Trends to watch out for in 2018 that could define Africa’s future

Tuesday February 6 2018

Africa 2018 trends

With the promise of a more open Africa, a youth engaged on the big issues of our day, we could create one of the greatest social movements of the 21st Century. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

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In 2015, then African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma offered a vision of Africa in 2063.

It was a vision of high-speed inter-country railways, diplomatic clout in the international arena, cutting-edge fashion, leadership, and leadership in space exploration.

Progress on Agenda 2063 seems to have stalled, and speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on January 27, on the sidelines of the high-level Ending Hunger in Africa event of the 30th African Union summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that Africa has the highest rate of hunger in the world.

Guterres said that Africa needs to eradicate conflict and climate change to end hunger.

When African leaders attended the summit on January 29, they focused on Open Skies, fighting corruption and the continent’s security crises.

These events all feed into each other, so looking ahead to the next 11 months, here are key trends and developments to watch out for since they sum up the continent’s future challenges and we would do well to begin preparing for them.

The mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille, has said April 21 could be “Day Zero” for the South African coastal city and tourist magnet, when taps could run dry.

Cape Town has been affected by its worst drought in over 100 years, caused by the El Nino in the wider southern Africa and made worse when too much water was allocated to agriculture in the Western Cape.

Other cities in Africa — Nairobi, Kenya’s capital is a good example — are awaiting a similar fate either as a result of broken or aged infrastructure, increased demand, unreliable rainfall, encroachment on water sources or lakes drying up.

Cape Town’s water crisis is a warning that we need to take urgent action to safeguard protected areas which are key sources of water. If rainfall is the Plan A for our drinking water, the past three years have taught us that it is fragile. Without forests, we need a Plan B.

Population explosion

We’ve all heard the numbers. The current population of Africa is 1.2 billion, and it’s likely to nearly double by 2045, meaning that around 20 per cent of the world’s total population could live on the continent.

Over the next 20 years, it is estimated that city populations in Africa are likely to grow 45 per cent faster than in rural areas, with 60 per cent of people in Africa likely to live in cities by 2050.

As climate change cripples agriculture and pastoral economies in the countrysides, more people are seeking livelihoods in cities and towns. Urban areas are facing rising food prices, and increasing joblessness, which are all feeding social tension.

Tunisia and Sudan have already been hit by protests related to food prices this year. Could there be more?

The population explosion is putting pressure on the infrastructure in many African cities and it is buckling, resulting in mountains of garbage affecting the environment and polluting waters.

In September 2018, the Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) Summit returns to Beijing.

In 2009 China overtook the US as Africa’s largest trading partner. In 2000, China-Africa trade was worth $10 billion. By 2014, this had grown 20-fold to $220 billion according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, though it has since fallen because of lower commodity prices.

Less noticed, have been Chinese efforts in addressing environmental concerns through its China-Africa Environmental Co-operation Centre, funded by the China Trust Fund, which supports some UN Environment projects.

While China is the world’s largest emitter and remains heavily dependent on coal, it is now the largest investor in global clean energy development.

As it shifts toward clean energy, it presents the possibility for African countries to campaign for greater funding to develop renewable energy sources and build sustainable practices into China’s growing industrial footprint on the continent.


This year, the AU is scheduled to adopt a draft agreement on the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), aimed at boosting free movement of goods, people and services to spur growth and development among member states.

However, the CFTA is also a hidden conservation bonus. Africa has more rivers and national parks shared by three or more countries than any other continent.

Progress on CFTA, potentially then also makes it easier to co-operate on sustainable and better use of shared rivers, parks, and security.

On a vast continent that is still developing much of its infrastructure, drones present a solution. Some projections see drones accounting for 10 per cent to 15 per cent of Africa’s transport sector in the next decade.

In the next few months, Tanzania will begin using drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas.

Rwanda, working with Silicon Valley firm Zip Line opened a droneport and has already done over 1,400 similar deliveries since October 2016. Tanzania will also work with Zip Line, to provide more than 100 drones and 2,000 flights a day. The drone deliveries in Tanzania — being nearly 36 times bigger than Rwanda — will offer useful insights on how to use them on a larger scale.

Going into 2018, over half a billion people in Africa were subscribed to mobile services, and there more than 150 million smartphones in use across the continent.

Internet use rose to over 300 million in 2017 and Africa is expected to become the largest consumer of mobile devices by 2020.

This digital boom has played out in the mobile money explosion, political and social mobilisation, improved market access for farmers, interactions in health and other socio-economic areas, but not yet in conservation or the environment.

This is the year that conservationists should push to get the millions of Africans with mobile phones, and access to the internet to use them to document, tell stories, record significant events about their environment, build apps for them, and find creative ways to bring all these efforts together.

Some of the best partners for this are Africa’s telco firms, many of which have found incredible business success.

With the promise of a more open Africa, a youth engaged on the big issues of our day, we could create one of the greatest social movements of the 21st Century.

Kaddu Sebunya is president of the African Wildlife Foundation.