7 November 2019

Africa Is a Continent on the Brink ... but of What?

It makes sense that a continent home to 54 countries and 1.2 billion people would also house a mass of contradictory developments. Africa features several of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a burgeoning middle class. But much of the continent remains mired in debt, ravaged by conflict, disease or terrorism, and plagued by elites clinging to power.

Even as economies expand, people are driven to migrate—either within Africa or across continental borders—because of humanitarian catastrophes or because opportunities are not coming fast enough for everyone. Yet, many remain behind and look to disrupt the status quo. Civilian-led reform movements have toppled regimes in Algeria and Sudan already this year.

From a geopolitical perspective, European nations and the United States are looking to shore up bilateral trade across the continent. These moves are driven both by an interest in spurring individual economies to help stem migration flows, but also to counter China’s growing presence in Africa. On the back of its Belt and Road Initiative, China has been leveraging infrastructure financing deals for access to resources and increasing influence.

People walk past the gate of the Eastern Industrial Zone where Chinese company Huajian opened its first factory in Ethiopia in the town of Dukem near the capital, Addis Ababa, March 21, 2018 

Some African leaders say these activities smack of neocolonialism, as they seek to promote greater continental autonomy. They have taken steps to bolster internal trade opportunities and ease freedom of movement. They are positioning the African Union to play a more prominent role in resolving continental disputes, but also to contribute to fields like disease surveillance. And they are increasingly outspoken in criticizing international institutions that appear to punish Africa, to the benefit of others.

WPR covers Africa in detail, including a weekly Africa Watch newsletter highlighting the latest developments on the continent. And WPR will continue to offer insights into some of the key questions surrounding Africa’s future: Is a new Arab Spring sweeping across North Africa? As China’s footprint on the continent grows, how will leaders in Africa and other parts of the world respond? And will the economic boom that has swept up countries including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana spread beyond their borders?

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