The best of times or the worst of times? Go figure

Saturday May 2 2015


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

The past few weeks in Africa have been crazy.

In South Africa, we had another outbreak of xenophobic madness against immigrants, mostly Africans. At the same time, the desperate flight of Africans over murderous Mediterranean Sea waters to Europe continued. In what a UN official called a “massacre,” in one incident over 800 Africans drowned when their boat capsized in the worst such incident.

Closer home in Burundi, tension escalated over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. His opponents say this is illegal. In the crackdown that followed, protestors were killed, radio stations shuttered, and Twitter and Facebook blocked.

With alleged ruling party youth militia launching attacks, over 20,000 Burundi refugees fled to Rwanda. Another 1,000 took off for the DR Congo, and some to Tanzania. Rwanda alone has set aside land to house over 50,000 refugees.

The rebels in Mali stepped up their attacks. In Egypt, they are sentencing people to death and executing them like they are trying to enter the Guinness Book of Records.

In Mozambique, the opposition sought to bring in a Bill that would give the country’s region’s autonomy. Ghana’s economy, until about two years ago considered an African star, continued its meltdown. Kenya’s economy, too, looked less rosy than it did a year ago, battered mostly by Al Shabaab terror.


But there was good news from a place where there was little of it — Nigeria. After years of dismal failure, the military there continued to rout the murderous Boko Haram militants, and rescued hundreds of girls and women from the rebels’ strongholds.

However, they were not the 300 girls abducted in April last year from their school, which gave birth to the globally trending #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

And in a striking piece of green economy news, we learnt that Djibouti is close to tapping an unusual energy source — a volcano. By 2020, it aims to be a completely green economy, the first African nation to achieve this.

What the hell is going on? For better or worse, the continent is restless. Despite the conflicts and flight to Europe, the economies of most African countries are the best they have been.

If Nigeria can hold a free election, and an incumbent president loses and happily concedes defeat, something special is happening on the continent. Just what it is, we don’t know.

New stars are emerging. Two months ago we were close to giving up on Nigeria, now it’s smelling of roses. Economists say it will become Africa’s first trillion-dollar economy soon. Old stars, like South Africa, are falling through the cracks.

People cannot just continue braving the Mediterranean. Something must give. At the end of the day, Africa will have to make the boat crossings its business, not Europe’s. The present turmoil — and innovations — will continue for the next five to 10 years.

And, by the way, the World Happiness Report has come out. Burundi is the second unhappiest country in Africa. Rwanda is the fourth unhappiest.

The happiest? Libya! They are still just loving Muammar Gaddafi’s departure, despite the hell of the conflict there.

At this rate, one of these days we shall wake up to a day like no other.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is editor of Mail & Guardian Africa. Twitter: @cobbo3