Things got worse in Africa in 2016

The economic and political fractures in many African countries have become more exposed than ever this year. But in the cracks lie opportunities, writes Simon Allison on The African Arguments.

It was a winter’s day in July, and darkness had fallen outside the Magistrate’s Court in Harare. Inside, the presiding judge at the remand hearing of Pastor Evan Mawarire was still deliberating. The thousands of people who had gathered in support of activist Mawarire – a public show of defiance unprecedented in Zimbabwe’s recent history – were getting fractious. The riot police called in to contain them fingered their AK-47s nervously. They too were praying for Mawarire’s treason charge to be thrown out, because they knew that any other outcome would provoke a riot. Those guns would be used, and people would die. I looked around for cover. When things got ugly, I wanted to be prepared.

And then, from somewhere near that line of police at the front, a scream. It took a few moments to realise it was a scream not of terror, or horror, but of joy. Mawarire was free. All around me, men and women cheered and embraced. Some cried. This is what victory sounds like. This is what power feels like.

[Fed up, unafraid, and just getting started: What Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag must do now]

It wasn’t really about Mawarire, of course. For the first time in the lifetime of most of the young crowd, the regime had lost and the people had won. Their voices, raised in song and prayer throughout the day, had been heard. It was intoxicating, and impossible not to be caught up in the euphoria of the moment. If you could distil this emotion, and bottle it, it would be the most powerful drug in the world.

All journalists need moments like these. When you spend your life writing about coups and conflict, about corruption and terrorism and torture, you must to be reminded every now and again that the goodness of humanity outweighs its evil.

In 2016, a global annus horribilis from which Africa was not shielded, this was particularly true. In many ways, it was an especially grim and unforgiving year for the continent. The headline stories all tell a tale of death and destruction, of backward steps, of greedy and incompetent leaders prepared to throw away their country’s future to enrich their own.

In Burundi, the consolidation of Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime amid warnings of genocide. In South Sudan, the all-too predictable collapse of a fatally flawed peace deal, a new eruption of violence, and another genocide warning. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, peaceful protestors gunned to death by president who doesn’t know when it is time to leave. In Nigeria’s north-eastern states, the tyranny of Boko Haram replaced by the even greater tyranny of disease and hunger, with millions at risk. In Nigeria’s capital, the poor performance of President Muhammadu Buhari, elected on a wave of optimism but so far disappointing all, including his wife. In Ethiopia, the vicious crackdown on Oromo and Amhara protestors as the bloody truth of the developmental state is finally laid bare. In Mozambique, a government that has already squandered its gas bonanza on a fleet of rusting tuna fishing boats. In Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, a civil war that is all but ignored by all except its perpetrators, and its victims. In Zimbabwe, a cash shortage so acute that that the Reserve Bank has invented a bizarre pseudo-currency to solve it, raising the spectre again of epic hyperinflation.

I could go on.

Continue reading on The African Arguments

By Simon Allison

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