THERE were many events that dominated headlines in Africa in 2013, but that had their roots in 2013 and even earlier - the continuing war in South Sudan, Central African Republic’s descent into madness, and political and extremist violence in Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, and Egypt.
The year was perhaps most dominated by the Ebola pandemic, whose death toll in West Africa and the parts of the world where few related cases were diagnosed, is nearing 8,000. But Ebola was not the result of man’s evil hand or design…it is a medical disaster.
However, in a year in which there were many bright spots, the bad guys still managed to outdo themselves. Here are 10 actions of humanity in Africa in 2014, that we wish hadn’t come to pass:
1: Nigeria Chibok girls abductions
Over 200 schoolgirls have been in captivity in north-east Nigeria for eight months and counting; victims of the dreaded Boko Haram Islamist militants.
The group has been active since 2009, killing and maiming tens of thousands, but it was the single act of abducting the girls in April that brought it to international notoriety.
That the girls have not been found yet is a sad indictment of African leadership, with the persistent whiff of electoral politics hard to shake off in the insurgent’s continued—and brazen—activity.
The fear is that the Islamists could mutate into a monster that cannot be controlled, deepening the threat to regional stability that it currently poses.
2: Peter Greste, Al Jazeera journalists jailings
On January 1, 2015, an Egyptian court will decide on whether to allow for the appeal of the jailing of Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, Al Jazeera journalists held since December 2013.
The trio were convicted in June and handed jail terms ranging from seven to 10 years in a case that sparked international outrage with the trial process seen as deeply flawed.
It is a case that casts a light on how difficult journalism can be on the region, as new data from press freedom groups Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders show. Some 179 journalists are currently imprisoned for their work, including 16 in Egypt, and at 65, almost half are from Africa.
3: The murder of a respected Libyan activist
On election day in Libya in June, inspirational human rights activist Salwa Bugaighis was brutally murdered at her home in Benghazi, the country’s restive eastern city.
Bugaighis, a lawyer, played an active part in Libya’s 2011 revolution, which saw the downfall of long time leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Her killing brought into sharp focus the weaknesses of the raft of revolutions in North Africa, with Libya a continuing free-for-all and Egypt remaining bitterly divided following the rise to power of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former army chief.
But there are greenshoots of hope—Tunisia has just held its first free election in its history, even as revolutionists grumble, while Cairo this week paved the way for much-awaited parliamentary elections. Can Libya pull itself out of its rut and build on the progress?
4: Sierra Leone pulls troops out of Somalia
The West African nation has said it will withdraw its troops from Somalia after the African Union blocked it from rotating its soldiers over the Ebola virus. Poor, and still-recovering from a long conflict, Sierra Leone’s decision to send troops to the Somalia peacekeeping was a well-received act of solidarity and commitment as richer nations kept their distance.
The focus will shift to the AU’s Ebola message, which had just announced the fanning out of African doctors into the three hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in what it played up as solidarity.
The bloc has also regularly berated some countries for isolating the three nations, and took a veiled shot at Morocco after the North African country opted out of hosting the African Cup of Nations next month on Ebola fears. The AU’s solidarity message risks coming across as muddled, at a time when clarity is needed.
5: TB Joshua church building collapse
In September, a guesthouse for foreign followers of the Nigerian pastor and popular televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua collapsed, killing 116 people.
A number of attempts have since been made by his sizeable number of followers to attribute the horrific collapse to unnatural events, but in the cold light of the day it will be hard to conclude anything other than structural deficiencies.
It raises questions about construction standards in the region, most of which exist largely on paper and which for the right amount of money can be circumvented. There will also be a focus on justice—both domestic and international.
Can a man whose congregation includes very prominent African leaders be subjected to a fair legal process? And how feasible is it for an African country’s citizens to get justice for an event that occurred in another? Suitably difficult, one can safely conclude.
And was the diplomatic spat between South Africa and Nigeria, as relatives grieved without a body, really necessary?
6: Kenya’s brutal Mandera massacres
In November and December over 60 non-Muslim Kenyans were massacred in two horrific attacks by Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.
Their murders cast a harsh glare on the country’s compromised security apparatus, leading to the hurried passage of controversial security laws. It was bad enough that parliamentarians resorted to fisticuffs while passing it, painting one of the continent’s leading voices in negative light.
The Kenyan government insisted they are necessary to confront the threat of terrorism, but its implications on the rights of citizens cannot be wished away. A country has a better chance of fighting militantism by the simple observation of the rule of existing law.
7: Banning of Burkina Faso’s former ruling party
Earlier this month Burkina Faso’s interim government suspended the Congress for Democracy and Progress, the party on which ousted leader Blaise Compaore has ruled on since 1996.
The CDP had been conducting “activities incompatible with the law”, the interior ministry said in a statement. Former ruling parties are for obvious reasons quick targets in Africa, but perhaps it would be easier to let the people judge them instead of resorting to proscription.
The natural Darwinian-like dispensation is that the prevailing political system will weed out those political parties that are unfit. A good example is the Kenya African National Union, which after nearly four decades in power lies almost lifeless. Other examples in the region abound. Banning them only risks painting even the worst of them as martyrs.
8: The Gambia’s Jammeh signs law on gays
In October president Yahya Jammeh of Gambia signed a law that legislates against homosexuality with those found guilty liable for a prison life term.
The law criminalises “aggravated homosexuality”, and goes after “serial offenders” and people living with HIV or Aids. Among the acts that are proscribed are engaging in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or who has been drugged.
It also applies when a suspect is in “authority” over the other person, such as a parent and guardian, and there have already been reports of arrests under the law.
In Africa such laws are often used to score political points—The Gambia’s economy is projected to hit tough times, while the political capital made out of Uganda’s similar law was worth the outrage for President Yoweri Museveni, although he too acknowledged that his economy had been battered in the backlash.
Conservative Africa could however instead look to expand energy on more critical projects, such as tackling poverty and inequality, and graft.
9: The desecration of African parliaments
Say what you will about the quality of African law making, but it can only get better. But this year scenes of the police being called in in Nigeria and South Africa, and brawls in Kenya only lowered the sanctity of parliament in the eyes of many Africans.
Kenyan legislators brawled over the passage of an anti-terror law, while in Nigeria similar measures over the extension of emergency rule in the terror-hit north-east saw security forces lob teargas inside the country’s parliament, forcing its temporary closure.
In South Africa political factions unleashed angry speeches and scuffled in Parliament over a vote seeking to absolve president President Jacob Zuma of wrongdoing in a scandal over more than $20 million in state spending on Nkandla, his private compound. The internationally televised chaos ended with police making an unprecedented entry in the chamber and removing an opposition member.
While partisanship is a hallmark of political systems the world over, unseemly scenes such as in the three countries should not be allowed to take root.
10: Doubling of leaders’ pay in struggling Malawi
Malawi has had quite a year, from a keenly-contested election to coming under huge international pressure over high-level corruption.
The economy is still struggling, with significant domestic debts including a $205 million deficit, a weakened currency and high inflation the hallmarks of what has been a tough three years for the southern African country.
As the new government continues to appeal to Malawians for patience, it was a huge study in contrast when president Peter Mutharika, his ministers and lawmakers awarded themselves huge pay rises, this month.
Many Malawians could be understood for being critical of the timing of the move.