Speaking at an event hosted by research and strategy company Frontier Advisory, IDG political analyst Siphamandla Zondi said that the recent economic crisis was the largest threat to Africa’s long-term political and economic ambitions in the last few decades.
“Since the start, we have been saying that the economic impact of the global financial crisis has been slow in appearing on the African continent, partly because the African continent is not sufficiently integrated into the global economy to feel the ripple effect of the crisis,” Zondi stated.
However, he argued that it was this delayed economic impact that would see a slow and subtle shift in African politics. “I am warning that the impact that is happening will be subtle, it will be below the radar, and if we are not very cautious or very observant, we may not see it happen.”
The slowdown in the economy would have a three-fold impact on the African continent, the first of which would be a decline in export earnings. The second hit would come in the form of a reduction in private capital inflows into Africa, as donor countries would support their own economies, rather than exporting currency to Africa.
Zondi noted that the economic meltdown would also leave a lasting impression on the social fabric of African communities, as the crisis would require structural reforms and institutional support, both of which would have to be established at a grass-roots level.
“There is another area of impact: the political dynamics which are going to arise on the continent, born out of a combination of economic and social crisis,” Zondi noted.
In the decade between 1989 and 1999, the African continent experienced a wave of democratisation, during which 34 African countries moved towards democracy, and civil uprisings on the continent were limited.
However, Zondi noted that before the global economic downturn hit, there was a reversal of the democratic wave. “There was a counter wave in a number of countries and it took various forms. One of this was what we call garrison democracies, where the democracy is driven by an elite and is designed to attract donor investment, and to ward off pressure and scrutiny from those that are concerned for democracy.”
Zondi added that in other cases, this counter wave led to democratic dictatorships, or dictatorships that were only democratic in form, but not in substance.
There was also a resurgence in the number of conflicts across the continent, especially in countries such as Guinea, Northern Uganda, the Central African Republic, Chad and Sudan.
“What I think is going to happen is that when this financial crisis deepens in Africa, it is going to accentuate these problems,” Zondi noted.
He added that the initial transition to democracy had remained fragile, as the institutional architecture required for the transition to be ingrained, had not been developed yet, but had merely been led by the goodwill of a few leaders. Once these leaders changed, the transition to democracy was halted, or reversed.
“The institutional architecture was not strengthened enough before the crisis, to help see us through to what the impact of the crisis will be, and for that reason the economic crisis will accentuate the negative general political happenings, and it may negatively impact [on] Africa’s international relations, it may slowdown the peace process as well as the rate of Africa’s integration.
“It is happening right now, as countries move their attention from a common continental agenda to their own national agenda. As a result, we may actually miss an opportunity to take advantage of the spaces that the economic crisis has created, especially the policy spaces where we would be able to redefine and to re-engage the global order.”