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African Countries in Transition

Important elections and countries navigating life after leadership changes will be among the most important developments in Africa in 2019. Here are the countries to watch.
By Tochi Eni-Kalu, Associate, Africa, Eurasia Group

Nigeria

Slow economic growth in Africa’s largest economy and security challenges will set the stage for the elections in 2019. President Muhammadu Buhari will have the slight edge against an opposition emboldened by high profile defections from the ruling party. The Boko Haram threat will likely remain restricted to northeastern Nigeria while a slow government response will prolong a conflict between farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen, which has killed thousands in recent years. Meanwhile, a long-running militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta, currently at an ebb due to government conciliation efforts, could experience a post-election resurgence. In case attacks on oil infrastructure resume, they will dent petroleum exports to the EU, Nigeria’s top trading partner, from which 93 percent of export revenue is oil related.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to win a fresh mandate in the May 2019 polls, but pressure from the opposition and the need to quell intra-party squabbles will necessitate the adoption of populist policies to pacify dissenting voices. His reformist, pro-business policies will boost economic growth and improve trade prospects, although a proposed constitutional amendment to allow land expropriation without compensation could spook foreign investors and may temporarily put a drag on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Europe, especially from Germany.

South Africa

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to win a fresh mandate in the May 2019 polls, but pressure from the opposition and the need to quell intra-party squabbles will necessitate the adoption of populist policies to pacify dissenting voices. His reformist, pro-business policies will boost economic growth and improve trade prospects, although a proposed constitutional amendment to allow land expropriation without compensation could spook foreign investors and may temporarily put a drag on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Europe, especially from Germany.

Ethiopia

Conciliatory moves undertaken by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will create political space to pursue a reform agenda that will positively impact the economy and investment climate, but opposition from within the ruling coalition will slow reforms and raise the risk of renewed unrest. Abiy’s achievements, including making peace with longtime foe Eritrea, have helped stabilise the country. Despite his intention to press ahead with key infrastructure and economic policy plans, a promised opening of the economy will remain limited. Abiy’s approach makes sweeping political and legal reforms less likely in the medium term, risking a reignition of anti-government protests in the country’s restive Oromia region, where hundreds of protesters have died in the past three years.

Zimbabwe

After presidential elections marred by irregularities and violence against opposition protesters, sanctions relief will hinge on the implementation of structural and economic reforms. Internal rifts within the ruling Zanu-PF will slow progress. President Emmerson Mnangagwa will ultimately seek an IMF bailout, requiring painful economic reforms. Factions within the ruling party will strongly resist these efforts. In response, Mnangagwa will likely use an anti-corruption drive to sideline adversaries within Zanu-PF and solicit the support of the opposition MDC. Further moves to silence the opposition will dampen investor interest and complicate attempts to normalize relations with the EU and the international community.

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