YOU blink, and you miss it.
The signs suggest that Islamist extremist militant groups are in retreat or have been contained around Africa, from Nigeria to Egypt, the first part of this series noted.
They have been foiled, in part, by nationalism and their own narrowness of vision and alienating brutalties.
In addition, looking to the next five to 10 years, there is a risk that the big African countries – Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Nigeria – could slip deeper into authoritarianism or suffer democratic reversals in the face of economic and social crises. In the days since that article, the alarm bells of reversals in the three countries have only been louder.
However, there are still some paths through the forest.
What could happen in Zimbabwe when the 92-year-old Robert Mugabe is ousted or exits the scene?
There is a widely held view that when the 92-year-old Robert Mugabe, who has wrecked a once-confident and prosperous country, plunging it to levels of formal employment last seen during white minority rule at the end of the 1960s, exits power things can only be better.
Yes, a post-Mugabe order can mostly only be an improvement. The economy will likely tick up as it did during the shortlived national unity government formed in 2009, with the opposition’s Tendai Biti as Finance minister.
However, the country is unlikely to see the coming of a Botswana or Mauritius-style democracy.
One reason for that is that, perhaps with the exception of former President Mwai Kibaki’s Kenya, there are few examples in Africa of countries that were broken, and then recovered economically under a liberal political system.
The examples of Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Mozambique, suggest that the emergence of a dominant overbearing party, or a “developmental” strongman, will likely be Zimbabwe’s fate.
However, with one of Africa’s highest literacy rates, and a huge diaspora that fled Mugabe’s cruelty and dead hand on the economy, the country could engineer an economic and social turnaround better than many others that fell down the chute.
With the jury out on how South Africa will turn out – corruption-tainted Jacob Zuma seems intent on bringing the house down with him – the wider regional impact of the Zimbabwe outcomes post-Mugabe might depend in the long-term on what happens in Angola, another southern Africa country ruled by a strongman.
Is there life after Angola’s dos Santos?
Nearing 37 years at the top, Angola’s ailing strongman, 74-year-old Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is Africa’s third longest-ruling leader, a year older in power than Zimbabwe’s Mugabe.
Until recently he looked likely to leave or to cede a lot of his power over the next few years, until the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) nominated him as its candidate for the 2018 vote.
Angola, which has overtaken Nigeria as Africa’s oil producer, has spirited away its petro dollar fortune in grand corruption. But the biggest vulnerability for the regime is partly due to the fact that it has been nearly bankrupted by the collapse in oil prices, which has left it unable to keep various constituencies happy through doling out patronage.
The dos Santos family however still keeps a stranglehold on politics and the economy.
The president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos is the richest woman in Africa. In 2013, according to research by Forbes, her net worth had reached more than US$3 billion, making her Africa’s first billionaire woman.
Earlier in the year, in a move lambasted by critics and the opposition, President Jose dos Santos appointed her chairwoman of state oil firm Sonangol, the goose that lays the golden eggs in Angola.
In 2013, dos Santos appointed his son Jose Filmeno, also known as Zenu, head of the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund (FSDEA).
The fund was worth more than $5 billion at that point.
The dos Santos familiocracy will probably continue, and the MPLA’s grip on power won’t loosen much, but to win new legitimacy the family and party might grant political reform in exchange, and also better redistribute natural resource wealth.
On the whole, then the prospects for post-dos Santos Angola seem better than for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, strange as that might seem.
From a regional point of view, therefore, if South Africa stumbles, the overall damage to the region could be cancelled out by stabilisation in Zimbabwe, and improvements in a reforming post-dos Santos Angola.
But a new path in Zimbabwe and Angola would hurt neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo in unexpected ways.
•In the continuation of the series, we shall look at:
-How bad could the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo be if the crisis brought on by a postponed election and President Joseph Kabila’s plot to remain in office beyond his constitution mandate leads to a break down?
-What is the greatest threat posed by the continued conflict in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.
-How will the retreat of jihadist militants, the de-democratisation in the big African countries, and the re-democratisation of some of the current dictatorships change the state of the continent?
-And is the case of hard-working, corruption-hating, but intolerant Tanzanian President John Magufuli another sign that the authoritarian model is finally triumphant in Africa?