Africa: Year in Review
By admin December 18, 2014


Whether you see the glass half full or half empty, Africa has experienced its fair share of booms and busts in 2014. Today’s blog highlights several stories that made 2014 memorable for African development and tragedy. We’ll start with the more hopeful stories first.


2014 was the year that Nigeria finally lived up to its potential and became the largest economy in Africa. As of April this year, Nigeria’s GDP was worth $510bn, an astonishing 89% increase on the year before. In contrast, South Africa, last year’s number one, trails far behind at just $370bn. Nigeria’s economy hasn’t fundamentally changed overnight. It’s just that for the first time in two decades, the country’s statisticians calculated its size correctly. By failing to rebase the GDP calculation since 1990 (i.e. failing to update the basket of goods and costs from which it is extrapolated) the country had worked with a grossly distorted picture of its economy for many years. That’s not to say the new figure is proof that the economy is healthy. It is too reliant on oil, and taking a pummeling from the drop in global oil prices. Although, now the Nigerian government and investors know what they are dealing with. The new figure cements Nigeria’s reputation as the most attractive investment destination on the continent, and also gives it a huge diplomatic advantage.

Burkina Faso

Over the course of a couple of days in late October an awe-inspiring display of people power in Burkina Faso forced President Blaise Compaoré to rush into exile. It was a humiliating exit for the man who had ruled Burkina Faso since 1987, and was angling for even more time in the presidential palace. In a continent where dictators and presidents-for-life are all too common, this was a magnificent example that power is not immutable and people can be in control of their own destinies. At the moment, there’s an interim government in place that is largely dominated by military men. The big question, though, is what happens next?


Ebola has not spread further in to West Africa. This was a real danger. With the region’s porous borders, poor health systems and dense populations, all the conditions for a region-wide epidemic were present. That it didn’t happen reflects very well on the various governments and international organizations involved. USAID partnered with the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Department of Defense and launched Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development to help health care workers on the front lines provide better care and stop the spread of Ebola. The program helps engage the global community to identify ingenious ideas that deliver practical and cost-effective innovations in a matter of months, not years. It forges public private partnerships necessary to test and scale these innovations and it provides critical funding to get some of the most promising ideas into the field quickly. The biggest scare came in Lagos, Africa’s largest city, when a man infected with Ebola arrived at the airport from Liberia. He died a few days later, but infected several others before he did so. The Nigerian government reacted swiftly: they traced and quarantined anyone the man had come into contact with, and launched a nation-wide publicity blitz urging people to avoid physical contact. It worked. The virus was contained.

The Economy

According to Forbes, sub-Saharan Africa will have experienced economic growth of around 6% in 2014, which is slightly higher than last year. The continent as a whole is also home to seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies, and has a collective GDP in excess of $2,000bn. Real income, meanwhile, has risen by more than 30% over the last ten years. This means more and more people are escaping poverty.


Now we will examine the not sohopeful side we saw of Africa this year:

South Sudan

Achieving independence from Sudan in 2011, it was just two-and-a-half years later, on 15 December 2013, that fighting erupted in the capital Juba. The main protagonists were the two most powerful men in the country: Salva Kiir, the president, and his deputy Riek Machar. This year that divide has spiraled into a full-fledged civil war between the government on one side and Machar’s loose band of militia groups, known as the Nuer White Armies.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram has always been dangerous, but this year it has begun to behave a little differently. Throwing down the gauntlet to the hapless Nigerian security forces, Boko Haram has supplemented its guerrilla tactics with the more traditional tactics of a secessionist movement: the seizure and occupation of territory. In the process it is turning its fight against the Nigerian government into a de facto civil war.


Since Gaddafi’s death, Libya has slowly disintegrated into anarchy. No one is in charge of the country, and as far as the West is concerned, the worst outcome is the foothold that the Islamic State (ISIS), through its Libyan affiliate Ansar al-Sharia, is establishing in and around Benghazi.


Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are countries with few clinics, fewer hospitals, no public health information services and a woefully low number of doctors. According to the more generous estimates, prior to the outbreak there were just 200 doctors in Liberia, for a population of 3.5 million – that’s roughly one doctor for every 175,000 people. Ebola spread not because of the disease itself, but because these countries could not provide their citizens with even the most basic health requirements; and, crucially, the governments in question had so little credibility that people simply refused to trust its health and safety warnings. Ultimately, the Ebola outbreak is a failure of governance. The economic impact is also devastating. These are already poor countries, and Ebola has crushed whatever economic progress there was. According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s growth rate this year will be 4% (compared to 11.4% pre-crisis); Liberia’s will be 2.2% (compared to 5.5%); and Guinea’s will be 0.5% (compared to 4.5%).


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