There have been few years in modern African history not described at some point as ‘decisive’ or ‘crucial’. 2011 though, has started particularly dramatically and shows no signs of slowing down. Is the forecast set to brighten? Or is it overcast, with a few blustery winds capable of upending an old tree or two?

North Africa has seen a longstanding, autocratic president removed in Tunisia and talk of unrest in neighbouring countries. The apparent cause? Economic woes coupled with a rapidly growing population dominated by ageing autocrats. The conditions are replicated throughout North Africa and whilst the developments are not all positive there is hope that true democracy could develop in a region so recently viewed by the West as stable but undemocratic. Elsewhere in the north a Sudanese referendum on dividing the country between the dominant Muslim North and the Christian and Animist South appears to have passed relatively peacefully. Whether the world’s newest nation can survive remains to be seen.

West Africa is a region so unpredictable that it resembles the British weather or Blackpool in the Premiership. Signs from Cote d’Ivoire are particularly mixed, with the disputed presidential election still hanging in the balance and the defeated incumbent, President Gbagbo, refusing to leave office. There are positives: UN peacekeepers seem to be maintaining peace where Civil War only officially ended in 2007 whilst the French, so willing over the last fifty years to meddle in their former colonies, have resisted the temptation. Most promisingly, other regional powers have for once refused to legitimise a defeated incumbent president and have used the economic grouping, ECOWAS, to put Gbagbo under intense pressure. In Southern Africa however, Zimbabwe could re-escalate tensions. President Mugabe, strengthened by an unprecedented diamond discovery, is pushing for an election to end the coalition forced upon him in 2009.

Whilst it is certainly not the place of an Africa-obsessed student to comment on the intricacies of African politics there are undoubtedly reasons to be hopeful, but as so often before, it could all prove to be a mirage of optimism.