Though 2017 was still quite bad for Africa, on the whole the continent still ended up the year on its feet.
Conflicts still raged in DR Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan, to mention hotspots close to home. In DR Congo 15,000 people were being displaced every day.
The Big Men continued their siege against democracy, amending constitutions to extend their stay in power, rigged elections, and tormented the opposition and independent media. The list of outrages is long.
However, being a journalist today is very different than it was in 1990. Then, you could very easily have a list of 50 things that went wrong in Africa in the year. We rarely did lists of the great moments on the continent for the year. These days, the good list can be long.
What has changed is that, barring one or two cases, even the most incompetent and corrupt regimes in Africa today have to work harder to completely ruin their countries.
There are many reasons for this. We shall speak about one, which is the result — though unintended — of government policies.
It is the dramatic expansion in education of the past 20 years through universal free primary education, and the sharp increase in private secondary and university education.
About three years ago an official at Inter-University Council of East Africa, told me that in the 1980s its membership was less than 10. However, recently there had been such an explosion in universities, if they had to admit all of them and equivalent institutions that existed in East Africa at that point, they would have over 300 members!
Primary school enrolment in the region has more than doubled. However, good paying jobs have barely been created, and youth unemployment is high.
The result is that, while 30 years ago the average house help in a big African city was probably semi-literate, today one is most likely will have gone to secondary school.
I listened to a BBC programme some years back, where a former high school teacher in Zimbabwe who fled the disastrous rule of Robert Mugabe, was a domestic worker in South Africa. I think she said she had an honours degree in Science.
In many places the politicians and state officials still hire relatives and their tribemates, but their quality has improved.
They are no longer the ill-educated rural campaign managers, and clueless nephews and nieces of yonder years. Many of them will have gone to college – and there will also be the odd Masters of PhD degree holder in the mix!
It still is bad government, but that still makes for “better” outcomes today than it did in the past.
The continent is also enjoying some of the benefits of the internet age.
From farmers using it to raise their productivity, mothers turning it to help them manage illness in their children, and restaurateurs for recipes, it has brought the knowledge barrier down everywhere in Africa, and offered many free tools for solving work problems.
All these have combined to ensure that uniform catastrophe is no longer the order of the day. In the same government, you will have a hopeless ministry of Agriculture, but a world class Finance ministry.
Successes thus pop up even in African countries run by incompetent nepotistic rulers.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]