Sunday January 5 2014

Africa’s biggest stories of 2013

Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela who passed

Former South Africa president Nelson Mandela who passed on in December. His memorial service brought together the highest number of world leaders. Photo by Agencies 

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.

The duo are charged at The Hague-based court with crimes against humanity following violence that broke out in 2007 in the wake of a disputed general election. At least 1,100 were killed in the widespread fighting that threatened to engulf the east African country in civil war.

Mr Kenyatta, whose trial could start this year, in particular argued that a sitting president could not be prosecuted while in office. Mr Ruto has been attending his trial, in which he is co-charged with radio journalist Joshua Sang. The campaign forced a divisive vote at the UN Security Council - the only organ that can defer the charges - but which ended in failure.

Upping the African integration game
The African regional integration effort, which continues to make considered gains since the Economic Commission for Africa-backed Lagos Plan, also made headlines this year, for both positive and negative reasons.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States in October agreed to move towards a singe market and common currency by 2020 following a landmark meeting in Dakar.

In the east, a major fallout in the five-member East African Community generated headlines, with Tanzania taking umbrage at what it felt was its deliberate sidelining in the bloc’s integration effort.
The country was however sufficiently pacified to sign off on a Monetary Union Protocol in November.

Morsy loses his mojo
After being in power for only a year, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsy, was overthrown by the military in July amid a furious spate of violent protests.

The military - which has remained largely unreformed since the Hosni Mubarak era - had never been happy with the Islamist colours of Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood background, so much so that it is not a stretch to suggest the army was angling for any good enough excuse to dislodge him and ban the Muslim Brotherhood.

Adly Mansour was put in as the caretaker puppet president while Defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stepped in as the real master of the show.

South Africa’s ANC struggles for traction
Africa’s biggest economy goes to the polls in 2014, and this year was notable for developments that challenge the stranglehold of the African National Congress on the country’s politics.

Respected businesswoman and anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele in February launched her Agang party which she hoped would respond “to the yearnings of citizens who have largely stood on the sidelines for lack of an appropriate political home.”
Agang hopes to change the electoral system so that lawmakers are directly elected by South Africans, from the current system where parties nominate members of parliament.

The ANC further took more body blows, losing the support of South Africa’s biggest trade union, the 330,000-member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).