JOHANNESBURG, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Political risks next year in Africa include a probable probe into Kenyan political violence, the health of Nigeria's president and any signs of a resurgence of the left under President Jacob Zuma in South Africa.
The soccer World Cup in the continent's biggest economy will also focus attention.
Following are summaries of the major issues:
SOCCER WORLD CUP AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN LEFT
South Africa has invested billions of dollars getting ready for the World Cup, but hopes to recoup that and more through increased investment and tourism in years to come.
If all goes well, the soccer extravaganza could help 'rebrand' Africa as a whole as a continent of opportunity, dynamism and promise rather than the poverty, famine and war with which it is more normally associated.
The potential pitfalls revolve mainly around the country's ability to handle an expected 450,000 foreign visitors during the month-long tournament -- an influx that is likely to stretch transport networks and hotels to the limits.
Foreign fans falling victim to notoriously high levels of violent crime would also be likely to generate ugly coverage around the world, tarnishing the intended positive image.
The external investment is also unlikely to flow as hoped if the left wing of the ruling African National Congress and the union movement get their way in skewing economic policy in favour of workers and the poor.
There have been few signs of this happening so far under Zuma, but the left have been promised a national "debate" next year about issues such as the central bank's inflation-targeting mandate.
Recent mud-slinging between the communists and various ANC and union factions suggests the left might not be as united as it would like, possibly weakening its ability to influence government thinking.
Watch out for:
- The changing fortunes of key cabinet members, such as former finance minister Trevor Manuel, now in charge of long-term planning, and former trade unionist Ebrahim Patel, now head of a new economic development ministry. .
- An African side, especially South Africa's lowly ranked Bafana Bafana, doing well in the World Cup -- a sure way to generate excitement across the continent.
- Stories about murdered foreign fans appearing on the front pages of international newspapers.
KENYAN POLITICAL VIOLENCE
The International Criminal Court in The Hague looks set to open a formal crimes against humanity investigation into Kenya's 2008 post-election violence, in which 1,220 people were killed and 350,000 forcibly displaced.
The process could lead to cabinet ministers and businessmen being indicted -- a major departure from the impunity normally enjoyed by Kenya's elite, but one which could trigger a resurgence of the tribally linked violence.
The unrest shattered Kenya's reputation for stability and hit growth in east Africa's largest economy. More fighting would have wider repercussions, particularly for landlocked Uganda and Rwanda, whose main trade routes are through Kenya.
Watch out for:
- Hague judges giving green light to crimes against humanity investigation
- Naming of suspects, and issuing of arrest warrants
- Reports of tribal/political militias re-arming
As if the prospect of a major election cycle in politically chaotic Nigeria were not enough, Africa's most populous country will be approaching its 2011 presidential run-off with President Umaru Yar'Adua sidelined by ill-health.
It remains to be seen whether Yar'Adua, who has been in hospital in Saudi Arabia for a month with a heart complaint, is fit enough to run for a second term.
His absence from the ballot would mean intense jockeying to replace him, with Nigeria's 'godfather'-like state governors having a large say in the final outcome -- something that would make the chance of serious political reform less likely.
Watch out for:
- Anything on Yar'Adua's state of health
- His final decision on whether or not to run in 2011
Sudanese elections scheduled for April 2010 are already stoking tensions between the National Congress Party (NCP), which dominates the north, and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls the oil-producing south.
The elections are key to laying the ground for a potentially explosive referendum in 2011 on southern secession -- part of a 2005 peace deal between the SPLM and NCP that ended more than two decades of north-south civil war.
Accusations of election rigging are already flying around and police teargassed and arrested opposition protesters in Khartoum this month.
A return to hostilities is not out of the question. Central and east Africa would probably feel the fallout.
Watch out for:
- Signs of the north-south war of words spiralling out of control
- Appointment of a referendum commission for the 2010 plebiscite
It may not have an economy to speak of, but the bloody anarchy gripping the Horn of African nation is certain to continue to make waves across the continent and the world.
International naval efforts to curb the activities of Somali pirates have made little headway against an industry that offers huge rewards for hundreds of young men with few other employment options.
Fighting between the Western-backed administration in Mogadishu and two Islamist rebel groups, al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, regularly spills over into neighbouring Kenya -- along with thousands of refugees.
Washington also believes al Shabaab is a proxy for Osama bin roomLaden's al Qaeda, bent on creating a safe haven for Islamic fighters to destabilise the immediate region and spread mayhem further afield by infiltrating the sizeable Somali diaspora.
Watch out for:
- Progress of the fighting between al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam for control of the lucrative southern port of Kismayu
- Somali-based militant attacks outside the country.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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