Africa Rising, We Chorused, Just as Things Fell Apart. Which Way My Continent?


In November last year, just a month ago, we were reading some optimistic stuff about South Sudan predicting that the country’s economy would grow by 30 per cent.
After the recent allegedly failed coup, and the falling out between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, South Sudan has been all but plunged into a vicious civil war. Now that projected 30 per cent growth, could well turn out to be minus 30 per cent.
South Sudan is not alone. The conflicts in the wider East Africa have stunk up the region. In addition to the crisis in eastern DR Congo, a few days ago what the Kinshasa government called “terrorists” staged attacks in the capital, holding hostages at the state radio, and killing dozens.
The Central African Republic descended into madness weeks ahead of South Sudan, and the African Union and the international community are scrambling desperately to stop the bloodbath.
In Somalia, the militant group Al Shabaab have upped their suicide bomb attacks. Kenya, which has not got over the September 2013 Westgate attack by Al Shabaab in which at least 67 people were killed, was again rocked by terrorists’ grenades at the Coast in the New Year.
In Burundi, there are concerns that President Pierre Nkurunziza is intent on scrapping the peace agreements that ended his country’s civil war by providing for power-sharing and term limits for the head of the state.
In many ways, it was a very low point for Africa that its best vibe, and some of the most flowery praise it has ever heard, came from a death — that of Nelson Mandela.
Even before one adds in repression and chaos in Egypt and Libya, the effect of these setbacks is that the year opened with hardly anyone referring euphorically to “Africa Rising.”
A few months ago you couldn’t turn a page, view TV, or stray into a conference without running into someone proclaiming that the old violent and poor Africa was slowly disappearing, and a prosperous, confident continent was replacing it.
Three weeks ago, I asked Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame whether he still bought into the “Africa Rising” story. He hesitated a bit, and said he did, adding however that it would happen despite the continent’s leaders and governments, not because of them. “I think the private sector will make it happen,” he said.
Then a few days ago I spoke to an international civil servant who was also a big fan of the “It’s Africa’s moment” mantra. He said up until a few months ago, there was always some cheerful report about Africa that he received every week and eagerly shared around.
Lately, he has been getting stuff that he hides, he said. “Why,” I asked? “Because it feeds this idea that Africa can’t get itself out of its mess,” he said, “that the progress of the past decade was a fluke, a ‘mistake,’ and now we have reverted to form.”
Like Kagame, he hadn’t given up. “Europe went through centuries of war and suffering, Africa too will take the same route. Things will get much worse, before they get better,” he said.
If that is how the new Afro-optimist sounds like, then I don’t want to meet the Afro-pessimist.

By Charles Onyango-Obbo


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s