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African politics in 2022: More than coups and conflict

The TMC 2022 roundups: African politics

Supporters of Capt. Ibrahim Traore wave a Russian flag in the streets of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Oct. 2. (Sophie Garcia/AP)
6 min

This month’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit brought leaders from across the continent to D.C. for several days of events, culminating with the announcement of $55 billion in American financial commitments. This uncommon level of attention to African affairs indicates the latest evolution in the relationship between the continent’s fast-growing markets and the United States, which significantly lags behind China in terms of investment and engagement in Africa. It also prompts us to reflect on what we learned from and about Africa this year.

Coups and conflict made the news

Conflicts and political instability across the continent continued to dominate headlines this year. Since 2020, there have been six successful coups in Africa. The political science analysis we publish here at TMC included insights from Kristen Harkness on the “coup epidemic,” while Erica De Bruin and Maggie Dwyer explained how this wave of African coups differs from previous ones — namely, because military leaders who come to power through coups are now more likely to turn to elections.

Coup attempts often produced mixed consequences, and removing military leaders from power to restore civilian rule later on can be difficult. Dwyer’s analysis also helped us to understand how Burkina Faso’s coup makers capitalized on wider grievances within the ranks to successfully take over. Jori Breslawski and Madeline Fleishman discussed the possibility that ECOWAS, West Africa’s regional bloc, could help the country return to civilian rule. And Aoife McCullough answered one big question: why coup supporters in Burkina Faso were waving Russian flags.

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Josef Woldense explained what a failed March coup attempt meant for politics in Guinea-Bissau. And Salah Ben Hammou discussed the (low) likelihood that Sudan’s military leaders would step aside.

While late 2022 brought tentatively good news for the end of hostilities in northern Ethiopia, the effects of the war on millions of civilians will continue for years to come. Lauren Carruth and Lahra Smith looked at the reasons Ethiopians flee abroad and the impact of undocumented migration for women. Sally Sharif examined the most (and least) effective ways to demobilize and reintegrate Tigrayean soldiers into civilian life.

After the publication of an investigative report on abuses in a U.N.-led camp in South Sudan, Audrey Comstock explained how punishment for those committing sexual exploitation and abuse within U.N.-sponsored missions is rare.

But TMC’s 2022 articles covered much more

TMC has featured many articles centering the perspectives of ordinary Africans, through our partnership with Afrobarometer, a Pan-African research network conducting nationally representative surveys in three dozen African countries. For example, ahead of the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, Joseph Asunka, Carolyn Logan and Brian Howard contributed analysis on Africans’ top concerns and priorities: unemployment and government economic mismanagement. Afrobarometer analysts also wrote on citizens’ skepticism of police forces, their demands that governments address climate change, and the challenges accessing clean water and covid relief grants.

The long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian war in Ukraine has taken a toll on African economies. Attempting to bolster domestic revenue, Ghana’s president announced a new “e-levy” — a charge on mobile money transactions — and Richard Aidoo explained the political debate surrounding this move. George Bob-Milliar and Rachel Sigman went in-depth about how Ghana’s economic crisis is reshaping its politics.

Kathleen Klaus and Jane Mango Angar published a great TMC explainer ahead of Kenya’s elections this year. Prisca Jost and Ellen Lust explained what vote buying is, where it thrives and how we might reorient our thinking if the goal is to enhance democracy.

Professors: Check out all of TMC’s expanded topic guides

New books on African politics

With a wonderful group of volunteers, we reviewed 17 books for our summer reading series — which continued into the fall, thanks to an unfortunately timed bout of covid. All the reviews are listed at the bottom of the last review we posted, which covered three books analyzing the politics of migration and seeking refuge.

Books published late in 2022 that we didn’t have a chance to review but we recommend include Olúfemi Táíwò’s “Against Decolonisation: Taking African Agency Seriously,” Keith Weghorst’s “Activist Origins of Political Ambition: Opposition Candidacy in Africa’s Electoral Authoritarian Regimes” and Holly Hanson’s “To Speak and Be Heard: Seeking Good Government in Uganda, ca. 1500-2015.” You can also learn more about Emmanuel Balogun’s new book, “Region-Building in West Africa” in this interview he did with Kim Yi Dionne.

A special shout-out to Robtel Neajai Pailey, whose book “Development, (Dual) Citizenship and Its Discontents in Africa: The Political Economy of Belonging to Liberia” won the African Politics Conference Group’s 2022 Best Book Award. Felicity Turkmen reviewed it for TMC in 2021.

West Africa’s new regional peacekeeping force, explained

Other things you shouldn’t miss, published in 2022

Here are a few things we found interesting and informative beyond TMC’s analysis and writing on Africa.

TMC has a tradition of seeking political science angles on the World Cup, and we wish we had published this outstanding essay by Hisham Aidi. Through the lens of the Moroccan team — the first African team to reach the World Cup’s semifinals — Aidi’s beautifully written piece published in Africa is a Country taught us about African migration, “Third-World solidarity” and identity.

Nanjala Nyabola wrote a powerful essay deeming Kenya’s 2022 elections boring, highlighting instead the importance of the everyday building and caretaking of democracy.

The free e-magazine weekly The Continent is a must-read. Start with a deep dive into understanding the political factors shaping the electricity crisis that regularly leaves many South Africans without power for hours and sometimes days.

If you missed “The Woman King,” a historical, epic action film chronicling an all-female fighting force in the West African kingdom of Dahomey, be sure to catch this interview with Leonard Wantchekon, who served as the official film historian.

And we also encourage you to sign up for “This Week in Africa” newsletter, covering democracy, development and daily life across the continent. Curated by Jeff Paller and Phil Dube, it also includes special editions — like this excellent roundup of analysis published ahead of Kenya’s elections this year.

TMC insights on all things Africa will be back in 2023, after a brief hiatus — be sure to sign up for our newsletter to keep up with our relaunch plans!