OBBO: This year, East Africans were afraid to be happy

Saturday December 21 2019

dusit d2

People are evacuated from the compound where explosions and gunshots were heard at the Dusit Hotel compound, in Nairobi, Kenya on January 15, 2019. PHOTO | REUTERS 

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Finally, we are at the end of 2019.

Mother Nature sent East Africa, and indeed most of the world, a reminder that it’s angry at the way we have despoiled Earth. Floods submerged our cities, loudly revealing our folly, sweeping away villages, and leaving hundreds dead.

It was not a good year for the political and official East African Community (EAC); plagued by deadbeat members who didn’t pay their subscriptions, and squabbles among leaders that have paralysed the regional bloc.

Burundi remained in half-coma, with President Pierre Nkurunziza promising he will take his dead hand off its neck and step down in 2020.

South Sudan remained mired in conflict, though the belligerents, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, a few days ago seemed to make a critical move toward finally setting up a national unity government to end the political madness that befell the new country six years ago.

Ebola continues its rampage in potential new EAC member Democratic Republic of Congo, having killed over 2,100 people so far. But while the terror of Ebola has grabbed headlines, a little-covered measles epidemic has killed more than double that number of Congolese—all of over 5,000 of them!


However, next door Uganda, which has honed its Ebola smarts over the years, managed to stop the possible spread of the disease into its territory decisively.

There were many other good stories in East Africa. East African citizens continue to travel in record numbers in the region, embracing the sinful joys of music and other festivals.

The American university, Carnegie Mellon, opened a campus in the Rwanda capital Kigali. Soon East Africans will know it more widely, but the deal is as citizens of Jumuiya they get a 50 per cent discount on the fees. There is a cohort of smart East Africans already cashing in.

It has been a glorious period for East African sport. Nearly all of us made it to the African Cup of Nations. Ugandan long distance simply exploded, but Kenya remained king of the hill.

There are so many new books and new authors, including a gripping tale from former Tanzania president Benjamin Mkapa, only a champion liar will claim to have read them all.

While climate change batters us, a new generation of environmental activists is emerging everywhere you look.

From up north, the forces of progress seem to be finally winning out in Somalia and refusing to be cowed by the occasional Al-Shabaab bombs in Mogadishu. An Eden might be re-emerging in the Horn.

Two years after he launched the most ambitious democratic experiment in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy is still on his feet. It looked at one point he would sink. A Nobel Peace Prize seemed small, but hey!

But because of past failure; rampant corruption in most parts of East Africa; economic growth without jobs; growing repression and restrictions on press freedom, the mood is dark and very negative. If you follow East African social media, you’d think the world is ending tomorrow. Most people are hurting.

If there is one thing that was striking about East Africa in 2019, it is that despite the many green shoots, its soundtrack was grim and pessimistic.
We have more than a few reasons to be happy, but we were too afraid to.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]