AFRICA in 2011: A Reflection

It can be said that 2011 will be seen as a year of tremendous challenges and opportunities for the 54 nations of Africa.  With the world economy continuing unabatedly in the throes of global recession, African countries fought hard to soften the impact on their local economies while at the same time dealing with the various issues of increased democratization, good governance, healthcare, education and jobs for its people.

Many of the African countries that gained their independence in the 1960s celebrated their 50th anniversaries this year.  The 50-year mark triggered some serious analysis amongst African people as to what has gone right, what has gone wrong, and what needs to be done over the next 50 years!

In 2011 seventeen African countries, (including Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Tunisia), were slated to hold presidential election.  Some of these elections, notably in Nigeria, Benin, Tunisia and Zambia went forward with the decision widely respected amongst the populations. While others, notably Cameroon, DRC, Madagascar, Malawi and Uganda were either deemed unfair by large segments of the populations or postponed altogether.

The “Arab Spring” an unprecedented effort to do away with tyrannical governments in the Middle East and North Africa, began in Tunisia, and quickly spread to Egypt, Libya and other countries in the region.  Two of the governments and their leaders, Zine El Abidene Ben Ali’s in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, succumbed to the people’s pressure and shockingly collapsed in a short period of time.  Rebellions in both countries were led by young people utilizing social networking technologies to mobilize.  Both Tunisia and Egypt are now in various stages of democratic reform and trying to establish democratic institutions that would be more responsive to the people.

In Libya, the 30-year regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi came to an abrupt end in October, after a protracted civil war.  Libya was also swept up in the winds of the “Arab Spring” with similar demands of the young people in Tunisia and Egypt for the tyrannical regime to step down.  However, instead of leaving office, Gaddafi called out his military and began a brutal initiative to crush the rebellion.  The United States and NATO responded by establishing a “no-fly” zone over much of the country, and provided assistance to opposition forces, which eventually lead to the deposing and killing of Gaddafi.  As we head into 2012, many unanswered questions remain about the future of Libya, a wealthy oil-producing nation.

On July 9th, following a referendum on independence, the Government of South Sudan became the newest independent country on the continent, bringing to an end the continent’s longest running civil war.  Independence for South Sudan comes after a protracted war with the north that lasted nearly 40 years and resulted in a purported 2 million deaths, millions more displaced, and a development starved economy.

More than 75% of the oil reserves of the former Sudan (North and South) lie in South Sudan.  In addition, the South is blessed with an abundance of other mineral resources, as well as water resources and fertile lands.  Currently, it remains uncertain as to how this new nation will build a country virtually from scratch.

Once hailed as a model of stability, Cote d’Ivoire slipped into the kind of internal strife that has plagued many other African countries.Under the leadership of its first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Cote d’Ivoire was a model of stability for more than 3 decades after independence. The regime of Henri Bedie (who succeeded Houphouet-Boigny upon his passing), ended in a military coup in 1999, with Bedie fleeing to France.  In an effort to remain in power, Bedie planted the seeds of ethnic discord by trying to stir up xenophobic behavior against Muslims in the north, including his main rival, Alassane Quattara.

In 2000, Laurent Gbagbo came to power.  In October 2010, after a much delayed elections was held, he lost to Alassane Quattara.  Rather than handing over power to the newly elected president, Gbagbo sought to remain in power by the force of the gun.  The ensuing four-month stand-off ended only when Quattara’s forces overran the country’s south region, finally capturing Gbagbo and transporting him to the Hague to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.

Another major story in Africa in 2011 was the return of devastating episodes of drought and famine in Somalia and east Africa. This time around, the drought is exacerbated by the protracted 20-year civil war in Somalia, with a very limited central government in the country.  Hundreds of thousands have already perished in this drought and millions more are at risk!

With the growing realization of Africa as a bastion for strategic minerals — it is now attracting unprecedented interest from most notably China, but also India, the United States, Russia, Japan, Brazil, wealthy Middle Eastern countries and other countries, who are now devising all kinds of strategies to access African oil, diamonds, uranium, kotan, bauxite, and other natural resources.  If the negotiations with these countries are not well managed by the African Union and African nations, there is a legitimate fear that Africa could find itself in short order with a new form of colonization!

Despite these challenges, Africa is making remarkable progress towards promoting economic growth and sustainable development on the continent.  Some of the highest rates of returns being recorded across the globe, are being found on the African continent.

Additionally, the well-regarded presidential elections that took place in Nigeria this year, combined with the highly impressive economic growth being reported there, suggest the “sleeping giant” is now ready to take its place as the economic engine on the continent in 2012!

African leaders are also working hard to promote inter-Africa trade between countries, with heavy emphasis on increasing agriculture production – another sign that bodes well for the entire region and the world.

Africa is aggressively turning towards her Diaspora in the United States, South America, Europe and elsewhere, to attract trade and needed investment, to promote innovation and to access technologies, and to effectively lobby and promote the cooperation of western governments in the continents development.

While much remains to be done in Africa to promote economic development, Africa and the African world has much to look forward to in 2012.

By Melvin P. Foote, The Africa Executive,  Africa in 2011: A Reflection

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