After a stellar GDP growth in 2021, Africa finds itself grappling with uncertainty

After a stellar GDP growth in 2021, Africa finds itself grappling with uncertainty

The continent’s response to a fundamental shift in the international food and energy landscape will produce a wide range of investment opportunities

Africa’s GDP grew by an estimated 6.9% in 2021, revealing positive forward momentum. However, the continent will continue to face uncertainty, according to the seventh edition of their Africa Risk-Reward Index today: “Opportunity through uncertainty.”

The after-effects of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war are projected to impact the African continent’s economic outlook for many years. In 2021, about 22 million jobs ( were lost due to the pandemic, with 30 million people being pushed into extreme poverty. This number is estimated to rise by a further 1.8 million people in 2022. Increased costs, supply chain disruption, and climate change have exacerbated the continent’s food crisis. Across Africa, anti-government sentiment is already rising, as governments are seen failing to address socio-economic challenges. This year’s risk-reward scores paint a picture of a continent at an inflection point, where opportunities abound at a time of high uncertainty.

Shaping Africa’s role in the global energy transition

This article explores how the urgent global shift away from fossil fuels, combined with the disruption to European energy markets, has prompted a renewed focus on energy in Africa – both as a source of energy for other parts of the world and as a continent with the potential to “leapfrog” development through the widespread adoption of clean energy.

There are opportunities across the energy sub-sectors (renewables, oil, gas, hydrogen) and throughout the value chain (extraction, developers, generation, transmission, distribution, export), with governments largely welcoming investors.

“The [energy] transition in Africa needs to be staggered; many countries have and will exploit their fossil fuels while also developing their focus on renewables. Countries with high LNG potential, such as Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Nigeria, will see sustained investor interest, and conversations around ending flaring will be important to watch,” says Patricia Rodrigues, Senior Analyst at Control Risks.

“Private actors will need to be mindful of political risks, given the competition for projects in saturated markets, as well as contractual issues with governments, which can lead to delays. Investors should be aware of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns associated with their industry, given the potential for “greenwashing” and the continued extractive nature of many projects,” says Rodrigues.

Solving Africa’s food security problem

The disruption to global supply chains brought about first by the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, by the conflict in Ukraine, have highlighted Africa’s external dependence for most of its commodities and severe gaps in the continent’s internal supply chains, such as food. These challenges are prevalent, despite African countries having committed in 2019 to speed up regional integration under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

Most of Africa’s agriculture-related activity is subsistence; where it is not, getting food from farm to end-consumer is costly. A large infrastructure deficit in transport and power remains a key obstacle to addressing these challenges. 

“Africa’s dependence on imports of even the most basic foodstuffs is one of its most pressing issues,” says Jacques Nel, head of Africa macro at Oxford Economics Africa. “Given the continent’s dependence on rainfed agriculture and susceptibility to climate change, in the context of a global shift towards shoring-up national food security, the situation could deteriorate further. Addressing this issue will require public and private investment in storage & warehousing, agro-processing, agricultural infrastructure, and financial services. Technological developments in the fintech and agricultural sectors and progress on the AfCFTA could catalyse the development needed.”

Africa Risk-Reward Index

However, the continent’s policy environment is heavily protectionist, which will prevent improvements in the short term: many of the trade protocols of AfCFTA remain theoretical. Even within individual blocs, such as the East African Community and the Economic Community of West African States, there is competition rather than cooperation to serve primarily non-African markets. Land is also a highly politicised issue across the continent. Meanwhile, the so-called success stories in agriculture are also primarily extractive and focused on low-calorie crops (such as horticulture and cocoa). Questions also remain about value-addition and agri-manufacturing capabilities, which are growing from a very low base across the continent.

Cash-strapped governments navigating a wave of discontent

Anti-government sentiment is rising across many of Africa’s populations, with governments accused of failing to tackle the rising cost of living. Although this has driven unrest in many African capitals, it is unlikely to precipitate significant political change, as elites have either ignored concerns, co-opted popular movements to take power or to strengthen their own hold on authority, or simply do not have the financial capabilities to do anything tangible (with weak or non-existent welfare systems).

Incumbents and elites have made weak promises of reform but are unlikely to follow through despite rising public anger. Examples include Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa – the common thread being that opposition in these countries is vocal and disruptive but is mostly ineffective in engendering change.

A string of coups (in Sudan and several West African nations) was conducted on “behalf of the people,” with militaries deposing long-serving leaders and their incumbent parties. However, rather than leading to tangible change, military regimes have reneged or delayed transitions, proving themselves to be just as much a part of the establishment as the leaders they deposed. In Kenya, President William Ruto has adopted populist campaigns to differentiate himself from the elites. However, he is unlikely to follow through on populist promises, as he is part of the country’s elite.

Political stability risks will be heightened in the coming year as socio-economic challenges exacerbate deep inequalities and highlight governments’ inability to address them. In the year ahead, protests will likely directly or indirectly affect businesses. They should plan for risks such as incidental security threats, supply chain delays, looting, vandalism, or duty of care concerns for employees. 

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