E merging from the dark depths of shutdowns, lay-offs, lock-downs and isolation in 2020, 2021 was supposed to be the year of hope - of some kind. It did its best iteration, with some uncomfortable caveats. While the uptick in vaccination across the world helped forge a path back to global growth, the spatial concentration of jabs distributions eerily mirrored the sharp contours of geopolitics and geoeconomics. How global powers of all shapes and sizes managed the transition to a post-COVID-19 paradigm revealed important clues about the state of the world and emerging dynamics.
Nigeria’s economy, like most economies around the world, saw some recovery from pandemic induced (and policy enabled) shocks. But it was insufficient to assure price stability, support wage growth, enhance food security, make a significant dent in unemployment or reverse rising poverty. Coupled with rising security threats in every region - gang attacks in the Northwest, a reinvigorated insurgency in the North-East and low-level armed confrontations in the South-East being the prominent cause of at least 9,500 Nigerian deaths this year - and political instability, 2021 represented another lost opportunity for policymakers to make needed headway in confronting the country’s growing social and economic challenges.
Developments on the continent left a lot to be desired. Coups took centre stage in every region save for the south. Less than two years into the third decade of the 21st Century, there have been seven coups already. In the 2000s, there were 13. Disaffected elements in politically stressed countries - from palace overthrows in Guinea, Mali and Sudan to democratic erosion in Ethiopia and Tunisia - are increasingly choosing a discredited tool of political change. Rebellion in the Horn of Africa, sectarian violence in Central Africa, insurgency in southern Africa, bomb attacks in East Africa and Islamic State’s strategic inroads everywhere (it now claims at least three “provinces”) mean leaders across the continent will be forced to contend with the middling economic returns that have accompanied decades of democratic governance.
The defining issue of the human race over the rest of the century will be the climate crisis and Africa is squarely in the firing line. Save for island countries around the world, the continent will be the most impacted. Erratic weather patterns, climate-change-enhanced “La Niña” and inadequate mitigation measures have led to debilitating locust infestations, crop failures, droughts and supercharged resource competition.
COP26 failed to meet most of its lofty aims (although it laid the outlines of a carbon market) and with the return of renewed big power competition, Africans must seize the gun in evolving home-grown solutions or risk being a geopolitical dumping ground for fancy initiatives.
Coming back home, 2022 is officially not an election year but the political elite’s favourite rat race will mean that electoral calculations, permutations and projections will dominate the airwaves and commentariat. Historically low voter turnout, however, in key local council elections across the election and the only off-cycle state vote in 2021 - Anambra - show the electorate is not as psyched up. Africa’s largest democracy is head deep in a crisis of legitimacy and if history is any guide, popular disaffection is a precursor to the erosion of democracy itself. 2022 will be a seminal year in showing if Nigeria can maintain this two decade-plus democratic run. 2021 held the promise of jump-starting a transition from a time when the world literally stood still but ultimately delivered little more than a faint kick. Will 2022 pick up the gauntlet? It’s anyone’s guess.