Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


In recent years, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied and intensified. Human rights and humanitarian law violations continued to deteriorate in 2023. And in the years to come, conflicts, impacts of the climate crisis and economic inequalities will remain the main drivers of humanitarian needs.

They will trigger waves of displacement and reduce access to income and essential services such as health and water. The region with the highest number of conflicts classified as “full-scale wars” is sub-Saharan Africa.

Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sahel and Sudan are causing unprecedented levels of vulnerability and human suffering. They lead to population displacement, and they pose significant challenges to protecting people. According to the latest available data more than 110 million people all over the world have been forcibly displaced by conflict.  The largest number of people in need of humanitarian assistance - 74.1 million - are in the East and sub-Saharan Africa region. The crisis in Sudan accounts for almost 40% of this total.

Hunger and violence

The vicious cycle of conflict and hunger continues in some of Africa’s war-torn regions. Nowhere was it worse in 2023 than in Burkina Faso, Mali, Somalia and South Sudan.

They are the only countries in the world designated as Phase 5, described as catastrophe/famine - the most severe level in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) system.

Famine is a complete collapse of the system. It’s not just a food issue: the whole society is collapsing. It’s a health issue. It’s a water issue. It’s a sanitation issue. And it’s a protection issue, because in such extreme environments people are highly vulnerable to exploitation and violence of all kinds.

The number of Africans facing acute food insecurity rose from 137 million in 2022 to a record 149 million in 2023. An estimated 82% of them are in conflict-affected countries.

In these regions, people are driven into acute food insecurity due to rampantly high levels of violence, conflict-related displacement and siege tactics by armed groups depriving the population from access to humanitarian assistance.

Africa at Davos 2024

The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum took place from 15 to 19 January in Davos, Switzerland. The programme embodied a “back to basics” spirit of open and constructive dialogue between leaders of government, business and civil society.

African delegations discussed how the continent can leverage the potential of frictionless trade and engagement to become a major player in global supply chains.

Davos 2024 presented a timely opportunity to ring the alarm and delve into the policy and public-private partnerships that could scale the African economy.

The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) launched Timbuktoo, a start-up fund with an initial $1 billion target to leverage Africa's youth and dynamism.

The fund is expected to provide financial support to innovative and dynamic start-ups, spurring economic growth, job creation and technological advancements across the continent by contributing to the development and empowerment of Africa's youth.

In this context the establishment of BRICS was considered a good opportunity to strengthen multilateralism and create access for partnerships between developed, developing and underdeveloped countries. On 1 January 2024, Ethiopia joined the BRICS (Brasil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) so that Africa is poised to play a pivotal role internationally when it comes to trade, investment and other economic activities.

Challenges for Africa

1. Conflicts and Coups

Fresh conflict, more military coups, the renewed Israel–Gaza conflict and the lingering Russia - Ukraine war are contributing to stifling growth across the continent.

Worsening political instability in parts of the continent, exemplified by the 9 military coups since 2020, including in Gabon and Niger in 2023, have sharpened focus on the fragility of constitutional rule. Countries already under military leadership are increasingly unstable, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and further coups are possible in them.

2. Economy

Many African states were already suffering due to slow post-COVID-19 recovery, climate change shocks, increased food insecurity, political instability, weak global growth and high interest rates. 33 of the 54 continent’s states are classified as least developed. These further shocks have pushed an estimated 55 million people into poverty since 2020 and reversed more than two decades of progress in poverty reduction.

3. Debt distress

At the beginning of 2024, 9 African states are in debt distress, a further 15 are at high risk and 14 at moderate risk. Zambia and Ghana defaulted on their debts. A pan-African payment system that will allow African nations to trade among themselves, using their own currencies, is however, gaining momentum.

4. Elections

2024 is a record year for elections globally and Africa will have 17 national presidential and/or legislative polls. The elections that will be most scrutinized will be Mozambique, which will have a new president, and South Africa, where all eyes are on whether the ruling African National Congress (ANC) can win an outright majority.

5. Summits

An Italy–Africa conference has just been hold in Rome and Italy, which is president of the G7, has pledged to make the continent a central theme while it is at the helm.

African Union to become G20 member

The US launched a new strategy to strengthen its partnership and held a second “US-Africa Leaders” Summit in Washington in December, the first since 2014.

The strategic importance of Africa has resulted in all the UN P5 (US, UK, France, Russia, China) members calling on the G20 to make the African Union (AU) its 21st member.

International competition to secure Africa’s critical and strategic minerals and energy products intensified in 2022 and, in the energy sector, European countries are seeking to diversify away from Russian oil and gas with alternative supplies, such as those from Africa.

Western mining companies and commodity traders are also increasingly seeking alternative supplies from Africa. Decarbonization is becoming a driver of resource nationalism and geopolitical competition in certain African mining markets, home to large deposits of critical transition minerals such as copper, cobalt, graphite, lithium, or nickel.

Anti-France push

France has the first right to buy any natural resources found on the territory of its former French colonies of West and Central Africa. These African countries are also not allowed to seek other partners freely as the preference is given to French interests and companies in the field of public procurement.

France has an exclusive right to supply military equipment and training to the African military by deploying troops and intervening in the African countries to defend France’s interests.

Moreover, France’s former colonies are forced to use the colonial currency FCFA (the CFA franc) and to send France an annual balance report. Besides, they are obliged to ally only with France during a situation of war or crisis. All in all, no wonder why French presidents and ministers are greeted by protests when they visit former French colonies in Africa.

Amid these tribulations, signs of an African renaissance,  in the former French colonies of West and Central Africa, herald a crucial juncture in shaping the continent's trajectory.

Calls for sovereignty and renewed partnerships aim to reshape the narrative, fostering economic autonomy and igniting a resurgence of cultural identity. Unrest in former French colonies has also been caused by state weaknesses which now, mainly in West Africa, often stems from factors that also include political instability, economic disparities, governance issues.

Generally causes vary across countries but commonly include corruption, weak institutions, ethnic tensions, and struggles for power among political elites.

In Mali, Guinea-Bissau, and  Burkina Faso, unrest has been driven by a mix of issues such as weak governance, ineffective institutions, ethnic rivalries, and insurgencies, leading to internal conflicts and power struggles.

These conflicts have implications beyond their borders, contributing to regional instability, affecting neighbouring countries, and sometimes leading to refugee crises.

Coups and Conflict Risks

Military coups regularly happen in countries with a traditionally politicised military that intervenes in times of political crisis and when the population is dissatisfied with civilian politicians. As a consequence, we are now witnessing the continued withdrawal of international missions and Western military. 

The UN lowered its flag in Mali at the end of December 2023, bringing an official close to its peacekeeping operation in the country while French troops had already left the country the year before. Following the coup in Niger in July 2023, the French military is now also set to withdraw from this Sahelian country whereas the US has accepted the new reality and will maintain a military presence there for the time being.

As France’s influence in Africa rapidly wanes, Russia is seeking to increase its military presence and to deepen other forms of engagement on the continent by capitalising on anti-French and partially anti-Western sentiment.

Ethno-regional and secessionist conflict risks remain rampant, not least in Central Africa as well as the Horn of Africa. The continent’s most intense recent war took place in Ethiopia. The conflict in the Tigray Region claimed at least 100,000 lives but seems to have come to an end.

Generally, conflict risks need to be watched closely, ideally before violence erupts. West Africa especially, but many other parts of the continent too, will be a testing ground for such preventive policies that tackle violent conflict before it breaks out. Donors, international organisations, and African governments and societies all need to live up to the challenge here.


For the African continent, 2024 represents a confluence of unique challenges that threaten to hinder its progress and stability. These multifaceted hurdles stem from a diverse array of global and regional phenomena, ranging from the reverberations of conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine to the economic turbulence sparked by the US interest rate hike.

Moreover, the looming specter of climate change, persistent civil strife, and the quest for a renewed African identity further compound these challenges. However, embedded within these adversities also lie opportunities for resilience, growth, and transformative change.

The ramifications of conflicts in distant regions like Ukraine and Palestine have intricately woven their effects into the global economic fabric. African nations, despite their geographical distance, find themselves entangled in the fallout from these conflicts.

The repercussions materialise in disrupted trade flows, volatile commodity prices, and increased economic instability, posing additional challenges to countries already grappling with fragile economies.

The relentless onslaught of climate change continues to wreak havoc across the continent, exemplified by the devastating El Niño rains that disrupted livelihoods and displaced numerous communities.


Globalization has brought many opportunities to African countries, but African economies have not transformed enough away from dependence on raw materials, and thus many remain on the bottom rungs of global supply chains. This is not only the fault of the global superstructure; it also has to do with the policy choices that many African countries have made, especially in the last thirty years.

For Africa, a rewired globalization is one that has a beneficial developmental impact. Africans have a role to play in this rewiring. Africa has the world’s youngest population and by 2050 will have a population of 2.5 billion: a quarter of the global total. These demographic trends will have significant political, economic, and social impacts not only on the continent but also on the world.

Due to its burgeoning and youthful population, abundant natural resources, and a strategic geographical location that can facilitate global trade, Africa can play a major role in any renewed efforts for revitalizing the global economy. Thus Africa will not only move hundreds of millions living in the continent out of poverty but will also accelerate a global rebound and recovery.

However, for this to materialize, Africa needs substantial investments in its failing and inadequate physical and social infrastructure. With access to basic infrastructure, alongside efficient institutions as well as its young population, massive natural endowments, and strategic location Africa can seize its economic potential and act as an engine of growth for the global economy for decades to come.

Therefore, it is crucial to support Africa to unleash its immense economic potential, through massive and focused investments in the continent’s human capital and its physical and social infrastructure.