In two short days Africa shows how broken it is – but also why it is strong and brilliant

There were surprises. In Egypt, the Justice minister resigned after he said that the “sons of garbage collectors” should not become judges.

FROM north to South Africa, the start of the week has dramatically shown why Africa breaks hearts, but also why it gives hope.

It was a perfect picture of a three track continent – with a few leading the advance, an indifferent middle, and a large bunch bringing up the tail.

In (north) Sudan in long-bloodied Darfur, there clashes between “two Arab tribes”, the Rezeigat and Maaliya. Nearly 60 people were killed.

In South Sudan gunmen raped girls, seized boys to become soldiers and torched towns in some of the heaviest fighting seen in the 17-month-long civil war, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Over 300,000 civilians have been left without “life-saving aid” in the northern battleground state of Unity, after the UN and aid agencies pulled out due to a surge in fighting, with over 100,000 forced to flee their homes.

The UN peacekeeping mission said it was “increasingly concerned” about reports from Guit and Koch counties in Unity state of “towns and villages being burned, killings, abductions of males as young as 10 years of age, rape and abduction of girls and women, and the forced displacement of civilians.”

The violence is some of the worst in months, as government forces push south from the state capital Bentiu into an opposition zone around the town of Leer, home to some of the country’s once lucrative oil fields.

South Sudan, Mali, Burundi bleed

The International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were forced to withdraw from Leer and warned that escalating fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar was forcing thousands of civilians to flee for their lives yet again.

Leer, the birthplace of Machar, was ransacked by government forces in January 2014. Gunmen looted the MSF hospital and burned some of the buildings.

MSF has since rebuilt the hospital, the only referral facility in opposition areas.

South Sudan’s civil war began in December 2013 and has been characterised by ethnically-driven massacres, rape and attacks on civilians and medical facilities.

In Mali, eight soldiers were killed Monday in the country’s restive desert in an ambush by fighters from the west African nation’s main Tuareg-led rebel alliance.

The attack came against the backdrop of an upsurge in violence in the northern parts of the country that United Nations peacekeepers have warned is threatening a peace accord between the rebels and government due to be signed on Friday in Bamako.

In Burundi, the death toll from weeks of anti-government protests climbed to 20 Tuesday.

Also, tens of thousands of Burundi refugees continued to pour into Rwanda, fleeing political violence and targeted attacks by the ruling party’s youth wing militia, Imbonerakure, a fearsome group.

The violence in the central African nation was triggered by president Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, which the opposition say is illegal and violates the peace accords that ended the country’s long and deadly civil war 15 years ago.

 Malian soldiers on patrol in the northern part of the country. (Photo/AFP).   

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) five people were killed in a new attack blamed on Ugandan rebels near Beni in the east, officials said Tuesday.

More than 300 people have been killed in seven months of massacres in the troubled North Kivu province by rebels of the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), who have been based there since they were forced out of their country over 15 years ago.

The security situation in the area has dramatically deteriorated in the past week with seven more people killed in another massacre similar to the Mavivi attack on Friday, while two UN peacekeepers from its MONUSCO mission died in an ambush on May 5.

“Missing” grain, and poachers

Not all the crises are a result of war or a conflict over power.

Southern Africa nations such as Zimbabwe are faced with “significant food-supply shortages” from July this year because of erratic rains, the United Nations’ World Food Programme said.

“Of great concern is Zimbabwe, which is facing a looming huge food deficit due to imminent widespread crop failure,” the WFP said in an e-mailed statement. “By February 2015, an estimated 23% of cultivated land was considered lost.”

 Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar are also likely to experience food-supply shortages, it said.

The worst drought since 1992 in South Africa, the continent’s biggest corn producer and traditional supplier of its neighbours, has damaged plants, with the nation predicting a 32% drop in the 2015 harvest to the smallest in eight years.

And other difficulties will have long-term consequences, and indicate underlying weaknesses that have national impact.

Thus, in Namibia, the number of endangered black rhinos slaughtered by poachers for their horns in its national parks rose to 60 this year, after 24 were killed last year.

Poachers have also killed 23 elephants in the south-west African nation since January, Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta said in an e-mailed speech.

And in neigbouring South Africa, rhino poaching is at a record after increasing about 18% in the first four months of this year, the Guardian newspaper reported.

By the end of April, 393 rhinos were killed for their horns compared with 331 over the same period last year, South African Environment Minister Edna Molewa said, according to the London- based newspaper.

Nigeria…as always

Yet, amidst all this, in west Africa, there is also a different story – about Nigeria.

In February, Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy seemed in danger of being overwhelmed by the murderous jihadist Boko Haram militants.

Despite an annual military budget of nearly $6 billion, because of corruption and a collapse of morale, what was once considered among the continent’s mightiest armies was being humiliated and put to flight by Boko Haram.

It even forced the postponement of presidential elections scheduled for February to late March.

Though battered by tumbling oil prices, the mainstay of its economy, Nigeria underwent a near miraculous transformation in one month.

Together with an alliance of armies from neighbours Chad, Cameroon, and Niger, it started to roll back Boko Haram.

The elections took place in March as planned, and something even more improbable happened: The opposition candidate, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, won, and the maligned and despised President Goodluck Jonathan confounded many, conceding defeat and congratulating Buhari, handing Nigeria its first ever defeat of an incumbent in a democratic election by an opposition rival, and only the 25th in Africa in the 50 years since the 1960s independence decade.

 In a few weeks the Nigerian military moved from being a laughing stock, to securing a free election, and then, finally, giving Boko Haram a bloody nose. (Photo/AFP).

Despite worries that Boko Haram may revert to its strategy of suicide bombings and guerrilla warfare in Nigeria after regional forces recaptured territory from them, the progress has continued.

Since the beginning of April, Nigeria’s military, aided by Chad and Niger, has pressed on and freed hundreds of people kidnapped by the Islamist insurgents, killing Boko Haram fighters and seizing their weapons. The campaign has weakened the group, which at one point controlled an area the size of Belgium.

Nigeria’s military is seeking a final victory against the group before Buhari takes office as president on May 29, the more remarkable because it recent victories are happening in a period when Jonathan has a leg out of office, and Buhari only a nose in.

The military defeat of Boko Haram is only a first step, though.

Key to strengthening stability in the region will be reducing poverty and joblessness that may have helped nurture the rebellion. Northeastern Nigeria is the only region of Africa’s most populous nation where people are getting poorer, with more than half of the population in the area living on about $1.40 a day, the World Bank said last year.

For Buhari, the incoming president, raising spending won’t be easy for the government of Nigeria after the price of crude oil, which finances about 70% of government spending, plunged 40% in the past year. The West African nation’s currency has dropped 15% against the dollar in the past six months. Yet, Nigeria can do it if it rallies.

It’s corruption, corruption, corruption

Not all the continent’s problems are structural. Many are often down to one ill – corruption. The “good” thing is that it is easy to turn countries around with just enough political will to end corruption and waste. The downside is that it also means progress can be lost easily in overnight reversals.

Malawi brought some good anti-corruption news of the week on this front, with its Anti-Corruption Bureau arresting former Defence Force Commander Henry Odillo and Deputy Commander Clement Kafuwa in relation to fraud.

The army paid 1.92 billion kwacha ($4.35 million) to Thuso Investments for the supply of blank ammunition that was never delivered, the bureau said in a statement on its website.

The two men may be charged on three counts; abuse of public office, negligence, and money laundering and will appear in court after the bureau has taken statements from them.

The government released a report in October last year that found almost $50 million of public funds were stolen from April through Sept. 2013 through inflated procurement prices and overpayments in a scandal known as Cashgate.

The military men usually enjoy immunity from civilian governments afraid to provoke a backlash in a once coup-prone continent, so the move against the former army chiefs in Malawi is significant.

Even illiberal Egypt, where the heady news of the Arab Spring four years ago has been replaced by the daily tale of terror attacks and the iron-fisted rule of general-turned politician Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, there was an unexpected development in a regime that is all but tone-deaf to public opinion.

Egypt’s Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber resigned after he sparked a public outcry by saying that some Egyptians weren’t from the right social class to become judges, according to official media.

Saber said on a television talk show on Sunday that the “sons of garbage collectors” should not become judges, and that people “from a social class suited to the job” should fill such posts, according to Ahram.

Few would have bet that he would be out of a job barely 48 hours later. That’s Africa for you.

-Additional reporting by AFP and Bloomberg


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