15 political events that shaped Africa in 2015
As 2015 draws to a close, here is a recap of events which were of great political significance across the continent in the calendar year. The events are arranged according to the order of their occurrence.
The Egyptian government’s release of Aljazeera journalist Peter Greste began the end of its widely condemned prosecution of three Al Jazeera journalists on the allegation of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy, Greste’s two co-detained colleagues, would go on to be released several months later. While the release of the journalists was applauded around the world, it was also used to highlight the fact that the Egyptian government continues to indefinitely detained dozens of lesser profile journalists.
The destruction of Boko Haram’s headquarters in Gwoza delivered a decisive blow on the prospects of an Islamic caliphate which the terrorist group claimed to aspire towards. It was also one of the high points of a military offensive that succeeded in regaining most of the territory that had been captured by the ISIS-affiliated group. While the dislodging of Boko Haram from its controlled territories has severely weakened the terror group (leading the Nigerian government to announce recently that it has met its self-imposed December deadline to defeat the sect), it has also caused the group to change tactics from conventional warfare to guerrilla attacks. The sect has since stepped up its use of suicide bombers to devastating effects, while the Nigerian security forces claim they have had to strengthen focus on intelligence gathering.
South Africa has a history of xenophobic attacks which depicts the frosty relationship between members of the majority black community, many of whom are economically disadvantaged, and the large immigrant community who are often blamed by the some of the former for taking away the juicy business opportunities and contributing to the country’s high crime rate. While the attacks, which left about 8 people dead and dozens of immigrant-owned shops destroyed, cast a shadow over the country’s image as a continental hub, the large public response against the violence showed that much of the South African society was firmly against xenophobia.
The March national elections was the first time in Nigeria’s history in which an opposition party won the elections at the centre. Such feat did not occur in the two elections Nigeria held under the Parliamentary system of the 1960s, nor had it happened in the seven elections that the country held afterwards in the Presidential system. The swearing in of the APC’s flag bearer, Muhammadu Buhari, a month later also made it the first time an opposition presidential candidate succeeded an incumbent. The attainment of both feats broke the jinx that ruling parties always win general elections and that incumbent Presidents cannot lose through the ballot box. Unfortunately this jinx remains the case in several other African countries where sit-tight presidents stifle political opposition and prevent the conduct of credible, free and fair polls.
With a death toll of 148 people, the terrorist attack on the Garissa University College in Kenya became the deadliest attack in the country since the 1998 bombing of the United States embassy. Carried out by the Islamist militant group, Al-Shabaab, the attack was made more tragic by the fact that its victims were mostly students and young people. The attack raised serious doubts over the ability of Kenya’s security institutions as well as renewed focus on the strength of al-Shabab. It further led to tougher measures by the Kenyan government among which was the freezing of bank accounts of individuals and entities allegedly associated with the Somali terror group and the suspension of licenses of a dozen Somali-owned money transfer companies.
Burundi is on the brink of sliding back into a conflict that is of the magnitude of its recently past civil war, and this is largely because of the insistence of the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza, to remain in power. By running for a third presidential term, Nkurunziza flouted the terms of the peace accord which ended the country’s civil war and triggered a nationwide uprising against his government. Although he successfully put down a coup d’état and went on to get re-elected (the election was widely discredited as neither credible nor free and fair), Nkurunziza has not been able to calm the stormy opposition to his rule. Instead, his clampdown of political opponents and recalcitrance to the international community’s urgings that he constructively sits down in dialogue with them had thrown much of the country into chaos and series of violence.
The South African government’s refusal to hand over Sudan’s President Omar Al Bashir as ordered by its own court triggered a legal warfare at home that has now escalated into an international diplomatic conflict pitting African countries on one side and the International Criminal Court on the other. It all began when the South African government refused a local court’s order to turn in the Sudanese leader and flouted another injunction to keep him in the country. While it was on the receiving end of criticism from human rights activists for failing to arrest al Bashir, the government increased its rhetoric against the ICC, backed up by other African countries, most notably Kenya—whose president and vice were both charged for human rights crimes. Both Countries have recently called for the reforming of the Hague court on the accusation that it has an anti-African bias but human rights activists have in turn criticised their motives as self-serving.
Tunisia was hit by several terror attacks in 2015 but the massacre at the famous Sousse beach, which left 38—mostly foreigners—dead, was arguably the most devastating. Coming just after the Bardo Museum attack, the terror strike at Sousse greatly deflated local and international confidence in the Tunisian security and led to an exodus of foreign tourists from whom much of the country’s revenue is generated. While the Tunisian government has since ramped up security measures, it is yet to recover fully from the devastating impact of the several high profile terror attacks.
Barely weeks to US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Ethiopia the country’s government released five members of the Zone 9 blogging collective and renowned journalist Reeyot Alemu whom it had held for over a year on terror charges. The zone 9 bloggers gained nationwide popularity for posting commentaries which were critical of the government with regards to human rights, good governance, education, social justice and corruption. The release of the activists was seen by many as a move by the Ethiopian government to clean up its human rights image as it prepared to receive the American president. In October the Ethiopian government released the remaining members of the Zone 9 blogging collective, but any hope that this was the start of a loosening of its clampdown on dissent was quickly crashed by the government’s recent aggressive putdown of protests which have led to over 80 deaths.
After a decade of bureaucratic bottlenecks and legislative back-and-forth, the long overdue trial of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré for crimes against humanity finally kicked off in June. The legal proceedings commenced with much in-court drama from the accused, but it made global headlines for a wholly different and much more significant reason. Habré’s trial is the first ever in the world in which the courts of one country, in this case Senegal, prosecute the former ruler of another, Chad, for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and, if the prosecutors succeed in their latest move to add more charges, rape and sexual slavery. The trial is also a big test of the ability of the African community to credibly handle a prosecution of the magnitude of allegations of human rights crimes, especially when the accused is a former ruler of a country.
US President Barack Obama’s visit to Kenya was arguably the biggest event in Africa of 2015 for the obvious reasons that it was a homecoming for the first ever African-American President and also that it was for his attendance of the largest ever gathering of business leaders in the continent. His trip to Ethiopia a few days later was also packed with political significance as it marked the first time the president of the United States of America had addressed the AU general assembly, an accomplishment embellished by the fact that the said president was partly African. Obama’s visit affirmed and at the same time bolstered the economic and political standing of both countries, and by extension that of the whole continent. It also raised two other important issues, firstly about the negative coverage of Africa by the western media, following CNN’s description of Kenya as a Terror hotbed, and secondly the US’s double standard on democracy following Obama’s praise of Ethiopia’s government despite the many human rights abuses said to have been perpetrated by the latter.
After a protracted civil war in which nearly fifty thousand died and over two million were displaced, South Sudan’s warring parties finally signed a peace accord which finally halted the nascent country’s tragic march towards desolation. The agreement, the latest in a series of failed pacts, lays down the framework for a ceasefire and power-sharing deal that is supposed to forge an eventual path to peace and stability. Although fragile, it represents the strong efforts by both the international and local community to pull South Sudan back to the path of promise which it held in abundance following its independence in 2011. The road to recovery remains rocky and the coming year will bring with it tougher challenges on how the country can move forward. However, with the peace deal as its foundation for political dialogue there is no doubt that South Sudan can pull through if its leaders live up to their responsibilities to the pact.
The video of over two dozen Ghanaian judges soliciting for or accepting to take bribes shook the West African country to its foundation and left its judicial arm of government with a massive task of rebuilding its crumbled integrity. Anas, the investigative journalist behind the report, has been exposing corrupt practices in and outside Ghana for a while but none of his previous works neared his latest exploit in the scale of operation or potential impact. By taking on the judiciary and exposing the width and depth of the corruption within, Anas’ report provided precision for what had largely been a speculative criticism of the institution. It also helped raise the profile of the corruption of the judiciary and the rule of law in other African countries. Most importantly, the brazen nature of Anas’ latest operation may also inspire others in Ghana and across the continent to seek to expose corruption in high places.
Barely a year after the people of Burkina Faso rose up and swept off their sit-tight dictator with a political revolution, they did it all over again as allies of their former ruler tried to scuttle the fulfilment of their revolution. Major General Gilbert Diendéré, former dictator Blaise Compaore’s henchman, had seized power with the intention of bringing back his boss’s loyalists to power and the international community (the ECOWAS in particular) was initially ready to acquiesce to this, but the Burkinabé people would have none of it. They trouped onto the streets, braved the guns of the putschists and rallied the momentum that eventually led to the foiling of the coup. By rising up against the coup, the people of Burkina Faso showed an unflinching desire for the democratic transformation of their land. They also set a continent-wide example that the will of the people if coalesced is beyond the grip of the fiercest dictators and above the reach of usurpers.
While the Ebola Epidemic that ravaged parts of West Africa is primarily a health event, its disastrous effect on every sector of the affected countries qualify its eradication as event of huge political importance and significance. In this vein, the declaration of Guinea as Ebola-free by the WHO finally draws a curtain on Africa’s greatest health tragedy in modern time. The Ebola epidemic, which began in 2014 killed nearly twelve thousand people in West Africa, with over 98 percent of them from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Liberia was declared Ebola-free in September while Sierra Leone achieved the status two months later. However, as the countries move into post-Ebola measures to revitalise their heavily devastated socioeconomic lives, they have been warned by the WHO to remain vigilant against the virus as it could make comebacks (like it has twice-done in Liberia).