Africa in 2017: What to look out for

Story highlights

  • Projects, rising stars and crises that could define the year
  • Elections at home and abroad could have major impact for African states

(CNN)Many of the stories that rocked Africa in 2016 defied prediction. The former security guard who defeated a 22-year incumbent in Gambia's presidential election. Ethiopia's transition from economic miracle to state of emergency. The re-opening of apartheid scars in South Africa over a school's hair policy.

The safest assumption for this year is that received wisdom will be overturned again. But we can anticipate that certain landmark events, rising stars and flashpoints will reverberate beyond national borders. Expect to hear plenty about the stories below in 2017.

    Megaprojects

    Infrastructure spending in East Africa will continue to soar, particularly in the fields of transport and renewable energy.
    The Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam
    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is likely to be the most spectacular megaproject unveiled this year -- a $5 billion, 6,000-megawatt monster that will become the largest dam and hydropower plant in Africa.
    The Kenyan government is confident the much-anticipated $4 billion Standard Gauge Railway project will also be completed, connecting the capital Nairobi with the port of Mombasa and dozens of shiny new stations in between.
    Further afield, the world's largest concentrated solar plant will be expanded in Morocco, while Nigeria embarks on a major overhaul of its transport and manufacturing infrastructure.

    Elections

    Power shifts could take place across the continent, or old strongmen could cling to power.
    Rwanda's President Paul Kagame will seek a third term this year.
    The first major election will see the African Union (AU) select a leader to replace Dr. Nkosazana Zuma, which could have far-reaching consequences such as withdrawals from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
    Next up, Paul Kagame will seek to extend his 17-year reign as president of Rwanda, following constitutional amendments allowing him to run for a third term. Kagame won 93% of the vote in 2010 and is likely to be returned comfortably.
    In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta will face a stiffer challenge from veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, with the incumbent tainted by corruption and terrorism in the country. Elections have a dark history in Kenya -- more than 1,000 people were killed during clashes after the 2007 contest.
    Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos is to step down after 37 years, although his party will likely stay in power. Africa's first elected female president -- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia -- will also leave office, and could be replaced by soccer legend George Weah.

    Business

    Among the companies we expect to be making headlines in 2017, Nigeria's largest e-commerce firm is one of the safer bets: Konga has grown rapidly since its launch in 2012, raising over $100 million in funding, and will scale up further this year through a new network of warehouses and development of its payment platform Kongapay.
    The Konga e-commerce homepage
    Another company with abundant potential is Kenya's SteamaCo, which is applying smart technology to the challenge of rural electrification through the creation of microgrids, offering a low-cost solution for unconnected households. With just 19% of Kenyans connected to the grid the potential market is vast.
    Rwanda is targeting horticulture as an engine of growth in 2017, boosted by the new Gishari Flower Park in Rwamagana, and the state-owned Bella Flowers company will lead the charge.
    Mobile recruitment website Giraffe won the prestigious Seedstars competition for start-ups last year, and will use the boost in funding to tackle South Africa's unemployment crisis.

    War and Peace

    Fears that the conflict in South Sudan could result in genocide are growing, with members of the UN human rights council urging international intervention through peacekeepers and targeted sanctions. Such moves would be opposed by the government of South Sudan and regional allies.
    The crisis in South Sudan could worsen in 2017.
    There is no end in sight to violence in Libya, with the interim government ill-equipped to take on Islamic State and the patchwork of militias that hold power in the country. A long-awaited referendum on a new constitution could be held in 2017.
    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's claim to have "crushed" Boko Haram appears optimistic. Deadly attacks and defiant statements from the Islamist terror group indicate that the eight-year battle will grind on.
    Conflict in the Central African Republic continues despite several ceasefire deals. International donors have pledged $2.2 billion to support a government peace plan.

    Elsewhere

    Greater regional co-operation will be seen in East Africa through joint infrastructure projects, and continent-wide co-operation will advance through initiatives such as the African Union passport.
    President-elect Donald Trump is expected to change US foreign policy.
    There may be limited relief from the commodity crash that hit many of Africa's largest economies, with iron ore a case of price recovery. But forward thinking governments will continue to move away from resource dependency.
    All eyes will be on Gabon this month for one of the continent's biggest sports events -- the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, with the Ivory Coast favored to retain the prize they won in 2015.
    International influence could be unpredictable with US foreign relations likely to change under a Donald Trump presidency, while Britain's departure from the European Union could also have a destabilizing effect. But Chinese commitment and investment will remain strong.
    See more predictions for the year ahead in the video below:
    What lies in store for Africa in 2017?
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