Briefing / Global
Africa and Middle East
Nigeria's problems (and opportunities), a host of elections that will hopefully go well and a female leader to remember.
The year ahead
The rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP in 2014 has made it Africa’s largest economy. There are hopes that the new democratically elected president, former military man Muhammadu Buhari, might steer Africa’s most-populous country towards its potential. But Nigeria has serious challenges to overcome before it can get down to business.
Boko Haram insurgents have killed thousands of people, pushed their war across borders and declared allegiance to Isis. Regionally co-ordinated military action has won back ground but the group still carries out bombings, suicide attacks and raids. Buhari was elected partly due to his military background and pledge to defeat Boko Haram so 2016 is when he must deliver on that promise. But this “is just one element in a portfolio of security challenges”, says Antony Goldman, director at business-risk consultancy Promedia Consulting. The oil-producing Niger Delta in the south remains a renegade region, while piracy is rising in the increasingly lawless Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria has a problem with corruption, from the petty extortions of street bribery to the grand theft of government oil income. Most damaging is graft orchestrated by political elites. Buhari is famed for his “War Against Indiscipline” when, as military ruler from 1983 to 1985, he cracked down on corruption while paying little heed to human rights. Buhari echoed that initiative in October when he promised to check “unruly behaviour”.
The collapse in world oil prices could be a blessing or a curse for Nigeria. About 95 per cent of the country’s export earnings are from oil and this may be the push needed to diversify. There is huge agricultural potential, while the sheer weight of human capital in a country of more than 160 million is immense. Equally, it may be calamitous if the government fails to pay salaries, debt piles up and the fuel subsidies that are the basis of Nigeria’s social contract become impossible to meet. Whichever way it goes, Goldman says 2016 “could prove a critical moment, even for a country so well-versed in dancing on the edge”.
CITY TO WATCH
Head for the hills
Rawabi (“The Hills”) is a $1.2bn (€1.1bn) new city in the West Bank, the brainchild of Palestinian-US millionaire Bashar Masri. Delayed by issues with access roads and water pipelines that go through Israeli-controlled land, Rawabi is now set to house about 2,000 people by the start of 2016, a fraction of the 40,000 capacity planned.
The city is a middle-class dream if you overlook the Israeli checkpoints on the road to Ramallah and the many Jewish settlers hostile to the project. Still, Rawabi is already one of the largest job providers in the West Bank and Masri wants the city to become a technology hub. Next year will test whether the model can work.
ELECTIONS TO WATCH
Votes of confidence
Democratic Republic of Congo
President Joseph Kabila is supposed to step down in 2016 but is suspected of scheming to stay in power. Among his opponents vying for control of this vast swathe of central Africa are Etienne Tshisikedi and Moïse Katumbe.
Iran votes twice in 2016 to appoint a parliament and the Assembly of Experts that decides the Supreme Leader’s successor. President Hassan Rouhani will want a boost for moderates but it’s unlikely sanctions will have lifted by then.
Municipal elections are likely to give the governing African National Congress, in power since the transition to democracy in 1994, a serious wake-up call. Voters are frustrated at the slow roll-out of services by government.
POLITICIAN TO WATCH
Mauritius [AMEENAH GURIB-FAKIM]
Ameenah Gurib-Fakim brings intellectual heft to Mauritius’s presidency. One of the island nation’s leading scientists, a former university dean and the head of her own biodiversity research company, Gurib-Fakim succeeded in becoming the country’s first female head of state in June.
Although her role may be mostly ceremonial, she hasn’t wasted any time in pushing for science-friendly policies including a 10-year tax holiday for those professionals who are returning to Mauritius. It’s all part of a greater bid to reverse the brain drain that Mauritius – like a number of other African countries – suffers from. Gurib-Fakim is also a welcome case of brains trumping brawn in a region where politics is replete with ageing despots and upstart coup leaders.