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Inflation and unrest in sub-Saharan Africa

Inflation in developed economies and in the sub-Saharan African region has accelerated quite significantly. Central banks responded and in most instances policy rates have been adjusted upward to stem the price pressures.

The anticipated slowdown in global economic activity due to these monetary tightening has brought down global commodity prices such as oil and food, which are now back to levels seen before Russia's invasion of Ukraine and still above levels we've seen at the start of 2021.

The slowdown in food and oil prices could bring inflation down in coming months, although the downward path will be slow and coming from very high levels. Pressures on household income will remain prevalent.

We discuss political developments and the potential for social unrest in select sub-Saharan African countries over the next six months.

Nigeria

The price of petrol is the one price increase the government fears above all others. The fuel subsidy has been the most sacred of cows in Nigeria for many years, even after multiple studies showed it benefits middle class car owners more than the poorest sectors of society.

The cost of fuel subsidies has quickly skyrocketed. The government has committed itself to maintaining pump prices at one of the lowest levels in the world, equivalent to around 45 US cents per liter, rather than passing on any of the cost.

While Nigeria is the sub-Saharan African region's largest oil producer, the country does not seem to have benefited from the resilient global oil prices seen in recent months. Subsidies take up so much money that the state oil companies are barely remitting any money to government coffers. Nigeria imports all its refined petroleum products, another cost to consider.

An economic crisis is coming on top of a catastrophic security situation in all regions. That will impact next February's presidential election. The ruling APC and main rival PDP have chosen as their candidates two septuagenarian politicians. Peter Obi, who left the PDP to become the candidate for the minor Labour Party, is galvanizing younger voters as a third-party candidate and increasing the possibility of an election runoff, which has not happened in Nigeria since the restoration of democracy in 1999. It probably also increases the likelihood of major election violence, especially if the result is close and disputed.

Ghana

Ghana has often been touted as a model of economic and political stability in Africa. Recently the rising cost of living lead to violent anti-government protests in Agra. The dwindling economic fortunes forced the government to announce on July 1 that it would hold talks with the International Monetary Fund on a package to help it deal with its current economic shocks.

The country is struggling with extreme inflation, a budget deficit and debt struggles, which has been made much more challenging as Ghana has been unable to sell foreign bonds on the international capital market.

Labor unions and the main opposition, along with other groups, are threatening to stage further protests in the next few weeks to two months, especially if the IMF program with Ghana comes with a series of major cuts to public expenditure, such as freezes in public sector employment. That could drive people out onto the street to protest against the cost-of-living pressures that they're facing.

The next election doesn't take place until December 2024, giving the administration about two years to turn around the economy.

Ethiopia

The government has made significant purchases of weaponry for the ongoing Tigray conflict, particularly military drones. The conflict is also impacting the political environment: There is a real fear among the people that if they demonstrate against the government right now, they will be labeled or portrayed as supporting the insurgents against the government in the north, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF. There is also a fear that protesting against the government might provide a way for the TPLF to try to come back to retake control of the country. We don't believe that is likely.

That imposes a limiting factor on how much anti-government unrest we're seeing in the country, even with upward pressure on prices and the economic difficulties that the country is in.

Additional factors are limiting civil unrest within the country including the impact of the Ethiopian security forces. In general, when demonstrations are being organized within Ethiopia, there tends to be a very hard crackdown coming from the police, supported sometimes by the Ethiopian military itself.

There has also been a growing sense especially among the youth that protesting and demonstrating has become pointless because the government doesn't respond to it. The most disenfranchised opposition and the most discontented people tend not to form protest movements but to turn to armed struggle.

That makes it less likely that we will see the kind of unrest that we saw back in 2014 to 2018. Instead, we expect other forms of security threats in Ethiopia, whether it's civil war, up in the north, around Tigray region, or insurgencies and terrorism throughout much of the rest of the country.

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Posted 25 August 2022 by Jordan Anderson, Senior Analyst, Research Advisory Specialty Solutions, S&P Global Market Intelligence and

Langelihle Malimela, Senior analyst, Country Risk, Africa, S&P Global Market Intelligence and

Martin Roberts, Principal Analyst, Deputy Head - Sub-Saharan Africa Country Risk, S&P Global Market Intelligence and

Thea Fourie, Associate Director, Sub-Saharan Africa Economics, S&P Global Market Intelligence and

Theo Acheampong, Senior Analyst Country Risk – Sub-Saharan Africa, S&P Global Market Intelligence


This article was published by S&P Global Market Intelligence and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.

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