Utafiti: Journal of African Perspectives


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New at Brill: Afrika Focus

This journal promotes critical and worldly debates with Africa at the centre. 

New Series: Africa Futures / Afrique Futurs

Published in association with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Africa Futures features cutting-edge research that critically reflects on some of the big questions relevant to imagining Africa’s future as a place.

Listen to our podcast on Africa and Climate Change

Robin Attfield talks about how Africa finds itself vulnerable to drought but also the flooding of its coastline, among other untoward environmental effects of climate change and civil war.


Africa experts have long bemoaned the rest of the world’s tendency to focus on Africa’s troubles while ignoring positive developments on the continent. In 2012, Europeans who relied primarily on media reports and press releases for news about African affairs could have been forgiven for having security-related concerns uppermost in their minds. Examples included the runaway success of the YouTube sensation, Kony 2012, which was watched by millions in Europe and North America, sparking wide-ranging debates not only about brigandry, blood diamonds, child soldiers and foreign intervention, but also about images of Africa and how these are interpreted in the ‘West’. The massive attention generated by the video prompted EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton to issue a statement reminding everyone that the EU fully supported international efforts to end the terror campaign being carried out by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Coverage of the crisis in Mali following the 21 March coup d’état probably did not spark as much activity in the blogosphere as did Kony 2012, but the crisis’ regional dimensions and perceived potential to incubate threats to Europe itself soon prompted many European policymakers and pundits to beat the drums for intervention. In East Africa, violent flare-ups between Sudan and the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan occupied many column inches in the first half of the year. West Africa’s conflicts were remembered in coverage of appearances before international tribunals in The Hague by former Liberian president Charles Taylor and former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo. Meanwhile, Africa’s pirates were never far from European television screens.


The political year was dominated by the 31 August elections. In the run-up to the elections, opposition parties were surprisingly vocal in their criticism of the government, while youth protests faced administrative obstruction and increasingly violent repression. The elections were marked by irregularities and were won by the incumbent president and his party, with a comfortable majority. Abroad, the year was marked by the fiasco of the country’s engagement in Guinea-Bissau and continued dominance over the Portuguese economy; relations with the USA hit a low. Although the economy showed signs of recovery and diversification away from oil, socioeconomic conditions for the vast majority of the population remained dire and 10% of the population were affected by famine.

Economic growth was slower than expected despite important investments in the two main drivers of the economy: the Port of Cotonou and the cotton sector. Poor performance in both resulted in political tension between President Boni Yayi and private investor Patrice Talon. This caused a shift in policies regarding private-public partnerships. Political debates were dominated by two contested legislative proposals: the revision of the electronic electoral register and a reform of the constitution. An alleged conspiracy against the president at year’s end aggravated the political and economic situation further.

The domestic political scene was dominated by the opposition parties’ cooperation talks that established the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) to challenge the domination of the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). The UDC was made up of the Botswana National Front (BNF), the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD; an off-shot of the BDP), and the Botswana Peoples Party (BPP). Consistent with its foreign policy principles, Botswana promoted good governance, democracy and human rights on the international stage. The country’s economy recorded some positive growth amid uncertainty in the global economic environment – once again demonstrating its volatility and the need to diversify to become less vulnerable as a result of mineral dependency. Unremitting social problems, which may pose a threat to the country’s stability, remained.


Burkina Faso experienced a politically quiet year compared with previous years. Two nation-wide elections were conducted peacefully. The dominant ruling party secured its absolute majority in the National Assembly and won two-thirds of all municipal seats, leaving the opposition far behind. Testing its electoral strength for the first time, former finance minister Zéphirin Diabré’s new party became the leading opposition force. Although statistics continued to show solid economic growth, the socioeconomic situation remained precarious for most of the population and a loss of confidence in the state’s capacities gave rise to increased real and potential local tensions. President Compaoré, still very active on the international scene, became the official ECOWAS mediator in the conflict in neighbouring Mali.

In 2012, Burundi celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence. The year was marked by increasing consolidation of the political dominance of the ruling ‘Conseil National pour la Défense de la Démocratie – Forces de Défense de la Démocratie’ (CNDD-FDD). Despite some timid attempts at promoting political dialogue with opposition leaders in exile, the dominant party built on its 2010 electoral triumph to further establish its hegemony, in particular in Burundi’s rural areas where, with the support of the CNDD-FDD youth wing, opposition parties’ political action was suppressed on several occasions. Although some violent clashes were reported and insurgent activities were documented by the UN Group of Experts on the DRC, the year saw no armed rebellion capable of posing a serious security threat to the regime. The relationship between the government and the UN presence in Burundi was marked by some tension, related inter alia to an inquiry around alleged extrajudicial executions and continuing disagreement over the mandate and composition of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the establishment of which was announced by President Nkurunziza on several occasions. A major donor conference held in October was seen as a solid success for the government. Civil society remained very outspoken, including in its campaign against corruption, despite repeated cases of intimidation by security forces, in particular the intelligence service. Economic growth remained quite modest, with no substantial acceleration in sight.


6 November was a historic day of great symbolic importance in Cameroon’s modern history: President Paul Biya celebrated his thirtieth year in power. However, the year’s most important political event was, without a doubt, the sidelining of Marafa Hamidou Yaya, one of the barons of the Biya regime, who was arrested and convicted of corruption. There were no major developments on the social and economic fronts, but the country was shaken by disturbing social unrest arising from specific events.


One year after its defeat in the legislative elections, the opposition ‘Movimento para a Democracia’ (MpD) won the municipal elections on 1 July with 46.3% of the votes and increased the number of municipalities it held from 11 to 13. Despite the international crisis, the number of tourists increased by 12.3% in comparison with 2011. The strengthening of relations with China, the US and the EU resulted in the granting of additional bilateral aid and, in the case of the EU, a visa facilitation agreement, the first for an African country.


Although West Africa’s hotspot, Mali, was grabbing media headlines worldwide, Central Africa again had its share of violent conflict and related damage elsewhere too. As in previous years, this mostly concerned the DRC and CAR. With the CEMAC Commission in a severe leadership crisis, it was only CEEAC that appeared to function more or less according to expectations; a timid first initiative to merge the two main and semi-competing sub-regional organisations started towards the end of the year.


The CAR continued on the downward spiral it had been experiencing since 1996 of frequent violent episodes with intervals too short to allow for recovery, and state capacity deteriorated further. In December, a new rebel alliance attacked major provincial cities, threatening to march on the capital, Bangui. The dreaded Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of Ugandan origin, stepped up its activities during the year with 48 attacks recorded, despite a new multinational military initiative.