InterRegional for Strategic Analysis held a panel discussion entitled “Key Trends for Understanding Current Dynamics in Africa,” hosting Dr. Hamdy Abdel Rahman, Professor of Political Science at Zayed University. The panel discussion focused on the main trends in Africa, and also referred to the challenges and opportunities available to the continent, as follows:
1. Escalating waves of military coups on the continent: There has been an increase in the number of military coups in Africa during the recent period, compared to previous years. From 2011 to August 2020, there were only five coups on the continent. By contrast, from August 2020 to now, five coups have taken place – a significant increase.
2. Increased activity by middle powers: There is what can be described as a “third scramble for the continent,” amid many efforts by regional and international powers to strengthen their influence in Africa. That includes some “middle powers” playing a prominent role in recent years, especially as regional and international powers’ interests are intertwined. Arab Gulf states are among the rising powers in Africa.
3. Transformation into a promising demographic and economic force: By 2050, Africa will have the largest population in the world, surpassing China. It will also have the largest number of youth. Moreover, the continent will form the largest economic bloc after the World Trade Organization (WTO). With the formation of the Continental Free Trade Area, which has come into force, there will be a massive collective of more than 50 countries. This will then have an impact on shaping Africa’s future.
4. Favorable opportunities for the continent in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Africa did not have a role in previous civilizational revolutions, but today there is a possibility for it to use new technology, play a prominent role, and reduce its marginalization within the international system. Rwanda is an important rising model on the continent. It has succeeded in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in a distinctive way, such as using drones. Some even describe Rwanda as the “Dubai of Africa,” due to its use of new technology.
5. Failure of “peacemaking” approaches: The approaches implemented for two decades have failed, because they are ineffective and unsuccessful. The result is that terrorism has expanded and taken on various forms in Africa. Approaches have focused on the military aspect, while countries’ local conditions and the spread of certain armed groups due to historical and social grievances have been ignored.
6. Development of “maritime terrorism” or “port terrorism”: ISIS has begun to spread near African coastal regions, by spreading throughout the Sahel-Sahara region, from the heart of the Sahara such as Mali, to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Senegal, which are coastal states. Thus, terrorist hotspots are becoming more widespread.
7. Replicating the Afghan model in Africa: There are failed states and marginalized regions in Africa. If Operation Barkhane were to leave Mali, there would be a repeat of the Afghanistan scenario, with armed terrorist organizations taking control of the state. If we move from West Africa to the Lake Chad Basin, these are the most dangerous areas in which terrorism is prevalent, as they are not controlled by the state and terrorist organizations are widespread. In Somalia, too, if the African Union Mission (AMISOM) left, the state would collapse.
8. Danger of relying on “local guards”: There is a tendency to rely upon and militarize local forces, especially as a country such as Nigeria has resorted to militarizing the community itself, through so-called “local guards.” Because the army is unable to confront the security challenges, it uses armed militias. This deepens security problems. Militias do not operate within a legal framework and have no accountability, even if the number of civilian deaths from local guards is greater than the victims of terrorist organizations themselves. The community itself becomes a victim.
The panel discussion concluded that Africa is divided. On one side are the old, American-led forces focused on the concept of conditionality and issues related to human rights and democracy. Many African countries do not like that. On the other side is China, which does not interfere but focuses on development, independence, and the danger of the so-called “debt trap.” Therefore, we are faced with two models that the continent’s countries deal with very cautiously. So Arab countries could—for example—choose a “third way,” which could be considered a win-win approach to advance their interests on that promising continent.