Africa’s biggest stories of 2013
Posted Sunday, January 5 2014 at 02:00
From Kenya’s presidents’ ICC cases to Mandela’s death and the most recent outbreak of war in South Sudan, 2013 has been an action packed year.
Mandela passes on
On December 15, Nelson Mandela was laid to rest at his ancestral Qunu home in a private Xhosa burial. It was the culmination of a 95-year remarkable journey for a man revered globally almost to the status of a modern-day saint. Announcing his death on December 5, South African President Jacob Zuma said the country had “lost its greatest son”. Mandela had for months received intensive medical care both at his home and in hospital before succumbing to a lung infection.
World leaders lined up to pay tribute to a man whose supreme singular triumph is widely regarded as peacefully transforming a country split among racial lines into a liberal democracy.
The fall of the M23
In November the M23 group that had roamed eastern Democratic Republic to deadly effect was sensationally routed, suggesting that a peace that had so far eluded the region and displaced close to a million in just 18 months was feasible.
M23 took up arms against Kinshasa in April 2012, protesting what it said was the reneging on previous peace accords by the central government, in addition to the marginalisation of ethnic Tutsis.
The rebels’ staying power was widely attributed to support from neighbouring countries, with Rwanda particularly cited by international probes - links strongly denied by Kigali. While the decisive nature of their defeat was still unexpected, the writing had been on the wall for the rebel group since the United Nations, fed up with faltering talks and the perceived meddling by neighbours, launched its first ever ‘offensive’ peace-keeping mission.
Reloaded: France in Africa
It would appear to be a public relations coup for France that its current intervention in the Central African Republic has been warmly welcomed, as was its decisive move in January to prop up Mali’s army in the face of advancing northern Islamist rebels.
France, the former colonial master for a slew of African countries, especially in West Africa, has reinvented its role on the continent this year. In December the country hosted a well-attended France-Africa summit where it pledged to support moves toward a rapid reaction force for continental conflicts, while also promising a recalibration of its trade ties with Africa in the wake of the Chinese economic advent.
A year of mega infrastructure
Kenya in November started building a $13.7 billion rail line that would link its port city of Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan, with its operational date set for 2016.
The country also in January launched a $14.5 billion project to build an IT city dubbed ‘Africa’s Silicon Savannah’ at Konza just 60 km outside the capital Nairobi.
In the DR Congo, work on the first phase of the $80 billion Grand Inga dam begun.
Ethiopia has also been building its much-analysed $4.2 billion Grand Renaissance Dam, whose first phase would be completed in 2016, providing neighbours Sudan and Egypt with electricity from its 6,000 MW capacity upon completion.
Nigeria also begun work on a $1.2 billion light rail Eko project.
South Sudan teeters on the edge
The celebrations were giddy as the world’s newest state was birthed in July 2011. Since then South Sudan has been a poster child for state building from scratch, as donors and international institutions bent over backwards to accommodate the new-born country.
Its mineral resources were played up as the key to national growth, as were trading opportunities which saw multinationals troop into the country.
Forgotten in the pro-development push were the harsh realities of a country simply unprepared for life on its own, and of the glaring ethnic tensions harking back to the civil-war era. For many, the biggest problem was from north Sudan, rather than internal, such as a dysfunctional government at the mercy of various warlords.
Terrorists strike Westgate
On September 21, armed terrorists stormed the up-market Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. It was to be the start of a four-day siege that riveted the world both for its daring as well as the realisation that terrorism had truly become a global phenomenon, a truism that begun with 9/11.
At least 67 people of various nationalities lay dead when the smoke cleared, victims of appalling brutality in the attack claimed by Al-Shabaab, the extremist Somali Islamist group allied to Al-Qaeda.
The attack exposed glaring shortcomings of both Kenyan and international intelligence; President Uhuru Kenyatta for example on national television spoke of at least 15 terrorists having staged the attack when only four were captured by Closed Circuit Television.
The AU challenges the ICC
The year also provided for one of the most-visible challenges for the international justice system as Kenyatta and Ruto launched a campaign to have charges facing them at the International Criminal Court dropped.