Africa in 2007

Written by  //  December 24, 2007  //  Africa, Geopolitics, Politics  //  No comments

Will Kenyan election cap a dismal year for Africa, or show the way?
By CHARLES ONYANGO -OBBO
In the end, it was not to be but 2007 started out as a year full of promise for Africa. Towards the end of 2006, the vast and long-suffering Democratic Republic of Congo held its first election in over 40 years, raising hopes that nearly 10 years of war in which about 4 million people had died would end.
Today, war still rages in eastern DRC and tens of thousands of unarmed civilians continue to die or become refugees.
In Somalia, a US-backed invasion by Ethiopia routed the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts, which was viewed outside the country as a fundamentalist organisation with links to al Qaeda. The optimists thought Somalia had its best chance to move out of nearly 20 years of chaos and rule by warlords.But it was always doubtful that a poor country like Ethiopia, ruled by an authoritarian regime, could export stability to another poor country. Now Ethiopia is bogged down in Somalia, and the country is in the grip of what aid agencies describe as the “worst humanitarian crisis” in Africa.
Then there was corrupt Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation, with some of the most educated people in the world, headed for its first democratic transfer of power at the polls.
Retired president Olusegun Obasanjo, who had done a few smart things with the economy and refurbished some institutions of the state, was coming to the end of his second constitutional term.Then he turned rogue, and tried to cling on to power. Nigeria’s legislators confounded everyone by refusing bribes, and foiled Obasanjo’s attempts to rewrite the constitution and allow him to stand for a third term. Nevertheless, Obasanjo still got his man, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, selected as the ruling party’s candidate, and he went on to win in one of the most shambolic elections anywhere in the world in 2007. Again Nigeria, with all its resources and clever people, failed to hold an orderly and honest poll.
ALSO, 2007 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE the year when the UN would join the African Union peace mission in Darfur and we would begin to see peace there. There has been a lot of talk, but the world body hasn’t walked the talk. The AU force is supine, unable to impose much order. This year several of its contingent were slaughtered. Like the AU Somalia peace mission, the Darfur operation is in the doghouse.
Then last week, the South Africans did it. The populist rabble-rouser and corruption-tainted former ANC vice chair, Jacob Zuma, walloped President Thabo Mbeki in the contest for the party’s presidency. We thought Africa had graduated beyond Zuma-type politicians.
But we had forgotten that South Africa probably needs to taste the Mandela, Mbeki, and Zuma models before it decides on one. The bigger disappointment probably is Mbeki. One of the most cerebral African presidents ever, he stuck to the quixotic view that Aids is not caused by a virus. This laid waste to his country, which has the highest HIV infection rate in the world.
PERHAPS UNSURPRISINGLY, his health ministers took the cue, advising people to chew all manners of roots and drink various juices to cure the disease.
One of his lowest moments came when Aids support groups said that though they wouldn’t endorse Zuma, they still thought he would have a more enlightened view about Aids than Mbeki!
All that is left to the end of the year, is the Kenyan election.
It might be cause for Africa for smile, but it can also be a disaster going by the violence so far (higher than in 2002!).
But, whatever misfortunes the continent endured in the year, at least some of us are still here.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s managing editor for convergence and new products.

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