2016 in review: Was Africa all about 'doom and gloom'?

2016-12-30 08:00

Cape Town – "Shameful!"

That was how a friend of mine chose to say about Africa when I asked him to describe the continent in one word in the year 2016.

"But why?," I asked.

"Look, Zimbabwe is in bad shape, chaos is looming in Gambia and the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is appalling. Yet the African Union is doing nothing tangible to resolve all these issues."

Well, that was his personal opinion.

Another friend, however, was rather optimistic. He said: "Yes, a number of issues might have spelt a lot of 'doom and gloom' for the continent but definitely I see light at the end of all this."

"Why do you say so?," I asked.

"Well," he said, "it's very unfortunate that most people have a tendency to focus on the negative when there are so many beautiful things to talk about. There are so many stories of success that took place during the year in most of Africa's 54 nations."

He continued: "Look for instance at what President John Magufuli is doing in Tanzania, look at how well Ghana conducted its elections recently, Look at this woman in Malawi who is fighting for the rights of the girl child, since its independence, Botswana has had the highest average economic growth rate in the world... I mean the list goes on and on."

"People should stop painting the whole of Africa with one big brush."

That being said, News24 took some time to go down memory lane and reflect on some of the continent's newsmakers in 2016.

Zimbabwe's protest pastor

The birth of Pastor Evan Mawarire's #ThisFlag movement may have captured most of this year's headlines, as it rattled President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

The Zimbabwean flag became a symbol of anti-government protests after Mawarire posted a video on social media in April. In the video, Mawarire appeared with the flag around his neck as he bemoaned the country’s worsening economic crisis.

Picture: Pastor Evan Mawarire (AFP)

The clip went viral, attracting tens of thousands of viewers and spawned the #ThisFlag campaign that fuelled angry protests and brought Zimbabwe's situation to international attention.

Mawarire was arrested following the street protests, which shut down schools and offices and paralysed the public transport system.

He was released after a court threw out charges that he had attempted to overthrow the government.

He soon went into exile in the US. 

Gambia's election "shock"

In West Africa, it was a shock for many when the strongman Yahya Jammeh, who once promised to bury his critics "nine feet deep" and whose regime prosecuted protesters, "calmly" accepted defeat following the December 1 elections.

Yes, Jammeh appeared on state television on December 2, congratulating his rival Adama Barrow and promising a "smooth" transition.

Barrow won 263 515 votes, or 45% of the total, while Jammeh finished in second with 36% , Alieu Momarr Njai said. A third candidate, Mama Kandeh, received 17%.

Yahya Jammeh

Picture: Yahya Jammeh (AFP)

But a week later, Jammeh made a stunning U-turn, as he denounced the election results, stoking international concerns about the future of the tiny west African country. 

Jammeh demanded a new vote and took his case to court. 

"I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty [God]," Jammeh said.

Uncertainty now remains in Gambia, as Barrow is adamant that he will be sworn in as the country's new president on January 18 when Jammeh's mandate expires.

Will the inauguration take place? 

Democratic Republic of Congo crisis

The Democratic Republic of Congo, on the other hand, has remained "chaotic" after President Joseph Kabila began his machinations to keep himself in power.

The central African country experienced a number of protests this year, with the opposition demanding that Kabila step down.

Kabila was supposed to have left the office on December 19.

In actual fact, the country was meant to have held elections on November 20 but Kabila refused to set a date. Instead the Independent Nationals Electoral Commission said they would not organise an election until 2018.


Picture: Joseph Kabila (AFP)

Kabila's stay was secured when the constitutional court ruled that the incumbent must rule until a successor is chosen.

Talks have continued to take place in the central African country to find the way forward, but nothing tangible has come out yet.

Release of 21 Chibok girls

The release of at least 21 school girls who were part of the over 200 girls kidnapped from their school in 2014 brought some kind of hope to the continent.

The girls' release in October came following negotiations between Nigeria's government and Boko Haram brokered by Red Cross and Swiss government officials. 

Hope remains that the rest of the girls will be freed.


Picture: One of the Chibok girls (AP)

African countries and the International Criminal Court 

The legitimacy and viability of the International Criminal Court (ICC) indeed came into spotlight after three African countries, including South Africa, announced their withdrawal from the Roman statute.

As The Washington Times put it: "It's an unusual trial. The court itself is in the docket, and the defence isn't going well."

Since its establishment in 2002, the ICC had never experienced such a blow.

The exits of Burundi, Gambia and South Africa in October and the threatened pullouts of Kenya, Namibia, Uganda and others from the court’s jurisdiction indeed reflected a principled stand over fairness than a fear of prosecution.

The development could have been a major blow to the ICC, but it was even worse for victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, who had looked at the international court as the only "viable opportunity for justice to be done".

Many other stories were reported in Africa, but these stood out to be some of the major highlights. One can only wonder what 2017 has in store for the continent.

Read more on:    international criminal court  |  au  |  zanu-pf  |  joseph kabila  |  adama barrow  |  yahya jammeh  |  robert mugabe  |  gambia  |  drc  |  zimbabwe  |  sa  |  nigeria  |  burundi  |  east africa  |  west africa  |  central africa  |  southern africa

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