10 villains and terrible things of 2015 that we don't want to see in Africa headlines again

From creative interpretations of the constitution, axe wielding terrorists, to unforgiving skies, cheating marathoners and death on the high seas

THESE are the people  - and disasters –that have brought pain, sorrow and embarrassment to Africa in 2015 that we don’t want to see again in the headlines next year - unless it’s to say they’ve changed their ways for good.

Pierre Nkurunziza

The Burundian president was due to step down this year, but then decided to “re-interpret” the country’s constitution in a way that made him eligible to vie – essentially, he argued that his first term didn’t count because he was selected by Parliament, and not elected by popular vote. Violent protests broke out in April, but Nkurunziza stuck to his ground, even after a failed coup in May. The violence now threatens to spiral out of control, there have been reports of widespread massacres, and it looks like 2016 will be a very difficult year for Burundi.

Boko Haram’s bloody hand

The year began with a grisly attack on the town of Baga in northeastern Nigeria, in which Boko Haram militants razed the entire town, and the death toll was estimated at more than 2,000. It was the deadliest single attack in the group’s six-year insurgency, and although the attacks slowed down somewhat with the election of Muhammadu Buhari and his fearsome reputation for discipline which led to a more focussed military against the militants. But toward end of the year, the attacks started up again, this time with an unlikely, and tragic, modus operandi – child suicide bombers, mainly girls, who would be rigged up with explosives that would detonate in crowded places like markets.

China’s feet of clay

A lot of Africa’s troubles this year have been laid at the doorstep of its hitherto bosom friend. The Chinese economy has been running out of steam for a while now, but the first serious sign of the trouble was a sudden stock market collapse in June. Then everything went haywire, as many African countries depend on raw materials exports to China for their government revenue. 

African currencies were among the worst performing this year, budgets have been slashed, and lower demand from China plunged the prices of nearly all commodities, from iron ore and nickel, to gold and crude oil. 2016 might be better for Africa, but the continent’s ultimate salvation comes in looking inward and boosting intra-African trade.

King Goodwill Zwelithini

Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini didn’t live up to his name this year when his words spread ill will in April. Zwelithini said immigrants were responsible for rising crime and demanded that they leave the country—an outburst followed by a spate of attacks on migrants from other African countries that left seven dead and thousands displaced. 

An immigrant is attacked during the wave of xenophobia that swept parts of South Africa early in 2015. (Photo/File).

Under intense pressure from the government and civil society to calm the situation, the king later denied whipping up hatred—saying he had been misinterpreted—and condemned the violence as “shameful”.

Saudi hajj incompetence

This year was the deadliest hajj in Mecca’s history, the holy city of Islam. It began when a crane fell from its supports and killed at least 100 pilgrims, but the worst was to come on Sep 24 when a stampede broke out at Mina near the main centre of Mecca. The latest death toll from foreign officials indicates at least 1,849 dead in that tragedy, including at least 922 Africans. Egypt and Nigeria reported the highest number of deaths, at 182 and 145 respectively. 

Saudi officials have been blamed for poor organisation and emergency response, and even in the early hours of the tragedy appeared to shift the blame on “pilgrims with African nationalities”. Saudi Arabia has still not provided an updated death toll, with its figures still showing 769 dead; hopefully the hajj in 2016 will have a better story.

Jacob Zuma’s way 

Zuma is no stranger to scandal, but this year his leadership has been exceptionally riddled with controversy. Accusations that the president used up to $23 million of public funds to furnish a lavish house in his rural home refuse to go away. 

In June, the South African government violated a court order compelling it to detain Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while he was in the country for an African Union summit. Al Bashir – who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against his own citizens – sped away in an convoy with the tacit approval of the government. 

In December, Zuma summarily fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, and replaced him with little known David Van Rooyen, only to back-track and appoint a former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, to the post. That turmoil was enough for the rand to plunge to its lowest level in years, and the banking index to lose 19% of its value in two days. Here’s hoping someone will reign him in, soon.

El Nino

Southern Africa is in the grip of the worst drought in decades, caused by a toxic mix of erratic rains, abnormally high temperatures and floods have wreaked havoc on farming, writing off the bulk of this year’s crop. Water shortages are widespread, yields of the staple corn have shrunk by up to 90% in some countries of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), a June report by the group said. An estimated 27.4 million people out of the region’s combined population of 292 million—or nearly one in 10 people— depend on food handouts.

In eastern Africa, too, 8.5 million people are food insecure, as drought ravages parts of Ethiopia and Sudan, and El Nino-related rains have increased the risk of flooding along the main river systems in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. El-Nino conditions are expected to continue into 2016, so the region remains on edge.

Nairobi marathon cheat - and others like him

The Nairobi marathon is Kenya’s most prestigious long race, in a country that is known for its dominance in athletics. But this year, something curious happened at the finish line – the second place finisher of the 42-km race didn’t look exhausted, or thirsty, and had nary a bead of sweat on him. Turns out he had been hiding in the crowd and sneaked in about a kilometer to the finish line, to claim around $7,000 in prize money before being caught out and disqualified. Shame.

Islamic State’s deadly calling card

The unsurpassably brutal Islamic State militants have spread their wings from Iraq and Syria and are taking root in chaotic Libya and other areas of North Africa. They have beheaded Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic workers and immigrants in Libya, blown up Police and a Russian plane with nearly 250 in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, and slaughtered tourists in Tunisia. Hopefully, the recent peace agreement between some of the Libyan belligerents will lead to the emergence of some form of working government in Libya, and and an international effort to stabilise the country and begin to roll back the violent extremists.

Migrants death on the high seas

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. That  milestone was passed on 21 December, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with the total for land and sea reaching more than 1,006,000.

The majority are from the Middle East, but there are many reasons this crisis should be concerning for Africa – most of those who died were from Africa.

This is because the voyage from Libya to Italy is longer and more hazardous. According to the IOM, more than 3,695 migrants are reported to have died trying to make the crossing this year - most of those died on the crossing from north Africa.

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