A Review of the Year: Africa in 2011

Africa often calls itself the ‘ignored continent’ because whatever is happening there is often pushed down the news queue in favour events in wealthier nations. However this year, African soil was the birthplace of the Arab Spring and this year’s UN intervention which was covered yesterday in the review of the Middle East. Not only that sub-saharan Africa, the subject of this article, saw quite a lot of action not go unnoticed by the world’s media such as:

South Sudan: After decades of civil war and bloodshed spilt between its two halves, Sudan’s southern Christian areas voted to secede to form the world’s newest country, South Sudan in an overwhelming majority at a referendum in January. Since their official independence day in July, they have declared their official language as English over Arabic, controversial as few in the country speak it fluently and suffered the teething problems of a new state with a hostile neighbour to their north. In the past few days there have been reports of air attacks by the (northern) Sudanese military and cattle herders in the far west of the country are reported to have been killed. Although the division, instigated by the UN in 2005, was supposed to put an end to war but it seems like the old factions are still not prepared to go down without a fight.

Ivory Coast:Although it was once a paragon of virtue for good African government, the Cote d’Ivoire has been torn between sectarian disputes for around ten years and the election in November 2010 was supposed to bring the country back into the democratic fold. However, instead of bowing out gracefully after losing the election, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down from power and instigated a civil war for four months until he was captured in his compound by opposition forces loyal to internationally recognised successor, Alassane Ouattara in February. The dry run for the Arab Spring has left the country struggling to get back on its feet as many are many have fled into neighbouring states and are still living as refugees after the rebels terrorized civilians. There is hope for restored stability however as Gbagbo was taken to the Hague in November to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Cape Verde: In the wake of Gbagbo’s ungracious exit from power, former President of the nearby island of Cape Verde, Pedro Verona Pires, was awarded the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize in October for leaving office peacefully. Pires was instrumental in the tiny island’s independence from Portugal in 1975 and transitioned the country from autocracy to democracy even when it met he lost the election that he instigated. The award was set up by Sudanese Telecoms giant Mo Ibrahim to encourage better government across Africa but tellingly was not awarded in 2009 and 2010 due the lack of a credible candidate.

Nigeria: It is far too early to say but another potential contender for a future Mo Ibrahim prize may be the new President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. After many years of rigging at the polls, the election Jonathan presided over in June this year was regarded as the fairest in recent memory according to international watchdogs. Jonathan hopes to bring an end to political tribalism and sectarian or religious violence but ushering Nigeria into a proper democracy. However, the ratification of an anti-gay rights bill and the raiding of a newspaper office after they published an alleged letter by the former President criticising the new government. Additionally, Islamist terroist group, Boko Haram have done everything to derail this process with an ampted up campaign of violence culminating in the attack on a Church in the capital Abuja on Christmas Day were 37 people were killed. Jonathan vows to ‘crush’ the group and has called for a state of emergency in parts of the country. Where this will end up and to what ends he goes to do fight Boko Haram remains to be seen.

Gay Rights: For the African LGBT movement, 2011 did not get off to a good start. Uganda, whose HIV laws have effectively made it illegal to be homosexual, lost one of its major gay rights activists in January as David Kato was beaten to death after Uganda’s Rolling Stone magazine published pictures of men they claimed were homosexuals under the headline ‘Hang Them’. Human Rights Watch urged immediate investigation into Kato’s death. Meanwhile in Cameroon, gay rights lawyer, Alice Nkom said in November that she was receiving death threats from other lawyers and the situation was detoriating with illegal imprisonment and torture. Under Cameroon’s law, which also ratifies human rights leglislation, to be convicted of homosexuality you must be caught n delecto flagrante and cares a sentence of six months to five years. However, Nkom says that men are being arrested and locked up immediately for ‘looking effeminate’ or wearing makeup. Meanwhile in South Africa, lesbian women are still living in fear of social ostracisation and ‘corrective rape’ according to a report by Human Rights’ Watch entitled ‘We’ll Show You You’re A Women’.

South Africa: Speaking of Sub-Saharan Africa’s richest country, the ruling party the ANC, ruled to ban popular and youthful firebrand, Julius Malema from the party for five years. Despite being elected unopposed as the President of African National Congress Youth League back in June, Malema was facing expulsion for ‘sowing divisions with the ranks of the ANC’ and ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. An outspoken critic of President Jacob Zuma and said he was ready to kill him in 2008. He had already broken ranks with his support of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and support for regime change in Botswana which the party regarded as working with imperialists. This signifies ongoing divisions and weaknesses within the party that has been ruling South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Liberia: Finally some good news. Liberia is normally associated with Charles Taylor, its brutal President up until 2003, especially after his war crimes trial last year which sensationally involved British supermodel Naomi Campbell. However this year saw it recognised for its good government with its’ President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sharing the award with fellow Liberian, peace activist Leymah Gbowee and a Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman for their ‘non-violent’ work for women’s rights. Mrs Sirleaf is Africa’s first female elected head of state and its credited with ending 14 years of civil war and Ms Gbowee lead a peaceful campaign to oust Mr Taylor.