(The East African)
The past two months have not been good ones for the Africa Rising narrative.
South Sudan has imploded and in Central Africa, a genocide of sorts is taking place, with Muslims now targeted in revenge for the atrocities of a short-lived regime that seized power last year.
These two stories, together with the DR Congo’s tribulations, have unfortunately hogged headlines from the continent this year, but other things have been happening in Africa.
READ: Crises top Africa Union agenda
The manoeuvring ahead of South Africa’s election, while still yet to come off the boil, has been high-profile, especially with the collapse of the negotiations between Democratic Alliance leader Hellen Zille, and Agang stalwart Mamphela Ramphele.
READ: Of the 11 elections in Africa this year, South Africa is the country to watch
The push to unseat Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan is definitely on. The decibels on the Kenya-ICC story have also been quite high, as has been the surprisingly vociferous debate over homosexuality on the continent.
But here we give you a rundown of the stories that have flown under the radar:
1: Gambia’s Jammeh wields the axe
President Yahya Jammeh has just sacked his energy minister Teneng Mba Jaiteh and taken over her duties.
We are not sure what she did, as the sackings are always explained away “as acting under the provisions of section 71(4) b of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia.”
Earlier last month, President Jammeh had sacked Ghanaian-born Chief Justice Mabel Yamoa Agyemang, and again gave no reason. Her replacement was a Nigerian. Her predecessor was another Nigerian.
While President Jammeh did not take over as Chief Justice, there is little else he does not run, including the Defence and Religious Affairs Ministries. Since he came to power in a coup in 1994, President Jammeh has hired and fired close to 200 Cabinet ministers and top officials.
He said he does not delight in being so decisive: “I have never had any wish to appoint anyone that I know I would end up dismissing because I will then be wasting our time and slowing down our progress.”
ALSO READ: Gambia quits Commonwealth after 48 years
2: Libya- Law of the brigands
Since Gaddafi’s ignominious end in October 2011 and a colourless election in July 2012 — the first “free” polls — little of substance has come out of the oil-rich North African country, with sensational stories such as opening of presidential sex dens popping up once in a while in tabloids.
Of all the Arab Spring beneficiaries, only Egypt can lay claim to a more chaotic transition. But Libya has been slowly moving to prise itself out of the grip of militia groups that essentially run the country.
So powerful are the brigands that they last October briefly abducted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.
But last week, Libyans went to the polls to elect a new transitional authority, after forcing the current interim General National Congress to back down on a plan to extend its mandate by a year.
A new constitution has also been in the works, with the 60-member assembly that will be elected expected to finalise the charter.
The biggest challenge however is to restore the rule of law to a country given over to widespread lawlessness.
3: Botswana’s Mr Teflon
Botswana is widely regarded as the standard that Africa should aspire to. The country is an “oddity” on a continent where the “African solutions to African problems” mantra involves turning a blind eye to governance infractions.
The Southern African country’s strong pro-governance approach to issues has won it mainly admirers, but also some foes.
Headed by “Africa’s most eligible bachelor” Lieutenant General Seretse Ian Khama, the country is by most African standards prosperous, aided by minerals and its embrace of the rule of law.
Gaborone has just cut diplomatic ties with North Korea following a damning UN report; it is a safe bet that not too many African countries will follow its lead.
President Khama, for example, held off on the Kenya-driven AU demand that African countries storm out of the International Criminal Court en masse, while he was the only leader to question Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s re-election, threatening to stop observer missions to fraudulent African elections.
The country was in December 2013 ranked Africa’s least corrupt state by Transparency International, while it has the fifth highest per capita income on the continent.
Even international PR nightmares such as its controversial treatment of the Basarwa — Bushmen — have not dented its image, with tourists still trooping to its game parks.
The country will in October go to the polls and while the opposition have in recent months sought to put up a united front against President Khama, it is an initiative that has struggled to gain traction.
Only the most optimistic see the president being denied a second term in office.
4: Zimbabwe gets sanctions relief
The European Union — that great target of Robert Mugabe — has finally come through on plans to ease sanctions on Zimbabwe, following the election in July that finally got rid of coalition partner Morgan Tsvangirai.
Given that the First Family are still blacklisted, Harare has termed the détente a “non-event.” Secretly, however, it will have been pleased, with the country said to be courting China for an urgent economic bailout package.
This comes as agriculture and manufacturing have all but collapsed, while mining proceeds regularly end up in the pockets of top officials. The country has retired its much-maligned currency, and has announced it will use up to nine foreign currencies.
READ: Zimbabwe adopts four more currencies
President Mugabe, who turned 90 this month, is unperturbed by all this. Expected to run again at the next election, he insists he is not due for retirement any time soon.
He will, however, have been keenly watching the EU’s recent moves, with the bloc expected to resume direct development aid disbursements through the government for the first time since 2002.
The US, however, remains distinctly unimpressed. President Mugabe will not be among the 47 out of 54 African leaders invited to President Barack Obama’s US-Africa Leaders Summit in August.
5: Madagascar- Waiting for Godot
The former tourist magnet that is Madagascar has just come through a presidential election that went to a second round, although you wouldn’t know it given the weariness that regularly accompanies political developments in the island country.
The elections were won by a man with possibly the longest name of any world leader, Hery Rajaonarimampianina. The country is now looking to pick itself up from the political turmoil that started in 2009 when a disc jockey seized power with the help of the country’s reactionary military.
The resultant unrest soon hit the economy, with some analysts estimating it has cost the Indian Ocean Island at least $8 billion so far. That is not pocket change for a country with Madagascar’s poverty numbers, and the focus is now on pushing donors to reopen aid taps.
According to IRIN news agency, the imposition of sanctions, and the freezing of all but emergency assistance, saw poverty rates among its 22 million people rise about 70 per cent to 92 per cent.
Hery — as the tongue twister-wary media have taken to referring to him — is now forming his government.
As a man seen as a proxy of former president Andry Rajoelina, he faces the difficult task of convincing donors there has been a break with the past.
6: Will an ailing Bouteflika go for a fourth term?
Algeria President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had been keeping the country on tenterhooks for months on whether he will stand for a fourth term.
On Saturday February 23, Bouteflika said he will run in the April elections and the presidency confirmed he has formally submitted his re-election papers.
In a nation that is still scarred by the brutal civil war of the 1990s, a vicious battle to succeed him has been proceeding behind the scenes.
Many analysts had guessed he would not run again on account of ill-health, having been diagnosed with a mini-stroke last April, which kept him out of the country until July. He also, in 2005, underwent surgery for a bleeding stomach ulcer.
The 76-year-old has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1999 — long enough, according to the opposition.
“Everyone knows he’s sick… People only talk of his illness, when normally one would discuss a president’s actions, his record,” said Abderrazak Makri, the leader of the Islamist group Movement for the Society of Peace in January.
A bitter falling out between the leader of the ruling National Liberation Front and the secretive but powerful leader of the country’s shadowy military intelligence has exposed increasing divisions in the regime.
For most Algerians, a peaceful transition of any colour will do.
7: The AU’s invisible man
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz is a man unused to publicity. The last time he excited the continent was when he was “accidentally” shot by a soldier in 2012, forcing him to spend a total of eight weeks in France undergoing treatment.
The 55-year-old former general who seized power in a coup in 2008 before “regularising” his status through an election a year later, is now the new political head of the African Union, having taken the seat in January.
As yet, no one has come up with a description for the 54-member bloc’s achievements, and for many it remains a talking shop, a club that protects the hardy breed that is the “African Big Man.”
Having celebrated its 50th anniversary last year at lavish parties in Addis Ababa, the bloc has still had the International Criminal Court to thank for giving it a semblance of unity against a backdrop of francophone-anglophone tensions as it pushed to controversially have sitting heads of state shielded from international justice.
READ: How does the African Union score at 50?
Given that the seat rotates among the regions, the bloc often ends up with some colourful figureheads such as Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang Nguema and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
It is hard to see Abdelaziz making his mark at the helm of the organisation. Given that he is up for re-election this year, the distractions of office should make it harder to retain focus.
8: Guinea-Bissau at it again
A popular fact trotted out about Guinea-Bissau is that no elected leader there has ever finished his term in office.
It is a challenging country to live in at the best of times, beset by poverty, piracy and an unwanted reputation as a narco-state.
The latest effort to right the ship was an election that was slated for November. The poll was postponed to March 16 — the reason given being general unpreparedness.
And the election was again quietly pushed back to April, again using the same reason, risking the anger of donors and the international community who want the term of the interim government brought to an end.
The country is looking to restore constitutional order after the latest instalment of a coup in 2012. It would not surprise many if the April elections were again deferred.
9: Burkina Faso- Fiddling with the law
President Blaise Compaore seems set to change his country’s presidential term requirements to allow him to extend his 26-year reign.
This means that an entire generation — 60 per cent of the country is aged under 25 — has never known any other president apart from the 63-year-old Compaore.
The idea of another term for him is apparently anathema to many, from the youth to opposition leaders. The latter have been defecting from the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress in droves, and in December an estimated crowd of 100,000 turned out to protest any bid to have him go on.
But President Compaore has survived before: In 2011, a wave of protests over the rising cost of basic goods led to a mutiny that forced him to dissolve his government.
The social protest should he try to force through changes via a constitution could be a big problem: Burkina Faso is ranked 183rd of 186 nations ranked by the annual UN Human Development Index.
10: Sudan- Bashir’s (mis)calculations
Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir has lately had a lot to think about, in addition to his indictment by the International Criminal Court. Widespread protests last September at austerity measures following the elimination of subsidies presented the stiffest challenge to his 24-year rule.
The ruling National Congress Party has also been hit hard by dissent, prompting a reshuffle aimed at strengthening his weakened hand, while rebels continue to trouble him in pockets of the country. Direct peace talks in Addis Ababa last week collapsed in under 20 minutes.
READ: UN urges ceasefire as Sudan-rebel peace talks begin
The conflict in South Sudan is not helping either, nor is his tiff with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni over each other’s alleged support for insurgents.
It would seem it was the need for a sound night’s sleep that saw President Bashir dangle an inclusive government at the opposition last month, ahead of a General Election next year.
Unsurprisingly, Sudanese opposition and rebels have turned down the invitation, terming it a political manoeuvre to pave the way for his re-election.
11: Burundi- Dirty games afoot?
There is political flux in Burundi, a tiny country that rivals the Central African Republic for anonymity. Many remember Burundi for its ethnic bloodshed, but neighbour Rwanda is more recognised over the scale of the genocide there.
The country holds its polls next year, and already the delicate power-sharing formula in government between the Hutus and Tutsis is struggling to hold.
President Pierre Nkurunziza could yet go for a third term by changing the Constitution, a sensitive document that guarantees power sharing between the country’s Hutu majority, which is 85 per cent of the population, and the Tutsi minority.
The manoeuvring for the presidency in recent weeks has taken on ugly overtones, in a country whose history is littered with bitter ethnic killings, massacres in 1972 and 1988, and civil war.
12: Changing the Constitution
Zambia and Tanzania have both been reviewing their supreme law. For Tanzania, it is straightforward. The biggest debate has been around the structure of the Union: a three-tier government or a two-tier one? It is safe to say that a new document on course for this year, and the squabbles are over solid issues.
It could not be more different in neighbouring Zambia. There, President Michael Sata rode into power from the opposition, and promised to swiftly deliver a new charter that did away with the excesses of successive post-colonial governments. It is yet to happen.
President Sata, now enjoying the trappings of power, looks to have grown tired of the process, alarming Zambians who thought they had seen a new dawn in 2011.