect Education Against Attacks (GCPEA) documented more than 85 attacks on schools and colleges in the Sahel between January and July. In May, for example, two primary schools were burnt down in eastern Burkina Faso and Niger. In Anglophone Cameroon, education has also been the collateral victim of the conflict between the government and the separatists. At the end of October, seven students were killed by armed men in their classroom in Kumba (South West). Finally, in Nigeria, several hundred middle school and high school students were kidnapped on December 11 during a mass kidnapping claimed by Boko Haram. The majority were released a few days later, but some are still believed to be held in captivity.