A year highlighted by a new nation, regime change, famine and hopes for climate change solutions
by Alphonce Shiundu
NEW ERA:Celebrating regime change in
The big story out of Africa in 2011 was the referendum in southern
As the clock ticked and the weeks dragged on, focus shifted to the continent's north, to what began with the self-immolation of a frustrated street hawker in a small town in Tunisia in mid-December 2010, climaxed into the toppling of three dictators in three countries and the subsequent violent and bloody death of one of these previous "strongmen." One ended up in jail, while another one fled his country for exile in
Lying across the border with
This was not only because of Gaddafi's global reputation as a despot, but also because of the way the American, the French and the British governments pushed for his ouster in a long-running NATO bombardment that spanned months.
Gaddafi had established himself as the "King of Kings" in
The ruins have to be rebuilt; the weapons used by the many rebels have to be accounted for to avoid a cycle of violent conflict; the sworn Gaddafi loyalists have to be convinced that life will be better, and Abdul-Raheem al-Keeb, picked by Libya's interim council to head a government, has to manage a difficult transition from civil war to democracy.
The regime changes did not start and stop with the people's revolt in the Arab North. 2011 has turned out to be a year of elections in
Mwangi S Kimenyi, a U.S.-based Kenyan researcher, noted in his paper titled "
"How these elections turn out - whether they are considered fair or not, results disputed or accepted, peaceful or violent - will have a major impact on the development prospects in the continent," he noted.
The countries where polls were held this year include Nigeria, Niger, Uganda, Cameroon, Liberia, Zambia, Benin, Cape Verde, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, and Seychelles.
While in most countries the incumbents retained power, in
The change of guard in
Famine and rumors
The sad news of the continent in 2011 centered on the five countries in the Horn of Africa, where 12 million people were faced with starvation and famine. The countries involved were
The World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization plus the United Nations, marshaled donors to respond to the humanitarian emergency and the aid is flowing in. The ongoing tragedy is likely to spill over into 2012.
Another tragedy that turned out to be a high-profile hoax was the rumor about the "death" of the global icon Nelson Mandela – the rumor became a major trend topic on twitter, and almost sent an entire continent into mourning. Fortunately the frail 93-year-old is still alive.
The social fabric in the continent is also changing following the declaration by the British that any country that discriminates against gays and lesbians will face aid sanctions. That saw an uproar in
The British Prime Minister David Cameron had threatened to slash general budget support to countries that are not serious about reforms of laws that criminalize homosexuality.
Homosexuality is illegal in
The push to tone down homophobia is needed and seen as a step toward the respect for human rights.
The countries in the East Africa Community – the five-member econo-political bloc with Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi – also has its share of challenges experienced in 2011, with top of the list being the high food and fuel prices, and the depreciating shilling. In
A 2-kilo packet of sugar in
When the year began,
More mouths to feed and more people to employ, means that there has to be more land for food production and more industries to produce goods for the billions of people. This means that pressure on the hitherto pristine forests on the continent is likely to increase as people expand the arable land. If that happens haphazardly, desertification is guaranteed, resulting in more droughts and famine.
That's why the climate change talks in South Africa in November are crucial, not only to ensure that the continent does not bear the brunt, but that it also succeeds in its quest for food security and sufficient clean water supply all year round.
When historians look back at 2011, they will remember it as perhaps one of the most historic years of the millennium.