The plight of African nations

The plight of African nations

Jane Wachira

Africa, the world’s second largest and second most populous continent, is made up of 54 immensely diverse countries that are both deeply troubled and profoundly uplifting. I will focus on the former.

It is considered to be the oldest inhabited territory on earth, and the cradle of humankind. Earliest traces of civilisation date back to 3300 BC, with the rise of literacy in the Pharaonic civilisation of ancient Egypt. Fast forward to the 11th-19th century, the age of pre colonialism, and it possessed as many as 10,000 different states and polities, characterised by different sorts of political organisation and rule. These included small family groups, clan groupings, autonomous city states, kingdoms and dynasties.

This period was followed by that of the centuries-long slave trade where Africans were sold to work in plantations abroad. Many of them died at sea.

Then came the 19th century that was characterised by the scramble and partition for African territories by European imperial powers, leaving only two fully independent states, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) and Liberia which was set up as a place where freed slaves from the USA could rule themselves. Through the Berlin conference which was convened in 1884-1885 by King Leopold II of Belgium, it sought to bring an end to the scramble of Africa through agreeing on political division and spheres of influence, hence the classification into Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone countries. The partition was followed by colonial rule which ultimately triggered the struggle for independence at the end of World War II in 1945.

The struggle against colonialism is the base structure of present day governments, laws and legal structures. The structures put in place by the colonial masters are still in operation. Colonial fighters became their nations’ founding fathers and went on to steer their nations throughout the post colonial period. Fresh from navigating the post-colonial era, we got into the neo-colonialism phase where the western countries still make decisions for Africa. Colonialism effects are felt to date, so are the sins of our founding fathers and of present government regimes, at the turn of the millennium.

Africa’s political sphere is still a sick child, now with new troubles, and old ones taking new forms, with nations laden with anarchism, dwindling democracies, civil wars, corruption, impunity, electoral violence, insurgency and belligerency, terrorism ‘monarchical governments’, abuse of the rule of law just to a name a few. The prima facie situation of Africa is truly dystopic.

Short-lived freedom

South Sudan, the newest African country and world’s youngest state, it is Africa’s 54th state after gaining independence from the Sudan on July 9, 2011 through a referendum. Their state of peace did not last long. In December 2013, a political power struggle erupted between President Kiir and his ex-deputy Riek Machar. The cause of war was the growing dissention within the ruling party over the way the country was being governed and the decision by the Deputy President Riek Machar to challenge President Kiir for the leadership of Southern Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) and then the presidency in 2015. The president accused Machar and 10 others of attempting a coup d’état. The internal armed conflict resulted to deaths of tens of thousands and destruction of entire towns. According to Amnesty International, approximately 1.4 million people were internally displaced and another 500,000 fled to neighbouring countries. As well, an estimated 4 million people are starving.

At the height of war in Juba, the capital city government soldiers targeted and killed people based on ethnicity and assumed political affiliation. Hundreds of Nuer civilians and government soldiers who had been captured and placed hors de combat were executed mainly by Dinka members of the armed forces. Many Nuers were killed in their homes. Parties to the conflict attacked civilians sheltering in hospitals and places of worship. They burned down homes and damaged property, destroyed medical facilities and looted public institutions and private property as well as food stores and humanitarian wares. All these are actions of the very people who owe allegiance to their country, to uphold the spirit of patriotism.

South Sudan is now in post-conflict stage. Last year, citizens had no zeal to celebrate their independence; there was no reason to celebrate. The many years of war to detach from the Sudan were in vain. Instead of settling back and focusing on building the young nation, all energies and resources were wasted on internal warfare.

Burundi has, since independence in 1959, had its fair share of conflict, including genocide. In 1972, two events led to outbreak of the first Burundian genocide. A rebellion led by some Hutu members of the gendarmerie broke out, and the rebels formed their short lived Martyazo Republic. The rebels attacked Tutsi and Hutu who refused to join the rebellion. The return of the former exiled king to the country further heightened tension; he was murdered in the subsequent months. The Tutsi dominated government used the army to combat the Hutu rebels and commit genocide in which they targeted members of the Hutu majority. Between 80000-210000 people were killed.

Burundi had its constitution suspended in 1987. In 1993 a Hutu leader won the first democratic election to become president; he was however overthrown in 1996 by a Tutsi through a coup d’état. In 2000, a transitional government for Burundi was planned as part of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. It was placed on a trial basis for five years. In 2005, Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu and one-time leader of a rebel group was elected president. From 2006 reconstruction efforts in Burundi started to practically take effect. However, cases of conflict were still there.

Plague of power

Fast forward to 2015 when, in April, protests broke out after the ruling party announced that the incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza would seek a third term in office. The country’s constitutional and highest court agreed with the president (it is important to note is that some of its members had fled the country at the time, including the vice president of the court, claiming they had received threats from the government. As a result of protests the government shut down the country’s internet and telephone network, closed all universities and government officials publicly referred to protestors as terrorists. Since then tens of thousands of people have fled the country, hundreds have been arrested, with many others have been killed and injured.

There was an attempted coup d’état that only lasted a day as the country’s army regained control of the government. In the elections held in July, which the opposition boycotted, Nkurunziza won. Violence followed and has continued since with journalists, human rights activists and opponents of Nkurunziza being killed in mysterious circumstances. Shockingly, regional leader upheld and endorsed his re-election and sent congratulatory messages exercising the doctrine of recognition and acknowledging Nkurunziza’s government. Today, Burundi is at the risk of descending into total chaos and following early December’s events where at least 87 people were killed when rebels attacked three military installations.

Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. It could be described as Africa’s monarch as it has had only one president since independence, Robert Mugabe. Any opposition that has erupted since has been quelled with ruthlessness. In 1980, ahead of February elections, opposition was quelled with a North Korean trained elite unit that directly reported to the prime minister. Thousands of civilians were massacred. In 1997 those murdered were 3750 but in 2005 the number was put at between 10,000 and 30,000.

In the 1990 elections, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF claimed 117 of the 120 contested seats. In 2000, government passed a law to distribute land on claims that 70% of the fertile agricultural land was held by the minority white population. This saw a poorly managed confiscation of white farmland accompanied by skewed reallocation. Due to numerous human rights abuses and gross mismanagement of the economy, Mugabe and Zanu-PF leadership found themselves beset by a wide range of international sanctions including suspension from the Commonwealth; this was followed their voluntary termination of their membership. The aforementioned seizure of almost all owned commercial farms led to sharp falls in production, and precipitated the collapse of the agricultural economy and a once major producer of tobacco. The country has endured rampant inflation and food and fuel shortages.

Burkina Faso, in November 2015, held the first national elections since the 2014 Burkinabe uprising. This was after the departure of the former president Blaise Compaore who had ruled the country for 27 years and who was seeking another term through a referendum. His party was banned from having a running presidential candidate. The 2014 Burkinabe uprising also dubbed Burkina Faso Revolution 2.0 was brought about by a series of demonstrations and riots. This is after the former president announced plans to amend the constitution to allow him a further term in office.

Dark day

Led by opposition, citizens of Burkina Faso took to the streets. On October 30, 2015 the government City Hall Building was torched, as were the Congress for Democracy and Progress headquarters. The protesters even burned down part of the National Assembly building and stormed a media house. By the end of the next day Compaore had resigned.

Burkina Faso’s political problems did not start in 2014. A former French colony, since its independence in 1960, it has had several military coups. In 1983 Captain Thomas Sankara seized power from Colonel Saye Zerbo and adopted radical left wing policies. His rule did not last long he was over thrown and killed in a coup. It recently came into light that among the soldiers who killed him is one general Gilbert Diendere who led the week-long coup in September. So far he is the most senior official to be charged.

Mali, once touted as a shining example of democracy on the continent, has been mired in a political crisis since an army-led coup overthrew the democratically elected government in March 2012. The National Movement for Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a Touareg rebel group, took up arms against the Mali government in a bid to establish the independent state of Azawad in Northern Mali. The rebellion was precipitated by a combination of the return of Touareg fighters equipped with military equipment and expertise from Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi regime, and long standing grievances including economic and political marginalisation of the north, failure on the part of government to previous agreements, corrupt use of funds destined for the north, including international aid, and failure to tackle the criminal and terrorist networks operating in the region. The rebellion was reinforced by the Islamic movement Ansar Dine, led by a Tuareg, operating independently and fighting for the imposition of Sharia law in Mali. In November 2015, terrorists attacked a luxury hotel in Bamako the country’s capital and took hostages left at least 21 people dead.

At the height of terrorism perpetrators lies Nigeria’s Boko Haram whose most atrocious act was the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in 2014, about who the local and international governments took too long to respond. In 2011 alone they carried out 155 attacks killing 550. In 2014, they occupied more than 20 towns. In May 2014, they captured the town of Gwoza and killed at least 600 civilians.

Somalia has been in an ongoing civil war, which began in 1991, when a coalition of clan-based armed opposition groups ousted the nation’s long standing military government, led by Siad Barre. The UN attempted to restore peace. They didn’t succeed and later withdrew in 1995. It has been without a formal parliament for more than two decades. It was not until 2012 that a new internationally backed government was installed and stability was regained. In 2006 there cropped a new terror group, Al Shabaab, who have risen to become a terror group in eastern Africa and especially to the immediate neighbour, Kenya.

Attempts to revive Somalia

In 2000, clan elders and other senior figures appointed one Abdul Kassim Salat Hassan president at a conference in Djibouti. The transitional government did not reconcile the warring militias as earlier intended. If anything, it lost control of over 80% of the disputed territory to Islamic insurgents. Long standing absence of authority in the country led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, prompting NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and Kenya Defence Forces to take lead in an anti-piracy operation. International efforts bore fruits in 2012 when pirate attacks almost ceased.

Through Operation Linda Nchi 2011, an initiative of the Kenyan government saw coordination between Somali military and the Kenyan military alongside the African Mission in Somalia go all-out on Al Shabaab. Somali may not be at peace today but it is definitely in a better place than it has been for the last two decades.

In Central African Republic, the conflict here is an ongoing civil war between the Seleka rebel coalition and government forces since 2012. It arose after rebels accused the former president government Francois Bozize of failing to abide by peace agreements signed in 2007 and 2011. In 2013, the rebels seized the capital Bangui forcing President Francois to flee the country. The rebel leader Michel Djotodia was declared president. Fighting groups include Anti-Balaka and Seleka and armed Peul fighters (members of the Peul ethnic group). In January 2014 Michel Djotodia resigned as president following pressure from the international community and Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as the new transitional president.

Later in October 2014 fresh violence erupted killing dozens and forcing thousands forced more to flee; currently, there are 410,000 IDP’s and 420,000 have fled the country. Muslim Seleka forces clashed mainly with the Christian Anti-Balaka militia. The Muslims are currently are currently hurdled at the PK5 enclave. As a symbol of peace and reconciliation the Pope visited the besieged area as a sign of unity between Muslims and Christians.

Other problems plaguing Africa include corruption in the government, ranging from mismanagement of funds, embezzlement, looting and public land grabbing, as well as xenophobia in South Africa that saw a spring up of xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals. Thousands of foreigners were displaced from their homes and up to five reported dead. The violence was sparked by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini who asked all foreigners to “pack their bags and go.”

Crying wolf

Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta, at the CNN Multi Choice African Journalists 2015 Awards Gala, challenged the media to “embrace tenets of good journalism” and to “portray the accurate picture of Africa”. He further appealed to journalists to be factual and balanced in their presentation of news instead of only exaggerating the failures of the continent. One, however, wonders how media is supposed to portray a positive picture of Africa when it is plagued and ridded with anarchism, corruption and blood stained governments. The situation is just appalling.

It is a continent endowed with enormous natural resources, which have also become the source of most of the continent’s armed conflicts. This is a notion that critics have used to counter the narrative that Africa’s problems are solely attributable to Western interference.

We may attribute our present day problems to colonialism, but is that really the case? Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised; are they doing better than others? Liberia’s troubles began when the American–Liberians got into conflict with the native indigenous people of Liberia over which group were entitled to the country more. Its political stability has been measured by the rule of the same party for 133 years. It was often referred to as the most stable government in the world. The one positive thing about it is its autonomy – as an African country that has moved away from the common stereotype of patriarchy by being the first country to have a woman president.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, is doing badly than most other colonised countries. And while South Africa, which was the last to gain independence in 1994 from the apartheid regime, is doing better than all of them, it has been labelled a Genetically Modified Organism African country – it is in Africa but not quite “African”.

African leaders are the deepest thorns in its flesh. Almost every other conflict has been triggered by a bad decision a leader made. These leaders in their capacities as presidents or prime ministers are responsible in a big way for Africa’s plagues. Through ruling by chest thumping, and having affiliations to their ethnic tribes which they drag along in national decision making, they act as though the sovereign nations are private property for them and the tax payers money their proceeds. They abuse the tenets of the very same constitutions that put them in power and which they swore to uphold and protect. Africa’s leaders do not fathom or respect the sanctity of the rule of law.

Then there are the people, citizens of sovereign nations. A liberal philosopher once said that an African “just as his black skin, so black is his mind as well”. It shouldn’t offend us that such a thing was said about us. Every other time we go into elections, we vow to elect better leaders and to oust the previous ones who did not deliver, but the money always prevails. We then get frustrated when they disappoint and resort to conflict with slogans such as “la patrie ou la mort nous vaincrons” (home land or death, we shall overcome) we turn against each other, and pull down the country we fought so hard to build.

Dark culture

Our history cannot be ignored. Ethnic rivalries that go way back exhibit their ugly claws in the present. If we are to heal our ailing nations we do not do so by burying the past. If we do that, not only do we risk repeating history, but we also risk being myopic about our present.This continent that refuses to age to the 21st century has been labelled a dark continent by the west, but this is not about our social norms or perceived primitivity. It is about our collective culture and moral fabric. That is what we must change.^

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