By Patrick Smith
Editor, Africa Confidential
Click here to read my predictions for 2009
After Ghana's cliff-hanger presidential vote, Africa's election watchers will quickly shift their attention to southern Africa where Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa will all go to the polls in 2009.
The economic and political meltdown in Zimbabwe will dominate regional concerns, while the West's credit crunch will start hitting all developing economies.
The African National Congress's canny leader Jacob Zuma, the likely winner of South Africa's general elections due between March and June, has won new friends with his condemnation of developments in Zimbabwe and has raised the prospect of a tougher South African stance there.
Call for action against Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe from South Africa's churchmen such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and politicians such as Botwana's President Ian Khama and Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga will add to the bad news for Harare.
Voters in Southern Africa are facing the regional consequences of continuing political violence in Zimbabwe, millions of migrants, worsening cholera, malnutrition and the prospect of another disastrous harvest there.
As Mr Mugabe's regional status slips further, the top echelon of the ruling Zanu-PF will finally find a way to make him stand down to save their own political future.
But Mr Mugabe will leave power waving a defiant fist at his opponents, having secured some legal guarantees and leaving some reliable comrades in place.
And he will remind everyone that he has outlasted his long-time foes - the UK's Tony Blair and George Bush in the US.
Beyond Zimbabwe, South Africa will face a mould-breaking election, following the exit of Mosioua Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa from the ANC to lead the breakaway Congress of the People (Cope).
Formed after the ANC's national executive sacked Thabo Mbeki from the presidency last September, Cope has attracted tens of thousands of grassroots dissidents from the ANC, even if it is rather thin on political stars.
So far Mr Mbeki has stayed aloof from the battle between Cope and the ANC, now dominated by allies of his erstwhile rival Mr Zuma.
The ANC will remain the dominant party after this year's legislative and presidential elections but it will sustain some collateral damage.
Cope hopes to gain control of key provinces such as Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Western Cape and stop the ANC from winning a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Mr Zuma's opponents will press for his trial on corruption charges linked to South Africa's $6bn arms deal. His highly paid and effective lawyers will demand that the case be thrown out.
Expect the costly legal tangle to rumble on: few powerful people in South Africa nor in the big arms companies in Britain, France, Germany or Sweden have any interest in an independent probe into this murky affair.
Election campaigners across Africa will study the implications of the opposition National Democratic Congress's narrow victory in Ghana's tight presidential and parliamentary elections.
The NDC fought a low-cost, people-centred campaign whereas the incumbent New Patriotic Party lavished funds on campaign billboards and sophisticated television adverts.
But finally, it was rocketing food and fuel prices that scuppered the incumbent party's chances in Ghana.
The political and social effects of the global slowdown - job losses and falling commodity prices - will haunt Africa in 2009.
Finance ministers in Africa's oil-rich economies in Angola, Libya and Nigeria are quickly rewriting budgets as demand falls for their exports.
Even China's and India's enthusiasm and capital for African ventures are faltering.
Elections are also due in Algeria, Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia.
The incumbent presidents Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Jose Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, Teodoro Obiang Nguema in Malabo and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis are unlikely to face serious electoral challenges.
Elsewhere, the voting will be more energetic and less predictable.
Looming over Sudan's planned elections is the likelihood that early in the year the International Criminal Court in the Hague will issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.
President Bashir will not give up without a bitter fight, Khartoum will threaten further obstruction of the UN and African Union peacekeeping missions but many in Darfur will quietly cheer the ICC.
Prospects for serious negotiations in Darfur look poor.
More threatening still, there are signs that the tenuous peace deal between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army could also break apart, starting with renewed fighting over the oil-rich Abyei area.
Compared to Sudan, Somalia's wars have been almost ignored by campaigners.
This year Mogadishu faces an even deadlier battle for power following the collapse of President Abdullahi Yusuf's transitional regime and the exit of his Ethiopian protectors.
The would-be beneficiaries of this - the Islamist fighters of the al-Shabab group - will face stern resistance from local clan-backed rivals.
In the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the flurry of diplomacy last year, a damning report on the governments of Kinshasa and Kigali and promises of more peacekeepers have not changed the dynamics of the conflict.
The worsening crises in DR Congo, Somalia and Sudan will top the agenda of the presidents meeting at the African Union summit in Ethiopia in late January.
The bright spot for many will be in the United States with the inauguration on 20 January of President Barack Obama, whose Kenyan roots are a source of continental pride.
Politicians such as Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga have already pointed to the economic constraints which the Obama administration will face.
But they say, at least, there will be a US president who knows the real Africa and takes the continent seriously.
What are your predictions for the continent in 2009?