Bryan Mukandi
Bryan Mukandi

Africa in 2008: A short review

It has been said that evaluated experience is the best teacher. Assuming that is true, there is a lot that can be gained from looking back on 2008 and trying to glean whatever lessons experience may have to offer. I live far away, on a small island off the coast of Europe. But even from this distance, a few incidents that took place on African soil made an impression on me.

The year started with absolute insanity in Kenya as neighbours turned on each other because politicians fiddled with the electoral process. It is suspected that both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, or their people, were involved with vote rigging to varying degrees. Rather than confront their leaders, many people decided to attack those from different tribes. As a result, over a thousand lives were brutally lost and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

How people can allow themselves to be used by megalomaniacs stoking tribal tensions is beyond me. It didn’t just happen in Kenya either. Rebel leader, General Laurent Nkunda, is supposedly subjecting the DRC to yet another conflict as a means of protecting Congolese Tutsi from Hutu militia. While there may be some truth to his claims, at the end of the day, how many people really think that he is anything more than an opportunist with an army trying to win himself a little more power?

On the subject of power, in Zimbabwe, in spite of outright vote rigging and other election irregularities, more votes were cast for Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) than for Robert Mugabe and his party. Because Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe, rather than a change in the political party in office, a wave of violence was unleashed on ordinary people by the nation’s so-called liberators. Nine months later, the country still has no government, people are starving to death, and cholera looks like it is in Zimbabwe to stay.

Also of note this year was the fact that George Clooney seemed to have more to say about Darfur than the African Union (AU). George Clooney, by the way, is neither a citizen of Sudan nor is he a citizen of any of the countries that share a border with Sudan. Why the AU seemed happy to have international activists take the lead on a crisis within their jurisdiction baffles me.

On a positive-ish note, a group of people, tired of President Thabo Mbeki, found a plausible excuse to get rid of him. I think Mbeki performed about as well as anyone could have been expected to in his position, despite his handling of Aids and Zimbabwe. But the fact that he could be recalled shows that South Africa, or the ANC, have the ability to reign in their leaders should they so wish. On a continent where leaders are still too often thought of as patriarchs who must never be questioned, let alone confronted, the Mbeki recalling is cause for optimism. Ironically, some of those who were convinced that Mbeki would be a disaster of a president were even more convinced that Jacob Zuma would be worse.

Zuma, whose singing and dancing caused an uproar, as though there weren’t more important things happening, definitely provided some memorable moments. But outside South Africa, not too many people really cared. They cared even less about a certain Julius Malema. If anything, I cannot understand why an individual so undeserving of any media attention gets so much of it.

To close the year, there was a military coup in Guinea after the president died. What is really sad about this development is that it seems many in that country are hopeful that the military will do a better job than previous administrations.

Based on that small selection, what lessons are there for Africa, going forward? For starters, we seriously need to work on succession. Until the idea that the modern nation state does not belong to any individual, family, political party or tribe is not firmly entrenched, history will repeat itself. Similarly, until Africans across the entire continent — rich, poor, educated, illiterate, male, female, black, brown and white — until all of these realise that it is their continent and it will only ever be what they make of it, history will repeat itself.

Despite the fact that I chose to highlight the things that went wrong on the continent this year, Africa as a whole is making progress. Though it often feels like we take a step back for every two going forward, progress is being made all the same. Hopefully, it will be a little more apparent this time next year.