Annual Forecast 2009: Sub-Saharan Africa

Published on 17th February 2009

Global Trend: The Global Recession and Sub-Saharan Africa


Not only does sub-Saharan Africa depend utterly on the rest of the world for development capital, but its integration into the global economy is limited to its export of raw materials. Since the global system is awash in raw materials that are cheap and getting cheaper, investment into Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the first capital flows to be suspended in a broad recession and one of the last to be restarted. Consequently, all the major global players in African goings-on will take a year off, and projects of all sizes will be downgraded, delayed or abandoned outright.


The only major outside player that will do more than dabble in the region in 2009 is the United States, and its interest will be largely limited to small counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa, a sideshow in the much broader jihadist war.


Economic development in Africa in 2009 will be affected by three major factors. First, outsiders will only be interested in basic exploration — new project development will have to wait for another day. Second, the only two states that can engage in any noticeable development efforts are Angola — which, as a new oil producer, has a fat wallet — and South Africa, which has some indigenous economic sectors more advanced than simple commodity production. Finally, Nigeria will have a particularly violent year. Ruling Nigeria in the best of times requires a continual network of bribery channels. Since Nigeria does not have the funds to pay off various clashing interests without crude oil revenue, and that revenue is drying up, 2009 will see a torrent of kidnapping, bunkering, theft and violence in the Niger Delta. However, direct attacks against the region’s oil infrastructure will be less frequent, as militants and their political patrons do not for the time being want oil production — or the money that it generates — interrupted.


Regional Trend: Angola Arrives


In our 2008 annual forecast, Stratfor explained how South Africa’s preoccupation with its leadership transition and the influx of petrodollars into Angola would make Angola a new regional power on the continent. Despite the economic downturn, Angola remains capital-rich — the money earned from ever-increasing oil production flowed in so fast (complementing revenue from Angola’s significant diamond mining sector) that the country did not have enough time to develop mechanisms to spend it. Furthermore, South Africa will remain distracted for the first half of 2009, cementing Angola’s arrival as a major power on par with both South Africa and Nigeria. The core of Angola’s power is not population (like Nigeria) or industrial strength (like South Africa) but a combination of cash and a battle-hardened population finally free of a decades-long civil war.


Since Angola does not know its own strength, and it does not face any existential domestic or foreign threats at present, 2009 will be a year for testing the waters. Angola’s primary playground will be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where a long-simmering war in the North Kivu province continues to attract other African states’ interest and involvement. But Angola has a broader goal: roll back South Africa’s heretofore dominant position in Southern Africa.


Before South Africa can begin to recognize, much less respond to, Angola’s arrival it must complete its leadership transition from former President Thabo Mbeki to Jacob Zuma (via caretaker President Kgalema Motlanthe). That will not happen until the second half of 2009, and that assumes that the transition goes completely as planned. More likely, political infighting in South Africa will force Zuma to take the rest of the year to consolidate his power at home, which gives Angola ample time to stretch its wings.


With kind permission from Stratfor

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