The villains, 'Unpersons' and terrible things of the Year 2014 that scarred Africa

The year marked one of the most intense struggles between good, glory, evil, tragedy and shame on the continent.

THESE are the people  - and disasters -we brought pain and sorrow to Africa in 2014 that we don’t want to see again in the headlines next year - unless its to say they’ve changed their ways for good.

Salva Kiir and Riek Machar

South Sudan erupted into war a year ago, and since then, 50,000 people are estimated to have died. Some estimated say it could be twice as many; more than a million have been forced to flee their homes. For much of the year, the two belligerents, President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar, have dragged on the fighting, each believing they could win the struggle on the battlefield. 

Despite mediation efforts by neighbouring governments, it appeared negotiations were the last resort for the two; it was only after the Americans and regional neighbours had threatened them with personal sanctions that both agreed to meet. Other areas in the country are also getting restive. A resolution to the conflict – and building the country from scratch, again – still seems far off.

Boko Haram

Although Boko Haram has been in the news for the past few years, this year was characterised by their most intensified, more ferocious campaign against civilians by the militants.

There was the infamous Chibok school kidnapping in April, and since then at least 700 people have been kidnapped in northern Nigeria by Boko Haram militants. In September the militants declared a caliphate over the areas they control in northern Nigeria, by December, that area was estimated to be 20,000 sq. km. In October, there was the announcement of a truce with Boko Haram, which the militants swiftly denied, ramping up attacks on civilians. 

This year alone, 2,000 Nigerians have died and 1.5 million forced to flee their homes. Nigeria is ranked fourth in this year’s Global Terrorism Index that assesses countries on the impact of terrorism, just behind Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And to compound matters, this year Boko Haram also took to beheading.

Nigeria’s government and military

The Nigerian authorities have performed dismally this year as Boko Haram ramped up attacks in the country’s northeast. President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has been accused of gross incompetence, with soldiers reportedly deserting in the face of battle, and only returning to opportunistically terrorise villagers in the name of ‘clean-up’ operations. 

A strongly-worded statement in November from the Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria’s top Islamic leader, accused the soldiers of being “cowards” who “abandon their bases, arms, ammunition and other military hardware on the approach of the insurgents”. In December, a Nigerian court martial handed down death sentences to 54 soldiers who had refused to take part in an operation last August to recapture three towns overrun by the militants. The soldiers, who were found guilty of mutiny, had complained that they did not have the weapons needed to take on the jihadists. 

Still, it’s too little too late, as Jonathan’s administration seems preoccupied only with the upcoming election in February 2015, and with oil prices plummeting as they have over the past few months, Nigeria could be in a very tight spot next year.

African teams at the World Cup

The last edition of the World Cup, in 2010 with South Africa as hosts, was really Africa’s moment, when Ghana’s sterling performance propelled them to the quarter finals, and they very nearly made it to the semis. But this World Cup in Brazil was littered with a string of embarrassing defeats and much wrangling in the African camps. 

The Ghanaian team refused to play until they had had their $3 million bonus airlifted to them in Brazil; training and preparation was “a nightmare” says striker Kevin-Prince Boateng, who, along with team mate Sulley Muntari ended up being kicked out of camp early for swearing at their coach Kwesi Appiah. 

Cameroon delayed their departure from Yaounde wrangling over money and President Goodluck Jonathan intervened when problems emerged in the Nigerian squad. Three African teams were booted out at the group stage, and Algeria and Nigeria only made it to the first knock-out round. 

Kenya’s defence chiefs

Last year’s attack on Westgate mall by al-Shabaab terrorists left 67 dead, but there were no sanctions of security officials for failing to act on intelligence reports that the raids were planned. Neither were there any resignations or taking of responsibility for the attack itself. 

So it is perhaps no surprise that this year would see an escalation of attacks – 60 were killed in Mpeketoni at Kenya’s coast in June. In November, 28 were executed on a bus attack in Mandera, in Kenya’s north eastern corner, and days later, 36 more were ambushed and killed at a quarry in the same area.

Corruption is said to be at the heart of Kenya’s vulnerability to terror – there have been reports of bribery and laxity at immigration, border control and within the security corps in the country. Finally in December President Uhuru Kenyatta cracked the whip and asked minister for interior security Joseph ole Lenku and inspector general of police David Kimaiyo to resign. 

A controversial Security Bill was passed in Parliament last week amid brawls among MPs and widespread protests from civil society, but even so, without a more systematic overhaul of the security apparatus, Kenya remains exposed.

The Serial Killer in Tarime, Tanzania

In January, eight people were shot dead and three injured in a killing spree that lasted several nights in the northern Mara region, Tanzania.

According to witnesses, sometimes the gunman demanded money and mobile phones, other times he did not take anything; he also indiscriminately attacked people he met on the road. The weapon the man had used was thought to be a submachine gun or an assault rifle.

The attacks caused fear in the district of Tarime, media reports indicated many businesses were opening later in the morning and closing earlier to avoid the gunman. 

Police launched a manhunt for the killer but he was never found, the attacks died down after that. But he’s still out there so… let’s hope he does not make a return in 2015.

Julius Malema

In May, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters secured 25 seats in Parliament in South Africa’s election, making it the third biggest party after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA). EFF positions itself as the brainchild of a Marxist-Leninist-Fanonist ideology, created to oppose “white minority capital and its representatives, the DA and the ANC,” says Malema, calling for the nationalisation of mines, banks and “strategic sectors of the economy” without compensation, and redistribution of wealth to the poor.

But Malema himself is not living up to his persona as the champion of the downtrodden. He has been accused of living large while supposedly fighting for the rights of the poor, with a taste for Gucci suits, fancy watches and $700 Louis Vuitton loafers. 

Civil rights forum AfriForum called him a “bully” who thinks he is above the law, after he allegedly assaulted a patron at a restaurant in Limpopo, and in a separate incident, he allegedly pointed a firearm at a security guard at a stadium when he wanted to leave by a gate that is not normally used as an exit. He’s a man who has political skills he is squandering. If he grew up, he could make a difference.

Africa’s angry waters

This year has been a terrible one for water transport in Africa and off its coast: An estimated 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Italy in search of a better life - a four-fold increase from last year! 

In October, the UN’s refugee agency said the number of migrants and asylum seekers from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia losing their lives in the Red Sea in an attempt to reach Yemen in 2014 was the highest in years, exceeding the combined total for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

And in December, 129 people were killed when a ferry capsized in Lake Tanganyika on the Democratic Republic of Congo side, the worst disaster since 2010 when 210 people died in similar circumstances. According to WHO, drowning death rates are highest in Africa, 10 to 13 times those reported in Europe. Unsafe and overcrowded vessels and lack of swimming skills makes travelling by water particularly dangerous in Africa.

The poachers and all their collaborators

This year has seen a spike in poaching of elephants and rhinos for their ivory, fuelled by demand from Asia where it is used as a status symbol and is believed to have medicinal powers.

Animals have been slaughtered even inside heavily-guarded parks and conservation areas all over east and southern Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Tanzania was particularly caught up in as storm this year when a report from the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) accused the Chinese delegation visiting Tanzania in March 2013 of buying so much ivory that local prices doubled, to $700 a kilogramme.

The accusations were strenuously denied by the Tanzanian authorities, with foreign minister Bernard Membe terming the report as “mere fabrications” and being made out of “jealousy” over the country’s cordial relations with China.

If current trends continue, elephants could become extinct in Tanzania by 2020, and there is not much hope either for other elephant populations in Africa which have been systematically slaughtered this year

-Tomorrow: Africa’s best moments and heroes of 2014.

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