What's in store for Africa in 2018?

Home to some of the world's fastest growing economies and a young, increasingly technology-savvy population, Africa witnessed major changes in 2017.

CNBC signposts what to look out for on the continent next year.

Cyril Ramaphosa, newly elected president of South Africa's African National Congress, is pictured at the party's National Conference on December 19, 2017, in Johannesburg.
Mujahid Safodien | AFP | Getty Images
Cyril Ramaphosa, newly elected president of South Africa's African National Congress, is pictured at the party's National Conference on December 19, 2017, in Johannesburg.

South Africa

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) elected a new leader in businessman-turned-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this month, with his predecessor President Jacob Zuma standing down from the position after two five-year terms.

The reshuffle at the top of the ANC has a broader significance, with the party leader position viewed as a shoo-in to the presidency of the country. South Africa's next general election is scheduled to take place in 2019.

Imad Mesdoua, senior consultant for Africa at consultancy Control Risks, told CNBC that Ramaphosa is viewed as "more investor friendly (and) reform-oriented."

This will likely come as a relief to investors as the country's fundamentals have taken a beating in 2017, with Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba slashing the country's economic growth outlook for the year to 0.7 percent, down from 1.3 percent.

But, caution is wise, according to Francois Conradie, head of research at South Africa-based NKC African Economics. "There is reason to fear that the corruption and misspending that have characterized (Zuma's) time in office will accelerate over the next two years as the patronage networks make the most of the current environment," he said.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visits Ebonyi State in the south east of the country to commission projects on November 14, 2017.
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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visits Ebonyi State in the south east of the country to commission projects on November 14, 2017.

Nigeria

Nigeria is gearing up for the start of a U.S.-style drawn out presidential race in 2018, with primaries in the calendar ahead of its presidential election in 2019.

"Maneuvering is underway" for the primaries already, Ben Payton, head of Africa at consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC. "If (current President Muhammadu) Buhari remains in reasonable health, he can contest it," Payton added, referring to 75-year-old Buhari's several months-long unexplained stint in London this year seeking medical treatment.

The Nigerian economy is expected to grow just under 0.9 percent in 2017, with this accelerating to more than 4.3 percent in 2020, according to Oxford Economics. Analysts CNBC spoke to considered Africa's largest economy the best-placed on the continent to diversify away from oil dependency.

Zimbabwean interim President Emmerson Mnangagwa is officially sworn-in during a ceremony in Harare on November 24, 2017.
Tony Karumba | AFP | Getty Images
Zimbabwean interim President Emmerson Mnangagwa is officially sworn-in during a ceremony in Harare on November 24, 2017.

Zimbabwe

Given recent political upheaval in controversial African state Zimbabwe, 2018 could bring more change. An election is expected to take place on or before September. Payton said that sitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa would be wise to call this sooner rather than later, given that "opposition parties are quite disorganized in Zimbabwe."

Payton also cast doubt over Mnangagwa's potential as a reformer — despite the optimism surrounding his leadership after former leader Mugabe was ousted in a military takeover — describing the president as "part of the Zanu-PF old guard."

Zimbabwe would do well to be more correlated to South Africa, the biggest economy in the region, said Samir Shasha, CEO of Zimbabwe specialist investment firm Cambria Africa. It "makes sense for the currency to be rand-based," he told CNBC, adding that joining the Southern African Customs Union of which its neighbors are members would also help rescue the Zimbabwean economy.

Shasha picked agriculture and tourism as the most promising sectors to invest in.

A banner featuring the President of Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila is seen in front of of a copper and cobalt mine on January 16, 2017, in Lubumbashi, Congo.
Franco Origlia | Getty Images
A banner featuring the President of Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila is seen in front of of a copper and cobalt mine on January 16, 2017, in Lubumbashi, Congo.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Sub-Saharan Africa's largest country by area, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expected to hold an election in 2018. The potential for a change of leadership is momentous given that incumbent President Joseph Kabila's term expired in late 2016. He assumed office in 2001.

The mineral-rich country suffered from a brutal civil war between 1997 and 2003 and is still marred by violence.

Vincent Rouget, West Africa analyst for Control Risks, told CNBC: "Elections will be eagerly awaited by the business community, after two years of considerable uncertainty during which foreign investment has largely stalled."

But given the lack of certainty around Kabila's intentions, "a further delay in 2019 remains likely."

A man carries an aid sack during a distribution by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in drought-stricken Turkana, Kenya, on April 29, 2017.
Magdalene Mukami | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
A man carries an aid sack during a distribution by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) in drought-stricken Turkana, Kenya, on April 29, 2017.

Climate change

The ongoing effects of climate change continue to catalyze unrest in Africa, with Payton deeming rising food prices due to drought "the one factor that's most consistent in making people take to the streets."

South Africa's tourism hub Cape Town is in the grip of a severe drought, described by the city's Mayor Patricia de Lille in May as "the most stubborn in recent history." The struggle for water has been politicized, with blame for water mismanagement being directed at different authorities.

Demonstrating the impact of climate change on agriculture-reliant African economies, Kenya lowered its economic growth forecast for 2017 to 5.5 percent in September, down from 5.9 percent, citing drought alongside political instability in the country.