Top Africa Stories of the Year 2022
Dear friends of This Week in Africa:
What a year it has been. We are slowly coming out of COVID, yet it remains with us. Many of us have settled back into our daily routines, and visited the places that make us happy. Phil and I reunited—in person! I returned to Ghana and saw old friends. TWiA migrated to Substack, and we experimented with additional posts, including:
But for the most part, TWiA is how it has been for the past seven years. Check out our previous years-in-review here: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Toward a happy and healthy 2022!
Jeff and Phil
Here are our top stories of the year 2022:
1. Rising number of coups in West Africa
2022 began with a coup in Burkina Faso, and it had another later this year. Six African countries experienced coups since 2020. Africa experiences the highest rate of coups in the world. Are coups becoming normalized in the region? Jonathan Powell and Salah Ben Hammou discuss the trends on the continent. Erica De Bruin and Maggie Dwyer explain how this wave of coups differs from previous ones. Christopher Faulkner, Jaclyn Johnson and Naunihal Singh are clear: Don’t blame contagion for the resurgence in coups.
What’s behind the recent coups in Africa? For one, the UN and international community is failing in responding to coups. Others point to the governments inability to fight terrorism: Jihadists are creating turmoil across the region as West Africa’s political and security challenges are only getting worse. Dr. Lassane Ouedraogo notes leaders’ inability to govern destabilized states. USIP highlights the failure of stabilization programs. Kristin Harkness emphasizes political transitions and ethnic stacking in the military. Nick Westcott notes the inability of the state to provide security and work with international actors.
African Social Research places coups in the broader context of the struggle for democracy. Sean Jacobs wonders: Are strongmen and liberal democracy our only choices? Howard French doesn’t want to write off democracy just yet. Pierre Englebert and Rida Lyammouri urge us to move beyond military containment in the Sahel. Frances Z. Brown and Thomas Carothers argue that the US needs a global anti-coup strategy.
2. A tenuous peace in Ethiopia
It was a deadly year in Ethiopia as fighting intensified in Tigray and decimated livelihoods. War is brutal, war is ugly. Ethiopian violence splintered relations between Amhara and Tigray, and violence destroyed towns while soldiers abused civilians. A human rights report documented massive human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Desperate Tigrayans faced starvation and forced conscription. This interesting investigation looks for clues in a video of a forgotten massacre. Many worried of an invisible ethnic cleansing campaign.
Yet despite the reemergence of violence, Nanjala Nyabola wondered why so many devastating wars quickly disappear from public consciousness. Alex de Waal argues that the tactics of war cause famine. Kjetil Tronvoll explains the anatomy of Ethiopia’s civil war. Ethnic federalism is not working. Did Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace laureate, stoke a civil war?
The year ended with a peace agreement and hopes there will be a stop to the violence. The Ethiopia-Tigray peace agreement signals a decisive victory for Ethiopia’s government. Alan Boswell provides his take on the truce. But justice is required too. Will justice follow peace?
3. Local and legislative elections in Senegal
Non-presidential elections can signal significant shifts in political attitudes, preferences, and coalitions. It can also pave the way for future success or failure in national races. For these reasons, this year’s municipal and legislative elections in Senegal are telling. The opposition came up big in local Senegalese elections, setting the stage for the 2024 Presidential election. The government lost big in Dakar, and other cities across the country.
Senegal’s ruling party lost its majority in recent legislative elections. The party fell one seat short of a majority. The results have important implications for the 2024 election, and whether Sall will try to run for a third term. Catherine Lena Kelly provides this excellent analysis, while Danielle Resnick warns how the developments leading up to the polls signal fractures in the country’s democracy.
4. Persistent xenophobia in South Africa
Xenophobic attacks in South Africa are on the rise—again. Migrants flee the country as violence against foreigners worsened. Many South Africans are angry that migrants receive health care (of course, many also support rights of foreigners). Foreigners continue to face rising resentment. These quotes by representatives in South Africa’s government are terrifying: “We have a situation where citizens are being displaced by foreign nationals…they have taken over,” claims Sihle Mthiyane of the Dept of Home Affairs. And the mayor of Musina, “We must minimise the rights of immigrants and migrants. They must be made uncomfortable. What do you do if see a cockroach in your house. You buy doom.”
Sisonke Msimang asks: Why can’t South Africa exorcise its xenophobia demon? Loren Landau and Jean Pierre Misago have this excellent explainer on how South Africa’s crumbling system of indirect rule is contributing to a power vacuum filled by local authorities and populists fueling xenophobic violence, especially in its municipalities and townships. Misago has this earlier piece on how political mobilization triggers xenophobic violence. Zama Ndlovu argues that poverty and policy drives xenophobia in the country. Sean Jacobs explains the rise of the right wing in mainstream politics. Parties are preying on South Africans’ discontent. All South African parties have xenophobic strands. Gaddo sums this up best. Xenophobia mimics Apartheid-era violence.
5. Resurgence of violence in eastern DR Congo
A resurgence of violence in eastern DR Congo has displaced thousands of people. The region is experiencing some of its worst fighting in several years. This is what M23’s on-and-off insurgency tells us about DRC’s precarious search for peace. Jason Stearns explains the self-perpetuating conflict in the country in his new article. The war doesn’t say its name.
Tensions between Rwanda and DR Congo are high, sending fears of an interstate war. The country is a battleground of a proxy war over precious resources. Congolese authorities blame Rwandan authorities of supporting M23 rebel attacks. Paul Kagame is transforming the continent’s security landscape. Kenya sent troops to the region to support Congolese forces. Burundi already has troops there. New reports show Uganda’s role in the conflict. Can the East African Community stabilize the region? Why is peace so elusive?
6. From AFCON to the World Cup
Until the World Cup final, it seemed like Sean Jacobs was right: The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is the most exciting sporting event in the world. In a politically important move, Cameroon hosted this year’s tournament. Soccer brought lots of joy to the country. This thread has all you need to know about the tournament. Senegal defeated Egypt on penalty kicks in the final. The celebrations through the streets of Dakar were awesome. The tournament opens a new chapter for African football, and could spur new demand for African coaches. The government gave the players bonuses and a plot of land. This photo is iconic. And Jacobs’ last word: There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
We can simply agree that something remarkable is happening in African football. There is a World Cup, and Africa is there – everywhere. The tournament signals a global shift in football. Morocco was Africa’s first representative in the World Cup semifinals. Hisham Aïdi explains how Morocco’s success is forging a new, dissident third world solidarity around the multifaceted nature of Moroccan identity itself: simultaneously Arab, African, and Amazigh. Salma Mousa explains why all of Africa, the Middle East, and the Muslim world supported the Moroccan team like their own. And Charlotte Morlie writes: Belonging is not a sport.
7. Fighting for climate justice
Africans want more action on climate change, and are at the forefront of fighting for climate justice. Countries fear backsliding on climate action amid global crises. It is becoming much clearer that climate change is having a disproportionately negative impact on African societies, and the West is accused of climate hypocrisy as emissions dwarf those of poor countries. Farhana Sultana describes this as an unbearable heaviness of climate coloniality. This is shame in the age of climate coloniality.
At COP 27, African nations fought for climate justice telling polluting nations to pay up. These are views from Africa’s chief negotiator. Muhammad Buhari explains how not to talk with Africa about climate change. The Global South is calling for climate reparations. Our GLD Policy Brief explains how policymakers must tackle global and regional inequalities to achieve climate justice.
And Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò says it best: We need “Justice at the necessary scale.”
8. EU’s shifting role in Africa
Europe attempts to move beyond its colonial past and shift its Africa policy toward investment and global competitiveness. The EU-Africa Summit highlighted these new relations, though Africa doesn’t necessarily share Europe’s enthusiasm. The Summit could be a major turning point in European-African relations. But African agency should shape Africa’s ties with Europe. Europe must deliver on promises past. The European Union has a €20 billion plan to invest in Africa’s infrastructure – and take on China. Nanjala Nyabola argues that Europe needs to do more to ensure the safe movement of people. Is Africa the future of Europe?
Zainab Usman and Jonathan Glennie critically examine UK’s integrated review and its implications for Africa-UK relations. What is the future of Africa-EU relations? What is Africa’s view on Europe?
9. Ukraine invasion and its impact on Africa
Yusuf Bangura asks: What does Russia's invasion mean for Africa? The impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on West Africa contributed to a food and economic crisis. On the other hand, Africa offers an alternative to Russian gas and is affecting energy policy in Africa as Europe turns to Africa in bid to replace Russia’s natural gas.
What is Ukraine’s Africa connection? Why are so many African and Asian nations ambivalent about Russia’s invasion? This is a neat thread about how African leaders used the Cold War to advance their own political – and very local—agendas. This is an interesting story of why some West Africans are rallying for Putin. Learn more about how Russia forged closer ties with Africa. The Wagner Group is using “Africa wealth” to fund the Ukraine war. Human Rights Watch reports abuses by Russia-linked forces in Central African Republic. This is how a sanctioned Russian company gained access to Sudan’s gold. Alex Thurston discusses four articles about Russia’s involvement in the Sahel.
10. Ghana’s economic challenges
For the 17th time since Ghana gained independence from Britain, it has reached a preliminary agreement with the IMF for debt assistance. The country needs to restructure its domestic and external debt. This discussion with experts explains how Ghana’s situation got so bad. The government tried many things to avoid this. It increased its lending rate. It passed the e-levy. It considered adopting the gold standard. Ghana quickly went from hero to zero for investors. Howard French explains how Ghana’s “success” exposes the West’s toxic development model.
Zambia also struck a deal with the IMF, and Grieve Chelwa cries for his beloved country. African economies have huge external debt financing obligations, and Afrobarometer’s Joseph Asunka notes that Africa’s mounting debt is an issue to keep your eyes on for 2023. Ghana offers a cautionary tale.
11. Francis Kéré wins the Pritzker Prize
Burkina Faso’s Francis Kéré won Architecture’s top prize. This is the first time a black architect won the award. His work “empowers and transforms communities through the process of architecture,” and uses local tools while emphasizing homegrown uniqueness. He is committed to building peaceful cities. Learn more about the award-winning architect.
12. Floods in African cities
In April, massive floods and mudslides killed more than 400 people in Durban, South Africa. These photos tell the story. It was “one of the worst weather storms in the history of our country.” The floods exposed a large housing crisis, as well as geological challenges. Green policies are in place for Durban but the perspectives of residents are not taken into account. Many blame the “predatory political elite.”
Many other large African cities experienced severe flooding too. Accra flooded, as it does every year. This video and this one tells the story. Better policy can address frequent flooding in coastal cities, but don’t forget the everyday politics. #AccraFloods. Mombasa, Freetown, N’djamena, and Kinshasa all experienced severe floods as well. And hundreds were killed and more than 1.4 million are displaced in Northern Nigeria. Residents are doing their best to cope as entire neighborhoods sat under water (videos tell the story).
13. Peaceful election in Kenya
Kenyans elected William Ruto for president. The vote was peaceful with minor issues. The Deep Dish podcast hosted by Elizabeth Shackelford with Kathleen Klaus and Murithi Mutiga provides an excellent summary of the election. Some takeaways? Women won very important seats at the subnational level. Many long-serving politicians lost. Turnout was lower than in 2017, as many youth stayed home (but this does not mean they are apathetic). We are learning more about what it takes to win elections at the subnational level, including grassroots organizing and connections to those in power. Institutionalization matters, and there is hope. Kenyans might be faced with a system that yields bad candidates. But the election could strengthen democracy in the region.
Who is Kenya’s president-elect? Watch Neha Wadekar’s interview with Ruto, and the Carnegie Endowment's recent event. Sarah Elderkin examines Ruto’s violent past. Meet his deputy president Geoffrey Rigathi Gachagua. This is what Ruto’s victory might mean for the economy. Susanne Mueller explains the changing ethnic calculus that led to William Ruto’s victory. These are four reasons Odinga struggled. Ruto campaigned hard, and his win in Central Kenya propelled him to the presidency. Ruto’s win signals a shift away from Kenya’s political dynasties. Rashid Abdi discusses what Ruto’s win might mean for the region. TIFA Research published this report of Kenya’s 2022 election.
14. We lost some legends
Paul Farmer died at the age of 62. Ruth Levine explains his enormous impact on global development. He wanted to make the world his patient, writes Tracy Kidder.
RIP Amos Sawyer, Senegalese musician Rudy Gomis, Dr. Alex Magaisa, South African poet Don Mattera, Biyi Bándélé, Mike Davis. Angola’s former dictator José Eduardo dos Santos died, and so did Kenya’s former president Mwai Kibaki. And we cannot forget Queen Elizabeth. The queen’s death renewed the debate about the legacy of the British Empire in Africa. Former colonies are rethinking their lasting ties. Queen Elizabeth wasn’t innocent of her empire’s sins.
15. Some fun links from daily life
The beauty of Mogadishu. Meet the Ghanaian “Skate gal!” Take me to Marero Beach. Karen Attiah takes down William and Kate’s cringeworthy Caribbean tour. Oh man: an ethnography for fad diets. Meet the guitar maker of the eastern Congo. A street art mural in Zimbabwe exposes a divided society. Meet the surfers of Sierra Leone. How did Ghana’s top footballers end up in America? The beautiful Mt. Kirinyaga. Oh, Lagos. A beautiful coastline. The future of green architecture is in West Africa. A Kenyan climber joins the first all-black team attempting to scale Mount Everest. Kampala from above. Meet Michael Tetteh, Ghana’s glass blower.
The political importance of Afrobeat. Senegal’s football coach Aliou Cissé is taking Africa to new heights. Meet the designers kickstarting Africa’s style revolution. A tribute to highlife musician Orlando Julius Ekemode. These are cool photos of a bass band that trains in Sierra Leone. Yum. Black rodeo. Abidjan, at night. Underpasses in Nairobi. A beautiful run. In Dakar, African art speaks in all its voices. Ibrahim Mahama’s art installation in Tamale is very cool. Uganda’s Tuktuks. Nyawira Githae writes: One day I will learn to speak my mother tongue. Meet the woman behind Ghana’s first skate park. Awesome: Nakasero Market in Kampala. And camels. Egyptian women do ride bikes. Ghana’s pan-African museum seeks to reclaim African history.
The NBA bets on Africa. Ons Jaebur is the first African to make it to a Wimbledon Final. Watching tennis in Tunisia. The largest ever exhibition on African fashion. “Grandmothers are our weather app.” I love this: kids do Bollywood! Chale Wote was awesome. The art of Benin City. Yeah, I’ll eat dinner with Adichie.
These are six of the best African films in 2022. These are the best African books and African Films of 2022. And these are the best reads for African radicals in 2022. And let’s not forget The Woman King, which tells the story of the Agojie, a group of women warriors who fought for the kingdom of Dahomey in the early 1800s. Leonard Wantchekon was a historical advisor on the film. This is what the film gets wrong – and right – about Dahomey’s women warriors. Karen Attiah explains that the Dahomey is no feminist utopia. Rosalyn Morris argues that we should not forget the role of Africa in the slave trade.
Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and happy new year!!
Jeff and Phil