Predictions for 2021: Digital Rights, Global Security, Climate Change & Expectations of the Biden Administration – Part 1

With a very challenging 2020 dominated by the global COVID-19 pandemic quickly coming to an end, iWatch Africa is looking ahead to 2021. In this blog series, iWatch Africa brings together a diverse team of experts to share their thoughts and predictions heading into the New Year.

In this Part 1 series, We’ll be covering the key issues related to; Digital Rights in Africa, Climate Change, Expectations of Biden-Harris Administration and Global Security.

 Digital Rights in Africa in 2021

By Yohannes Eneyew Ayalew

Lecturer in Law, School of Law, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia | PhD Candidate, Monash Law | Open Internet Leader 2020/21

  • Protection of human rights in the digital age

The 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Despite the African Charter lacks express provision on digital rights, yet the African Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa which was adopted in 2019 protects human rights in the digital age. As such, in the year 2021 African states could make significant steps including legislative measures ensuring human rights in the digital age.

  • The rise of internet shutdowns

In the past few years, internet shutdowns were used as a go-to tactic for African states to perpetuate authoritarian survival and stifling the right to freedom of expression. Likewise, internet blackouts could be on the rise in the year 2021 since the internet shutdown in some countries is a tool for narrative control and chilling critical voices.

  • Proliferation tech start-ups

In the year 2021, tech-start-ups will be throve robustly as there is growing increase in internet access and digital literacy across the continent.

  • Use of drones and AI/machine learning in Africa

African States could deploy human-rights friendly artificial intelligence and support researches reinforcing AI. In light of Principle 39(6) of the African Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; African States will employ human rights friendly AI, and other digital technologies than ever.


Building Back Better (Climate Change)

By Leslie Olonyi

Environment and Natural resources Lawyer | Arbitrator & Mediator | Mandela Washington Fellow.

 In 2020, a virus believed to be of zoonotic origin brought about an alarming loss of lives. 2021 will be a year of recovery, an opportunity to build back better and incorporate environmental consideration and climate change mitigation into all relevant levels of policy and decision making. A chance to stop the over politicisation of climate issues and the sacrifice of environmental integrity at the altar of economic growth. The two must go hand in hand and this opportunity must not be lost. The continual drift towards climate change tipping point of between 1- and 2-degrees warming is perilous, and a vaccine will not be the solution to save the planet from severe damage.

2021 kicks off the 2021–2030 UN proclaimed decade of Ecosystem Restoration where initiatives are planned to restore degraded as well as destroyed ecosystems. Restoration will improve food security, water bodies and simultaneously help remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Renewed commitment by the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases; the US to return to the Paris agreement and China pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060 are steps in the right direction if backed by concrete actions. The EU has embarked on a green new deal aimed at climate neutrality by 2050, however, the EU must be careful not to inadvertently outsource environmental damage and emissions to the mostly developing countries the EU massively imports from.

The Divestment from fossil fuels will continue as geothermal, solar, wind and storage technologies advance, including additional investments in renewable energy generation.


Global Security

By Gideon Sarpong 

Policy Leader Fellow, European University Institute | Open Internet Leader 2020/21

However polarizing a figure the outgoing US president may have been, Trump is leaving office with a more stabilized Middle East compared to his predecessor. Sustained de-escalation in Syria, the fall of Islamic State, the conditional agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban and several peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbours all point to a more stabilized region.

Although, I expect an escalation of cyber-attacks by the major global players; China, US and Russia in 2021, the real test of global security would be from Pyongyang. Previously, the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” doctrine was unsuccessful in halting North Korea’s pursuit of more powerful weapons.

Trump survived any major surprises from the North Korean regime in his four years and the world would keenly watch Biden’s approach to dealing with the Korea problem when the test comes.  Kim would definitely test the new US administration in 2021 and how Biden responds would have a significant impact on global security.

The biggest threat to global security in 2021 would be how the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action or the ‘Iran Deal’ is handled under the new US administration and how the Saudi-Israel- Arab faction reacts.

Security in Africa

Militant activities, sectarian violence and terrorist attacks including some State sanctioned crackdowns like what we are currently witnessing in Ethiopia is expected to dominate the headlines in Africa in 2021. The major change factor would be from Washington with a President-elect who is noted for his interventionist policies. United States under Biden would be emboldened to undertake more military adventurism and interventions across the continent which would also encourage the French to take further military risks around the continent.

As to whether these interventions would ultimately benefit the continent, it would be too early a call to make but the intervention in Libya and its subsequent fallout is available for the world to see.

Joe Biden election and US return to Multilateral Diplomacy; Implications for Africa

By Justice Kumordzi

International Relations Expert | Co-founder iWatch Africa

When President-Elect Joe Biden says “the US will re-engage the world”, it is stark opposite of his predecessor, President Donald Trump’s mantra of “America first” at face value. In reality, although a multilateral approach will be deployed by the incoming Biden administration, America’s interest will still remain paramount… after all, the US has only permanent interest, not permanent friends. The focus will still remain on containing China and Russia’s influence in global affairs.

But what does a Joe Biden presidency mean for Africa? Although most African nations are glad to see the back of a US President who never pretended to be interested in the region, nothing suggests that US-Africa relationship will change dramatically for the better with Biden as President. Africa since the departure of President Obama in 2017, has come to understand that the key to the continent’s development lies within and not from external sources.

The Biden administration will for sure return the US to the World Health Organization and the Paris Accord on Climate Change which is expected to influence early delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in the Global South. I expect the United States will once again play a leading role in world affairs 2021, departing from an inward-looking policy under President Trump.

In Africa, I expect that the expertise of international and civil society organizations working in the areas of climate change, human rights and reproductive health would be aggressively sought under Biden-Harris Presidency over the next four years.

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The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of iWatch Africa.

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