African viewpoint: Rocked by revolt
In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and
columnist Farai Sevenzo looks back at 2011 and its impact on Africa.
There may have been other years in other centuries whose impact on the
collective memory had their own Richter scales, whose tremors rumbled on
through generations, rewriting history in blood.
But those years lacked the immediacy of 2011 - with its visceral instant
news, its wall-to-wall coverage, its televised revolutions, its public
executions, its fragile finances and its Biblical natural disasters.
This time last year, few of us had any idea that a man who set himself on
fire after being hassled by authorities while selling fruit and vegetables -
not oil or diamonds - would leave the top half of our continent ablaze in
flames of rebellion.
All year long we have grappled with thoughts of revolution in the most
unexpected of places, and wondered how much further beyond those desert
nations revolution would reach.
So how were we to interpret these momentous events?
A "Jasmine Revolution", someone had fragrantly imagined it to be.
Then these events were called the "North African Revolts" as presidents
south of the Sahara warned their people "not to be inspired by Egypt".
Governments around the desert nations - Algeria, Morocco - rushed through
legislation abandoning long-standing states of emergency and put on their
kindest make-up while hoping the howling winds would pass them by.
Inspiration, meanwhile, landed where it willed and it did not land on Malawi
or Zimbabwe or even the Democratic Republic of Congo, but flew instead to
the rest of the Arab world and the winds of change changed course.
It was telling when the African geographic reality of Tunisia, Egypt and
Libya was abandoned in media descriptions as 2011 became the year of the
"Arab Spring", because much of the Arab world scrambled for new manuals on
governance and maintaining power in the wake of this North Africa-inspired
The demise of Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the man who had done so much
to forge ties with black Africa weighed heavily on governments from Pretoria
to Addis, and the Libyan revolution made its mark by the sheer intensity of
Throw into this mix the deplorable treatment of black Africans - which had
every human rights organisation calling for National Transitional Council
restraint in the way detainees were being treated - the humiliation meted
out to the African Union as it tried to broker a ceasefire and a peace
no-one wanted; the perceived manipulation of UN resolution 1973 from no-fly
zone to effective regime change, then it becomes easy to read why Libya's
"liberation" is being seen by Africans as a Western plot.
Libyans, however, showed in their eight-month war that they had rejected the
colonel, and by extension his friends from black Africa, and there is now
much more than the Sahara dividing Africa's north from her south.
It is right that revolutions for change should fill us all with hope.
It is too early though for the kind of triumphant skip through liberated
Tripoli we saw at one stage from Mr David Cameron and Monsieur Nicolas
Sarkozy, the UK and French leaders respectively.
The new Libyan regime has adopted its flag from a monarchy deposed by Col
Gaddafi, and while showing a slavish appreciation for Nato's bombs with
hints of oil and water contracts, it has given us no sign as to its
democratic intentions - not to mention how it means to unite a people
divided by the kind of war and killings that foster thoughts of revenge.
And if the death of Col Gaddafi is any way to judge how Libyan law will now
work, no amount of oil will make this country's transition a smooth reality.
And then there was Egypt, whose brave citizens were still losing their lives
in martyrs' squares months after those hopeful February days.
> News Sudans:
Pointing to war?
I was reminded of the African-American writer James Baldwin's words: "Time
and time and time again, the people discover that they have merely betrayed
themselves into the hands of another pharaoh, who, since he was necessary to
put the broken country together, will not let them go." - and Egypt's
collective military has been their 2011 pharaoh.
These then were the biggest headlines in a momentous year.
In other news, Ivory Coast was delivered from her impasse when Laurent
Gbagbo learned that he had thumbed his resistance at his former French
masters once too often and the International Criminal Court promptly
delivered him to The Hague.
The ICC also continued its pursuit of Omar al-Bashir, and threatened little
Malawi for not arresting the Sudanese president, even as a Sudanese general
was touring Syria to assess human rights abuses on behalf of - wait for it -
the Arab League.
South Sudan was born in July and seems to have grown up so fast it has
dispensed with nursery school and gone straight back to playing with guns as
border disputes and rebel factions multiply.
We had elections in DR Congo, which observers claimed favoured the
incumbent, Joseph Kabila; and armed men surrounded a stadium where Mr
Kabila's presidential opponent threatened to swear himself in as head of
We saw Michael Sata's patience in opposition rewarded with victory in the
Zambian elections and we were told just this month that the man who has run
Zimbabwe for 31 years may be about to run in another election in 2012.
It has been more of the same on some fronts.
The African economy, though - I am reliably informed - is growing at a
Direct foreign investment has increased five-fold from 2000 to 2010, and as
Portugal's debt crisis deepens, 98,000 Portuguese citizens have applied at
Angolan embassies to try their luck in Luanda's oil boom.
And what is more, the Nobel Prize committee got over their star-struck
idiocy and gave the peace prize not to a newly elected African-American
president fighting wars on many fronts, but to two deserving African women
and an Arab one.
Meanwhile as Osama Bin Laden - the man whose face once adorned T-shirts,
kitchen towels and flannels from Algeria to Zanzibar in the wake of 9/11 -
met his bloody end back in May, 2011 marked perhaps Africa's worst year for
the kind of violence associated with the Islamist groups al-Shabab and Boko
From their respective images as obscure crackpot fanatics, these groups grew
with alarming speed.
Kenyan troops have joined the African Union forces and are in pursuit of
militants who allegedly have no qualms over kidnapping disabled tourists
from Kenyan territory and dragging them into Somalia.
Boko Haram has graduated from shoot-by murders on motorcycles in Maiduguri
to organised bombings of UN compounds, federal buildings and Christian
churches on Christmas morning near Nigeria's capital city.
We can only hope that 2012 will let us catch our breath, if we have breath
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Received on Sun Jan 01 2012 - 18:07:15 EST