Since March, 80 of the estimated 130 mobile money transactions globally have been in Africa, with their total worth already in the tens of billons of dollars, and astonishingly, still growing.
These and other trends in 2012 pointing to a continent relentlessly pushing the economic growth frontiers — and as a destination for new investment and the simply outlandish returns on risk — suggest that Africa really is the happening region that has been portrayed in such glowing terms in the media, a sort of Africa 2.0 if you like.
As we show in this report, in addition to the economy, there are other areas where extraordinary changes are taking place, from governance to the arts, health, and renewable resources.
Africa watchers would do well to look out for these areas going into 2013:
The rise of technocrats in government
This year, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation failed to find an African leader worthy of its $5 million Governance Prize, the third time it has failed to do so in its six-year existence.
This sparked debate about the dearth of leadership on the continent, and the need to rethink the concept of trying to “bribe” leaders to do their job.
But in a brilliant article for Forbes, Harvard professor Calestous Juma chronicled how elections this year have brought to the fore a different type of leader — the technocrat.
This year alone Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Senegal, Tunisia and Somalia all picked engineers for their top offices, leading Prof Juma to argue that “the road to [African] democracy is being bridged by a rising technocracy.”
The African Union picked a medic, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as its chair. Somalia’s new President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a university professor and dean. Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsy is an engineer by training, as are close to half of his Cabinet reportedly.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn is another engineer. Interim Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki is a physician with a human-rights advocacy background.
Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma had a stellar career in the insurance industry. Senegal’s President Macky Sall is an engineer by training. His premier, Abdoul Mbaye, is a banker.
“The change in the technical background of African leaders may appear random, but it represents a significant realignment of Africa’s top positions with the continent’s contemporary development challenges,” wrote Prof Juma, who also co-chairs the AU’s High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation.
The technocrat wave had already visited struggling Europe last year following the advent of the Eurozone crisis, especially in Italy and Greece, as non-politicians secured briefs to carry out the painful reforms that purely political operators would not want to take on their own.
In Africa, they appear to be a reaction to conflict and crisis such as the Arab Spring. It however remains to be seen whether they can deliver.
The comeback of insider biographies and exposes
The year has also been marked by a number of strong reads, with some by powerful — and no longer powerful — insiders providing juicy and controversial accounts of political wheelings and dealings.
Frank Chikane’s Eight Days in September was a particularly juicy read, explaining the defenestration of Thabo Mbeki in 2008. The motivation of the former director-general of Mbeki’s presidency was obviously political, but it is an engaging account of the recall of the former South African leader, setting the stage for Jacob Zuma’s ascension.
Kenneth S. Broun’s Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa also came out this year, telling the story of the 1963 trial that shaped the Rainbow Nation.
Chinua Achebe’s There Was A Country, which has sparked fierce intellectual — if tribal — polemics between the Igbo and Yoruba communities, helps to bring home his experience of the Biafra War.
Achebe’s personal — and often hard-hitting — account of the secessionist war that was sparked by the 1966 massacre of Igbos — his people — is compelling. The intrigues behind the war are quite successfully broken down, including the ego battle between two young rash men — Biafran head of state Odumegwu Ojukwu and Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon.
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai’s two-volume autobiography, Tanko Yakasai: The Story of a Humble Life, deconstructs the chaos that has over the decades hamstrung Nigeria’s democracy. The veteran politician, 86, was presidential advisor to Shehu Shagari, who ushered in the Second Republic, and his account has been well received in the country.
In Kenya, Kiraitu Murungi, an insider in President Mwai Kibaki’s wing of the country’s fractious coalition, also had an account of the machinations that went into the cobbling of the partnership. His Kiraitu Murungi: An Odyssey in Kenyan Politics has been criticised as an attempt at revisionism as Kenya, at one time in 2003 the world’s most optimistic nation, reverted to type in the ensuing decade.
Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s former aide Miguna Miguna also succeeded in stoking political controversy with an insider account of his tenure in his Peeling Back the Mask.
And technocrat and banker Martin Oduor-Otieno’s biography Beyond The Shadows of My Dream also provided an engaging account of the rocky relationship between donors and then-autocratic president Daniel Arap Moi.
The rise of lifestyle diseases
Early this year, the Mauritius government announced a healthy eating campaign after it found that lifestyle diseases on the island were on the rise, terming the prevalence of diabetes, cancer, hypertension and heart disease as a threat to national development.
The country, which says it has the second highest prevalence of diabetes in the world, is currently carrying out a more comprehensive study after statistics showed that a third of Mauritian children aged 6 to 19 were obese or overweight, placing them at risk of lifestyle diseases.
Analysts attribute the increase in these diseases partly to an affinity for junk food, current patterns of urbanisation and fast-spreading motorisation, leading to a growing sedentary lifestyle, and more alcohol and tobacco consumption.
The prosperous island nation of Mauritius is a bellwether for the continent, in which the growing middle class with discretionary income is now put at 300 million, according to World Bank figures.
The lack of awareness of such conditions has also been highlighted.
The Nairobi-headquartered African Population and Health Research Centre warns that those at risk rarely take action, while misdiagnoses are also on the rise.
Last month, the Rwanda Medical Association at its annual conference also flagged the rise of non-communicable diseases in the country, accounting for as much as 25 per cent of the national disease burden.
WHO in its World Health Statistics 2012 report found that 80 per cent of all deaths from NCDs (29 million) occurred in low and middle-income countries.
Worldwide, some 2.8 million died from obesity or being overweight, which dramatically increases the risk of non-communicable diseases.
“The probability of dying from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 70 is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia,” WHO said in its report.
The report makes for sobering reading. In many African countries, up to 40 per cent of adults had high blood pressure, with many going undiagnosed.
President Jacob Zuma in a State of the Nation address early this year urged South Africans to live healthier lives to reduce the incidence of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. South Africa has three times the NCD burden of developing countries, WHO stats said.
The main impact has been in the region’s productivity, as 48 per cent of all deaths from NCDs occur in people under 70.
And with very few African countries funding their health systems adequately, the pressure these diseases have put on creaking hospitals and clinics has been immense.
The march towards the African Standby Force
Back in 2000, the African Union, then the Organisation of African Unity, abandoned its policy of non-interference in member states and adopted the Constitutive Act, allowing it to intervene in times of defined crisis.
This ultimately led to the creation of an African Standby Force (ASF) that would number about 30,000 troops, ready to be called upon from contributing countries at short notice.
Each of the five regional blocs was to have a military force: The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) with Ecobrig, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) with Sadcbrig, alongside the North African Regional Capability (Narc) force, the Eastern Africa Standby Force (Easbrig), and the Economic Community of Central African States (Eccas) with Eccasbrig, also known as the Multinational Force of Central Africa (Fomac), which would contribute 5,000 troops to the ASF.
Originally planned to be up and running by 2010, the launch date has had to be reset to 2015.
This new date looks to be much more achievable as movement on the force has this year been accelerated due to the number of hotspots that have sprouted, from Mali and Somalia to the Sudans, eastern DR Congo and Guinea Bissau.
The AU already has a Mission in Somalia (Amisom), which has this year scored notable successes in liberating the country from the Al Qaeda-allied Al Shabaab militants. Indeed, the AU now concedes that the ASF should ideally be modelled on Amisom.
Ecowas is set to put boots on the ground in north Mali following the seizure of the vast region by Islamists and Tuareg rebels after a coup in March.
But the Ecowas deployment has been held up by red tape. A growing argument is that a standby force would have been easier to launch, especially as it does not need a United Nations nod. Such a force would also be theoretically more acceptable to Africans.
The current crisis in eastern Congo has caused a tailspin in the region, with the 17,000-strong Monusco force pilloried for its ineffectiveness. What impact an African-led force would have had in the DRC is open to debate, but it has long been an idea embraced by African leaders.
Just last month, a new round of training in policing regional hotspots began in Addis Ababa, suggesting that the political goodwill remains.
Much ado about African urbanisation
UN-Habitat, while releasing its State of the World’s Cities 2012/13 report, picked out a remarkable fact: While Africa’s urban population is poised to outstrip that of Europe and Latin America, by 2025 the continent will still be the least urbanised region in the world, with only 45 per cent of its inhabitants living in cities.
The body has termed cities as a “remedy to the global crisis,” which “provide ready, flexible and creative platforms that can mitigate the effects of regional and global crises in a pragmatic, balanced and efficient way.”
The trend of rapid urbanisation in Africa has been hotly debated this year. Formerly absolute numbers have been disputed: Cities such as Lagos and slums such as Nairobi’s Kibera have been found to have significantly fewer inhabitants than thought, to the ire of politicians and NGOs that used the padded figures to push for funding.
But it is the bugbear of inequitable infrastructure development in African cities that has been the main talking point this year.
While African countries still have the lowest infrastructure investment of the world, there have been significant gains this year as pointed out by indices in the report, with 89 per cent of the continent’s urban population enjoying improved water supply, for example.
UN-Habitat this year launched a new “tool,” the City Prosperity Index (CPI), arguing that it needed to redefine prosperity to take in human fulfilments as opposed to just economic numbers, supporting it by using indicators such as inequality and Gini co-efficients.
Under it, most of the aggregates made for unflattering reading, but reassuringly, the index did call out African cities that can be an example to others.
Four African cities — Johannesburg, Cape Town, Cairo and Casablanca — made it into the list of solid performers, acting as runway lights for most of the continent’s other cities that lagged behind: five — Bamako, Antananarivo, Monrovia, Niamey and Conakry — rounded out the list.
Yaounde and Nairobi were cited in the moderate prosperity category, examples of cities that while having strong growth factors, were severely weighed down by inequality.
Kigali, St Louis (Senegal) and Gaborone were all cited for attracting investment through low levels of corruption.
Some African countries have also taken innovative steps to improve mobility and beat congestion, including the launch of mass transit railways in Kenya and Tanzania this year, and new major road projects in the former.
Johannesburg, Beira, Alexandria and Gaborone were also singled out for minding the impact on the environment of their environmental growth, an area rarely taken into account by policy makers.
However differences within the continent were also obvious, with the prevalence of slums highest in sub-Saharan Africa at 62 per cent, and lowest in North Africa at 13 per cent.
There is clearly a long way to go in bringing the benefits of urbanisation to most cities on the continent, but the green-shoots have definitely been pronounced this year.
Hydrocarbons and the rise of resource nationalism
When Malawi in November sought to refer its increasingly fractious border dispute with Tanzania over their shared lake to the Southern African Development Community, it was only the latest in a spate of disputes over resources on the continent this year.
Lake Malawi, called Lake Nyasa by Tanzania, is believed to hold huge hydrocarbon reserves, and the tiff over the border has threatened to sour relations between the once friendly neighbours.
With new hydrocarbon finds being reported nearly every month on the continent — leading analysts to talk of a “golden age” — the scramble for ownership of the fields has also led to the growth of what is being referred to as resource nationalism.
Despite bitter foes Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir camping in Addis Ababa for over a week, they were unable to agree on the Abyei border, a region home to the Ngok Dinka and believed to hold vast oil and mineral resources.
Following a spate of discoveries in East Africa, Somalia has reportedly laid claim to Kenyan offshore blocks as a long-running maritime dispute rumbles on. Resolution in Somali’s favour would in theory give it control of a large swathe of offshore waters that have been licensed by Kenya to explorers.
Somalia has been talking of lodging a complaint with the UN over those concessions, which could hurt the hunt for oil along one of the hottest coastlines and also muddy waters with its neighbour. Kenya rejects the claims, suggesting the last has not been heard of the matter.
South Sudan and Kenya were also reported to be sparring over the Ilemi Triangle in northwestern Kenya, also believed to hold mineral resources.
But there have also been resolutions of resource disputes this year, with Nigeria in October finally deciding not to appeal a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice that handed the potentially oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
It was the end of a dispute that had spawned violence and political and legal disputes, with the handover internationally hailed as a model for negotiated border dispute settlements. Interestingly, the majority of the people of Bakassi consider themselves citizens of Nigeria.
The role of colonial borders has also come into focus this year, with international courts relying heavily on them.
The ICJ’s Bakassi ruling was anchored in a colonial agreement between Britain and Germany drawn up early in the 20th century.
It has also become clear that few countries in new find areas have the policies and regulations to govern the industry, with Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania for example all involved in disputes with explorers and prospectors.
Mobile money moves out from Kenya
No report on the growth of mobile money can be complete without a mention of Kenya’s resounding success in this area. The country’s telecoms regulator recently released statistics that showed Kenyans had between 2011 and 2012 made deposits worth $8 billion, a 38 per cent jump and almost half the current national budget.
The push towards the “mobile wallet” has been a trend widely replicated on the continent this year: According to the GSM Association, which tracks mobile money deployments around the world, some 130 mobile money systems have been implemented since March 2012, with close to 80 of these in Africa.
And with recent data showing that the continent is the fastest growing telecoms region, the market can only grow bigger, with the poor now able to access financial services that were previously in short supply.
The benefits have been huge: Mobile adoption has directly contributed 4.5 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, or $32 billion.
The industry now accounts for 350 million jobs, with the attendant wave of mobile and content innovation leading to mini Silicon Savannahs sprouting all over the continent.
Nigeria, the continent’s largest market, has close to 100 million mobile phones.
The Praekelt Foundation put out an engagingly informative video on mobile phone trends this year. A telling nugget gleaned is that the first mobile phone mast was only put up on the continent in 1994; 18 years later, mobile penetration is hovering at around 70 per cent, and growing fast.
For many Africans, the first time they are likely to access the Internet is through the mobile phone, even if they may not known it due to unobtrusive services such as Google’s SMS platform.
The runaway growth has led the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Unctad, to call for an effective and robust legal and regulatory framework to govern the sector, with co-operation across telecommunications, banking and electronic commerce; a case of regulation not keeping up with the industry.
The key areas of concern, according to the trade body, are consumer protection, registration and transaction limits, regulatory collaboration and interoperability, meaning interconnection between telecommunication networks.
Movies and more: The resurgence of arts festivals
At the Film Africa festival in London, screened from November 1 to 11 this year, some 70 African films were shown.
The event, now one of the largest annual festivals of African cinema and culture, provided a forum for 35 leading filmmakers to debate issues affecting their work and growth prospects. Besides movies, popcorn and pep talk, there was a generous serving of African performances.
At around the same time, Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, was hosting the Colours of the Nile Film Festival, a new addition to the Africa cinema circuit. Nairobi also hosted the annual Kenya International Film Festival. These, together with the other emerging festivals of African cinema, are indicators of a growing industry.
In the 1970s and early 80s, the Carthage and Fespaco festivals were the only internationally recognised African festivals. But that has gradually changed over the years as African cinema grows, and now the annual African Movie Academy Awards celebrate African film-makers from across the continent.
In growth terms, the most outstanding features of African cinema in 2012 are the new co-productions that reveal a growing diaspora interest in African cinema. This was evident in the number of African film festivals coming up in Europe and in the Americas, plus the number of online portals like africafilms.tv, hawking African films that have traditionally been a preserve of festival-goers.
In Kenya alone, a number of groundbreaking co-productions hit the screens. Captain of Nakara (Kenya/Germany) and Nairobi Half Life (Kenya/Germany), were released. Earlier there was Wanuri Kahu’s Pumzi and Soul Boy (Kenya/Germany) co-directed by Essuman Hawa.
In their making, skills and resources were transferred, empowering locals to make higher quality movies.
A departure from the 1980s when funded movies had to carry “donor friendly” messages, the new releases are light and use local idiom and images to hold the viewer’s interest.
Greening Africa: The turbines turn
This month, the UK’s Blue Energy announced it would sink $400 million into building sub-Saharan Africa’s largest photovoltaic solar power plant in Ghana, to meet six per cent of that country’s energy needs.
The planned 155MW Nzema project places Ghana among a growing list of African countries that have recently looked to tap into clean energy to meet their huge power deficits, to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and by extension secure their very existence.
Early this year, the Rio+20 conference saw increased calls for a green economy that would help African governments cease being net energy importers through the use of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar.
The conference was backed by Africa’s heads of states, through organs such as the African Union and the New Partnership for African Development.
This is encouraging as it suggests national policies will soon be aligned with renewable energy goals, adoption of which remains critical as oil imports become more and more unaffordable.
In October, the city of Ekurhuleni in Johannesburg unveiled a solar plant that, while producing only 200kW of power, was still the first in the country.
South Africa two years ago announced plans to build what it said would be the world’s biggest solar power park in the Northern Cape, with a remit of 5GW.
Ethiopia is set to launch construction of a solar power assembly plant, mainly targeting rural communities. The country has a Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy that looks to cut fossil fuel dependency by one-third by 2025, and also reach carbon neutral middle-income status.
The Southern African nation of Namibia early this year signed a deal to build its own solar power plant, while Kenya is currently putting up a massive wind farm in the northeast on 40,000 acres, expected to be fully commissioned in 2014. It is also simultaneously developing geothermal wells to tap its massive potential.
The trend for Africa in this vital area looks promising, with significant jumps in financing available for renewable energy.
Economy: continuing to beat the odds
The world economy is thought to have grown 2.6 per cent this year, a modest performance given deep rooted challenges such as the Eurozone crisis and fiscal tightening in many large economies.
If decoupled from the rest, sub-Saharan Africa’s economy grew 5 per cent in 2012, despite its major economic powers South Africa and Nigeria (the two account for over 50 per cent of GDP) battling anaemic growth.
This year saw increased infrastructural spending and stronger domestic demand. The continent also continued doing brisk business with China; trade grew 21.8 per cent year on year, just slightly lower than 2011, even as Europe remained the major trading partner.
Central banks have also aggressively reined in inflation, with East Africa seeing rapid disinflation. Current account deficits remained a concern though, in part due to an investment boom, including in resource exploration, and strong GDP growth and related consumption.
This could get worse as the continent enters a golden age for gas and oil exploration, which has seen an increase in FDI.
Secessionist movements: The carrot and the stick
Late last month, Zambia’s President Michael Sata directed his army to crack down on secessionists from Barotseland, a kingdom of the Lozi-speaking people in the country’s west, who were said to be recruiting former soldiers and police officers to rise against the regime.
Barotseland has long been a thorn in the flesh of Lusaka, but 2012 has seen a growing willingness by governments to engage with rebels, even if with a club held behind their back, a departure from when force was the only reaction.
In Senegal, new President Macky Sall has initiated talks with the Casamance rebels, who have waged a low-level independence struggle for three decades. The Senegalese leader said that he had agreed to negotiate with the separatists on their land and marginalisation grievances, but his presidency would not entertain any demands of secession from Senegal.
“I told them I am a new president and I come with a new spirit,” he said. “Conflict prevents development of a region. I think we are on the right track to solving the problem.”
In Kenya, the rag-tag Mombasa Republican Council launched a campaign for secession of the Coast from the mainland, and was met by a fierce crackdown by the government, which will not entertain the thought. Officials have however indicated they remain amenable to listening to grievances.
In semi-autonomous Zanzibar, the banned Islamic radical secessionist group Uamsho sparked riots in October following the “disappearance” of Muslim cleric Sheikh Farid Hadi.
The marginalisation and exclusion platform it used has seen it gain public support, helping it fill a political vacuum. Despite a continuing crackdown against its leaders, analysts say it is in the country’s best interests to engage it.
Women in business: Good and bad news
This year, for the first time, Forbes featured two women in its annual nascent list of the richest Africans.
Folorunsho Alakija of Nigeria, who holds a significant stake in the copious Agbami oilfield, and Isabel dos Santos, the entrepreneur daughter of Angola’s long-serving president, made their bow.
There has been a surge in female entrepreneurs on the continent, with World Bank data suggesting nearly two-thirds of women are now participating in Africa’s labour force. The bank says that the rate of female entrepreneurship is higher in Africa than in any other region of the world. Yet despite clear gains this year, analysts say that the development picture could be better.
A major problem has been the existence of laws that restrict the rights of women in many African countries, including rights to property and land.
According to UN Women, “Women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, produce 50 per cent of the food, but earn 10 per cent of the income and own 1 per cent of the property.”
The majority of this disproportionality is in Africa, fuelled in part by the dominance of patriarchal cultures.
And despite the changes to attitudes over time, in many societies there are restrictions on women doing such things as signing a contract to opening a bank account and even applying for a passport.
But the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2012 report shows that many African countries have recorded legal and regulatory changes aimed at achieving greater gender parity and reducing legal differentiation between men and women.
While there is still a long way to go, the report notes, it is no surprise that the most competitive economies in the world, those that have been better able to operate on the boundaries of the technology frontier, are also those where women have the same opportunities as men.
Emboldened: Political art, for which presidents are fair game
Inside galleries, onstage and on film, the story of Africa in 2012 was well projected.
In some instances, it was the public responses to the arts and their creators that best illustrated the diverse forces shaping Africa.
There were deaths of artist here and there too.
Down in South Africa, The Spear, a controversial painting, left the world debating on where to draw the line between media freedom and respect for privacy. The satirical painting by Brett Murray, a Cape Town artist, depicted South Africa’s president with his genitals exposed. The artist told Cape newspapers that the work was an “...attempt at humorous satire of polity, power and patriarchy.”
The painting has generated a debate that “clearly engages with important legal and constitutional issues,” gallery owner Liza Essers said in a statement.
Interestingly, President Zuma chose to see the painting from a angle, likening it to rape.
“The portrayal has ridiculed and caused me humiliation and indignity,” Mr Zuma complained, though he later withdrew a case against the painter in what appeared a strategic move ahead of the 2014 elections.
Later in the year, South Africa was thrown into mourning. Alf Kumalo, the apartheid photographer who was Nelson Mandela’s photographer, was eulogised as one of the key players in the chronicling of the country’s history.
And there was more action around the continent. In Libya, a number of exhibitions and publications on the country’s late long time rule Muammar Gaddafi were released. Most notable was Yan Pei-Ming’s Gaddafi’s corpse, October 21, 2011. Measuring 4.0 metres by 2.8 the oil painting in shades of grey by the Chinese painter depicts the dictator’s body lying on the ground, in a mortuary chamber in the Libyan city of Misrata.
In November, the country also witnessed its first video art exhibit that proved a hit in Tripoli, drawing scores of spectators in a country emerging from 42 culturally barren years under the regime of the slain leader.
Elsewhere, it was censorship that illustrated the continued contest between creators pushing towards new limits and leaders trying to maintain the status quo.
Uganda’s action against The State of the Nation best illustrates this. Seen as critical of President Yoweri Museveni’s leadership, the play, co-directed by John Ssegawa, was banned by the Media Council, even after staging at the country’s National Theatre in Kampala.
Earlier, a British theatre producer landed in trouble for attempting to stage a play about gays, in Kampala. The River and The Mountain is a comical play that revolves around a gay businessman killed by his employees.
Twakoowa, an unflattering song deemed critical of President Museveni’s long rule, was also banned from playing on the country’s radios.
In Nairobi, some audacious underground artists registered their protest, against the ruling elite’s greed, through strategically placed graffiti. Inspired by photographer Boniface Mwangi, the ruling elite were portrayed as insensitive vultures, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
There was also the case of Kenyan musicians arrested for singing against national unity. This was in relation to the ongoing cases at The Hague. The singers were accused of rallying their community to support one of their own, through music.
The Timbuktu saga in Mali, where centuries-old national heritage sites suffered damage from Islamist rebels, inspired graffiti outrage in North Africa.