“There is always something new coming out of Africa.”
So said Aristotle almost 2300 years ago – and 2017 was no different. Long serving strongmen saw their decade-long regimes collapse into dust in the space of weeks, while other leaders are starting to be noticed on the international stage.
South Africa: Zilch for Zuma
December saw the contentious election of a new head for the ruling African National Congress party. Party members were offered the choice of two main candidates, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma and widely touted as his chosen successor, and Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid activist and close confidante of Nelson Mandela.
Ramaphosa won 2,440 votes to Dlamini-Zuma’s 2,261. Ramaphosa campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, with corruption scandals having followed the Zuma administration like flies to a rotting carcass.
The president’s popularity hit rock bottom earlier this year, and with his replacement now decided, some whisper that could Zuma step down earlier than expected.
The Gambia: Jammy Jammeh
Gambia started this year in political turmoil as the autocratic President of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, refused to concede electoral defeat to opposition leader Adam Barrow. After weeks of chaos, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formed a military taskforce, headed by Senegal, that threatened to remove Jammeh should he have decided to remain in power.
With this threat in place, diplomatic efforts finally saw a breakthrough and Jammeh was allowed to leave the country, granting himself immunity from prosecution and leaving much of his financial empire intact.
Kenya believe it?
Uhuru Kenyatta won the elections in Kenya twice this year. The legitimacy of his first victory in August was challenged by his opponent, Raila Odinga, and it was declared null and void by the Supreme Court. A rerun was called only for Odinga to pull out of it, citing insufficient changes to the electoral commission between the two elections.
Kenyatta, running virtually unchallenged, easily won the rerun and the Supreme Court have upheld the second vote despite the opposition boycott. Violence has been a frequent problem with this election process with the official death toll of 10 suspected of being a sublime understatement. Kenyatta was in no mood to engage with opposition leaders after his latest win and the country remains firmly divided.
Zimbabwe: It’s not a coup; it just looks, walks and talks like one
Robert Mugabe entered his 93rd year in firm control, governing Zimbabwe much as he had done since 1980. However, change was afoot and within the space of a few weeks he found himself resigning from the job he had said would be his for life.
The ambitions of his wife did what his persecution of white farmers, massacres of the Ndebele, bankrupting the country and destroying the economy could not. Her firing of then vice president Emmerson Managagwa soon turned out to be a catastrophic mistake. He left the country only to return two weeks later with the military at his back.
Their coup confined the Mugabes to their presidential palace. Protests in favour of the coup raged through the country and Mugabe’s Political party, Zanu PF, removed him as leader. Nevertheless, Mugabe refused to budge. It was only when official impeachment proceedings were launched against him that Mugabe resigned, ending his 37-year tenure.
Nigeria: I’m not Ill, I just love visiting hospitals
President Muhammadu Buhari has spent months of this year in the UK being treated for an undisclosed illness. While now seemingly on the mend, there was speculation at the beginning of the year that this was the end of the president, with his vice president de facto running the country.
Buhari’s elongated stay in the UK left Nigerians wondering why the president isn’t comfortable being treated in his own country. It further highlighted the trend of African leaders never disclosing their illnesses and to always seek treatment abroad. With Nigeria facing a continued threat from Boko Haram, deep religious divisions, low oil prices and a population explosion, it’s high time Mr Bukhari recovered some of his lost youth.
DR Congo: The election that never was
Joseph Kabila is still the president in Kinshasa although constitutionally there should have been an election by now. Large protests were called against him for failing to call the country to the polls by the end of 2017. The constitution had mandated that Kabila’s second term should have ended in December 2016.
However, a under a political deal with the opposition aimed at avoiding bloodshed new elections were slated to occur by the end of this year. Kabila has ignored both the protests and the law and now the election is supposed to be held in December 2018. A full 2 years after it should have been held. One suspects more delays are likely.
Liberia: Footballer, Icon, President?
On Boxing Day, Liberia elected footballing icon George Weah as its new president. The former World Footballer of the Year and AC Milan superstar follows other sporting stars (such as Ukraine’s Vitali Klitschko (Mayor of Kiev), Brazil’s Romario (Senator for the state of Rio de Janeiro), Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan and Filipino senator Manny Pacquiao) into politics.
Liberia’s President elect has promised that “change is on”. Whether or not he delivers is perhaps irrelevant – the mere fact that Liberia has seen a peaceful transitional power as a momentous achievement for a country that 20 years ago was embroiled in a brutal civil war. The current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has also won worldwide accolades for stepping down after 12 years in power.
Togo: Protests call for the President to go
Political unrest continues in the small West African republic. The current president Faure Gnassingbé is attempting to rewrite the constitution to give himself more terms in office. Towards the end of the year deadly protests rocked the country calling for an end to the Gnassingbé dynasty’s 50-year reign.
For now the situation is unresolved with mediators trying to break an impasse. Togo currently holds the rotating presidency of ECOWAS, which could explain why no coalition has been formed to remove him, as was the case in The Gambia.
Ghana be a surprise:
New president Nana Akuffo-Addo has made waves in Ghana, he has wooed his domestic audience with his steadfast opposition to the practice of illegal small scale mining (a practice known as galamsey in Ghana). Yet it is on the international scale that he has truly shone.
Ghana has achieved the diplomatic coup of entertaining the Queen of Denmark, the Italian and Dutch Prime Ministers of Italy, and the Presidents of Estonia, France and Germany, all in the space of six weeks.
When the president hosted Emmanuel Macron of France he made a speech that went viral across the continent. Addo boldly asserted that while he was happy to receive aid from the West, he did not want to be a recipient forever.
Africa must, he said, stand on its own two feet and create jobs to encourage its young people to stay. Macron looked notably uneasy as Addo gave his unexpected statement.
Migration Crisis: Highway to Hell
African migration to Europe continues unabated. Many make the journey across the Sahara to Libya, using it as a springboard to make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean.
However, 2017 brought the egregious revelation that the practice of slavery is very much alive in Libya with countless numbers of Africans arriving and being sold into bondage with no say over their futures.
It has galvanised many African leaders to start pressuring Europe to help sort out the problem, to encourage other African nations to come to grips with the scale of the problem, and calling on Libya to eradicate slavery in it’s borders.
Choo choo China:
Chinese investment continues unabated with much progress being made in terms of infrastructure projects, especially railways. China is actively engaged in improving Nigeria’s railway networks, seeking to link the coastal megalopolis of Lagos with cities such as Kano and Ibadan.
In Kenya, Chinese money upgraded the railway line between the port city of Mombasa and Nairobi. China has also invested considerable amounts in connecting Ethiopia to the sea via Djibouti, and has even installed its first African military base in the latter country.
China’s impact on development on the continent is becoming hard to ignore. That said, it is not without issues. The tramway they built in Addis Ababa two years ago has not met expectations, with many delays and poor integration with the city’s transport network.
That just about sums up Jericho‘s festive update from the region. Always remember, dear reader, that in Africa they do know it’s Christmas time.