Utafiti: Journal of African Perspectives


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At the end of 2020, EU high representative Josep Borrell declared that 2021 would be Europe’s ‘Africa Year’. The problem, though, was that Africa did not declare 2021 to be its ‘Europe year’, and for various reasons, for most of 2021, au–eu relations found themselves in the proverbial freezer. At the same time, other partners continued to foster their ties with Africa. Towards the end of the year, the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (focac) convened in Dakar in November, followed by the Turkey–Africa Partnership Summit in Istanbul in December. Formal engagement with the eu, meanwhile, remained limited to a meeting of foreign ministers in Kigali in October, the first such meeting since January 2020, during which the au ‘took note’ of the EU’s intention to host the next au–eu summit in Brussels on 17 and 18 February 2022.


Parliamentary politics were to a large extent dominated by party manoeuvrings ahead of the 2022 elections that included the retroactive invalidation of the major opposition party’s last congress by the constitutional court. The killing of peaceful protesters in Cafunfo, Lunda-Norte, by the police in January set the tone for increased repression of protests, though citizen contestation was nonetheless on the rise. Foreign affairs were slow-going and the economy remained sluggish, both as an effect of the pandemic, with citizens suffering from further aggravation of costs of living.


Benin national news in 2021 was rich and varied. It was strongly marked by the April elections, arrests of members of the political opposition, the vaccination campaign against Covid-19, jihadist attacks, and a series of political, economic, and social reforms that affected every sector. Several actors came to the fore and various circumstances arose that placed Benin at the heart of social, economic, political, judicial, security, health, and environmental debates in the sub-regional and global contexts.

As in the previous year, the domestic scene was dominated by Covid-19 as it continued to paralyse the country’s socioeconomic development trajectory. Besides Covid-19, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (diss), corruption, and the feud between President Mokgweetsi Masisi and former president Ian Khama continued to attract newspaper headlines. The country upheld its foreign policy, and its socioeconomic development trajectory was impacted by Covid-19.


In 2021, Burkina Faso witnessed a worsening security crisis and a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Militant Islamist groups continued to ravage the countryside as violence reached record levels, pushing up the number of internally displaced people. Roughly, one in thirteen Burkinabé citizens had been forcibly displaced by conflict by year’s end. The armed forces remained overstretched and unable to address the rising insecurity. Massacres of civilians and missteps by the military’s top brass prompted the president to reshuffle his cabinet and military leadership. The government sought new security partners as it was announced that the French would begin to withdraw their military assistance from the region. Despite security concerns and the Covid-19 pandemic, the biennial pan-African film and television festival in Ouagadougou took place in October after a postponement. After 34 years, the trial of former president Thomas Sankara’s assassins opened in October.

In the first year of his presidency, Évariste Ndayishimiye introduced several reforms and measures – though limited and at times ambiguous – to improve governance and accountability, and made timid concessions with regard to civil liberties. Human rights violations and several armed attacks, however, continued to cause concern. In a departure from the isolationist foreign policy of his predecessor, Ndayishimiye showed considerable openness to engaging with regional and international bilateral partners and multinational bodies. This markedly improved Burundi’s diplomatic relations and its standing in the international arena after five years of isolation. The repatriation of Burundian refugees who had fled in the context of the 2015 political crisis further accelerated. The weak Burundian economy continued to struggle to recover from the adverse impact of the crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic. Economic growth remained low and poverty levels rampant.


The ruling Movimento para a Democracia (MpD) won the legislative elections in April, while former prime minister José Maria Neves (of Partido Africano da Independência de Cabo Verde – paicv) won the presidential elections in October. In July, the government unilaterally reversed the privatisation of Cabo Verde Airlines (cva) by taking over the 51% stake sold to Loftleidir Icelandic in 2019, on the grounds that the latter had not fulfilled its obligations. The crucial tourism sector began to successively recover from the effects of the pandemic but still lagged behind compared with previous years’ performance.


The situation in Cameroon presented stark contrasts, with the country organising a pan-African sports competition while at the same time continuing to wage a war in two of its ten regions, where its army sustained its heaviest casualties since the beginning of the conflict in 2017. While parts of the population suffered from the economic consequences of the security situation and of the health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the country experienced renewed growth in spite of the fact that the level of corruption remained high.


The opaque and unconstitutional father-to-son transition in Chad after Idriss Déby’s violent death was but one example of the fully undemocratic style of governance in the entire region – and it impacted heavily on inter-regional relations, where Chad had been one of the most active players. A new impulse from the Angolan diplomacy to revive ceeac and icglr represented the most notable response within the sub-region. Measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were suspended or gradually lowered, while vaccination rates remained low in most countries. Somewhat vague hopes for a gradual economic recovery after a very harsh 2020 were voiced by the imf.