Africa has peaceful polls in 2022 but hit by coups, droughts

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Elections, coups, disease outbreaks and extreme weather are some of the main events that occurred across Africa in 2022.

Problems brewed thousands of miles away — climate change and the war in Ukraine — have been devastating to the continent, say experts.

The climate crisis is hitting Africa “first and hardest,” said Kevin Mugenya, a senior resilience and food security advisor for Africa at Mercy Corps, an international charity.

The continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion people is facing “a catastrophic global food crisis” that “will worsen if actors do not act quickly,” Mugenya told The Associated Press.

With less than 1% of arable land equipped for irrigation in a continent that suffers one-third of global droughts, African farmers are exposed to erratic rainfall, rising temperatures and droughts, according to an International Monetary Fund policy paper.

The deadly effects of extreme weather conditions are amplified in the Horn of Africa. The worst drought in decades that has seen a fifth failed rainy season in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia is affecting about 40 million people, according to the United Nations.

In Nigeria, 1 million acres of farmland were submerged following the worst flooding in a decade that displaced more than 1.3 million people and destroyed crops that were already faltering in some areas due to prolonged conflict, said Mercy Corps.

Humanitarian support to Africa has dwindled as the war in Ukraine distracts key donors, according to aid agencies.

Donors reacted in “a timely and generous fashion — to Ukraine especially,” said the U.N refugee agency, in a September report. Half of the agency’s 12 “most important operations” that are struggling to get funding are in Africa, said the report.

Rising food prices due to the Ukraine war harshly affected sub-Saharan Africa, which imported 44% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine between 2018 and 2020, according to U.N. figures.

On the political front, peaceful elections in Angola, Kenya, Lesotho and Senegal, were bright spots for Africa.

But armed conflict loomed large across the continent. Jihadi insurgencies plagued Somalia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Burkina Faso and Mali. The extremist violence threatened to spread to even more countries, especially in West Africa’s Sahel region.

Eastern Congo suffered violence by several armed militia, especially the M23 group. As insecurity worsened and the M23 rebels advanced to take some territory, including a major town in August, Congo and neighboring Rwanda threatened to go to war as each side accused the other of supporting armed groups in the mineral-rich region.

In Ethiopia, the continued presence in Eritrea of government-allied forces who are accused of some of the worst abuses in the two-year war between Ethiopian and regional Tigray forces, threatens a November peace deal to end a conflict that has been far deadlier than the one in Ukraine.

Burkina Faso’s two coups — the first in January and another in September — brought Russia’s involvement in the West African country under scrutiny. Within hours of the second coup, the head of Russia’s shadowy mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, was among the first to congratulate the new junta leader.

Protesters waving Russian flags attacked the French Embassy and the French Institute in the capital, Ouagadougou. Many said they believed that Wagner mercenaries are better equipped to stop Burkina Faso’s jihadi violence than Western allies like France.

Wagner Group mercenaries already have established footholds for Russia in at least half a dozen African countries. These include the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali, which is battling an insurgency similar to the one in Burkina Faso that has killed thousands and displaced some 2 million people. The Wagner Group has been accused of committing human rights abuses in Mali.

The deepening instability caused by Islamic extremist rebels in the Sahel has caused “massive population displacement” across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, according to the U.N.’s World Food Program. The insurgencies and coups have also heightened fears that democracy is backsliding in West Africa, say analysts.

The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic receded across the continent but not before exposing global inequalities in the distribution of vaccines.

After the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Uganda in September, the World Health Organization appealed for about $88 million to fight the re-emerging disease. But by November, the WHO said it had only received 20% of the amount.

An outbreak of mpox — formerly known as monkeypox — spread around the world. Vaccinations were available in rich, Western countries for the first time, but despite recording many deaths, poorer Africa was starved of the vaccines.

Africa’s improved capacity to fight disease outbreaks — largely built on the experience of battling COVID-19 — is providing some optimism ahead of 2023.

Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa regional director, said at an online briefing on Dec. 11 that “the future, however difficult the past couple of years have been, will find us in a much better situation in terms of our strategies, our investments, and our capacities to confront public health threats.”

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Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal and Cara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed.

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