Welcome to Next Africa, a weekly newsletter of where the continent stands now — and where it's going next.
As Ethiopia’s civil war spreads out of Tigray, the government of Africa’s second-most populous nation is under increasing threat.
The northern region’s leaders are forming alliances with groups including a rebel army from the Oromo, the country’s biggest ethnic group — an ominous historical sign for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front overthrew the communist Derg regime in 1991 and dominated Ethiopian politics for the next 27 years.
This wasn’t what Abiy envisaged when he sent his army into Tigray 10 months ago. He promised a swift conflict in retaliation for an assault on an army base. But the TPLF has since regained control of the province and its forces are pushing into neighboring Amhara and Afar.
While their end-game is unclear, a repeat of 1991 seems unlikely.
“They want a transitional government in Addis Ababa,” said Connor Vasey, an analyst at Eurasia Group. “We are a long way off saying this is a 1990s redux.”
What is clear is that Abiy’s campaign to centralize power in the capital is in tatters. With many regions seeking more devolution, the conflict threatens the integrity of the state, according to a key Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter.
Abiy’s authority is at serious risk unless he can find a way to force the Tigrayans back. The Nobel peace prize winner has awakened more enemies than just the TPLF.
“We have one thing in common and that is we are fighting the same enemy,” said Kumsa Diriba, the commander-in-chief of the Oromo Liberation Army.
Upset Win | Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema scored a shock landslide victory in the nation’s presidential election. The resounding win over incumbent Edgar Lungu provides Hichilema with a strong mandate to enact reforms, with a bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund a major priority. Copper producers are ready to start expansion projects worth $2 billion if the industry can resolve a dispute over royalties with the new administration.
Spreading Disease | Ivory Coast reported the country’s first Ebola outbreak in 25 years, prompting the World Health Organization to send expert teams to help find and prevent more cases. The infected patient arrived in Abidjan, the economic capital, from Guinea by road and was admitted to hospital after experiencing a fever. The world’s biggest cocoa producer has also put several measures in place to curb a bird flu outbreak near the city.
Backward Step | One of the saddest stories of the year has gone largely unreported: the slowdown of political and economic progress in sub-Saharan Africa, writes Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion. There is no longer a clear path for the world’s poorest continent to achieve middle-income status. Three key countries — Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa — have fallen into serious trouble over the past two years, he says.
Vaccine Rollouts | Nigeria is in talks with the World Bank and other lenders to raise about $30 million to help finance a vaccine plant, three decades after the nation’s only production facility was shut. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the desperate need for local facilities. In South Africa, private companies such as miners are playing a crucial role in helping the government distribute shots in remote communities.
Health Tech | The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of technological advances in health care, from video consultations to artificial intelligence-powered triage, and medically underserved East Africa is catching on fast. Rocket Health, a Ugandan provider, saw a 500% increase in phone and video consultations in 2020, and companies expect the growth to continue even when the virus has been tamed.
Bourse Outage | Traders were forced to twiddle their thumbs during a five and a half-hour outage on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange that prevented them buying and selling shares. Systems at Africa’s biggest exchange proved unable to cope with a massive share-swap transaction between Naspers and Prosus, which prompted a record number of deals. The failure prompted calls for more competition.
Investors who bought Zambian debt after the default are reaping the reward
Whether at supermarkets, corner stores, or open-air markets, prices for food have been surging in much of the world, forcing families to make tough decisions about their diets. Meat is often the first to go, ceding space to less expensive proteins such as dairy, eggs, or beans. Food prices in July were up 31% from the same month last year, according to an index compiled by the United Nations. A portion of the rise is fueled by supply chain disruption and extreme weather, though factors such as climate change and China’s strong appetite for imports will likely endure. In Lagos, Nigeria, Nafisat Ekerin has taken to imploring market vendors to cut her a deal — something she wasn’t in the habit of doing before Covid-19. “I usually have to plead: just please sell it to me. I don’t have so much money on me,’’ says the 36-year-old mother of three. People in Brazil, India and the U.S. have also been hit.