2 January Print
In our series of letters from African journalists, media and communications trainer Joseph Warungu gives a personal guide to some of the key people, places and events to watch out for in Africa in 2017.
Africa will go through six human actions this year – it will stand, kneel, squat, bow, fall and then rise again.
Standing (Trump, Ghana, Ethiopia)
In the group of those who will be standing in Africa in 2017 is Donald Trump.
Yes, I know it’s an act of treason to associate him with Africa.
But when he’s sworn in as president, his foreign policy (or tweetplomacy) will have a bearing on our continent.
His critics warn that his isolationist stand might mean less attention will be paid to Africa.
But it could just force Africans to find solutions from within, by strengthening our institutions, improving infrastructure, governance and security and trading more amongst ourselves.
Another man who also takes office in January is Nana Akufo-Addo, the president-elect of Ghana.
He’s tried to enter Flagstaff House (the presidential residency) through the ballot box as the New Patriotic Party candidate since 2008.
Now that he has the keys, Ghanaians will wait to see how he delivers his pledge of one district, one factory, lest he becomes one man, one term.
And then there’s the state of emergency in Ethiopia, which still stands.
It was put in place last October following violent protests.
The government says the security situation has improved save for some clashes in the northern part of Amhara region.
Some 9,000 people detained under the state of emergency have been released and the government says it could lift the emergency before its six-month period is over.
Kneeling – Kagame, Kenyatta, AU
There are two prominent men who will be kneeling before voters to ask for a job.
Paul Kagame has been president for the last 16 years, but Rwandans appear to want more of him and have voted to remove the term-limit barrier.
In August, Mr Kagame will therefore use his constitutional right to ask for a new employment contract.
In the same month, his Kenyan neighbour Uhuru Kenyatta will also be reapplying for his job.
Last September, while warning the main opposition leader Raila Odinga to mind his own party and leave the ruling Jubilee party alone, President Kenyatta famously said: “… as you continue to search for a seat and salivate, we are feasting on the meat”.
It will be clear in August whether Kenyans will give Jubilee more time to feast or turn the party itself into mince meat.
The African Union has been searching for a new Chief Executive Officer and will fill the position in January.
Three men and two women from Botswana, Kenya, Chad, Senegal and Equatorial Guinea will fight it out to replace the outgoing South African Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as Chair of the AU Commission.
Squatting – Nigeria, The Gambia
Now to some situations and people who can’t decide whether to stand or sit.
The Nigerian economy has caught its nastiest stomach bug in more than two decades.
And so it enters 2017 in the squat position.
A combination of factors including a crash in the global price of oil, which Nigeria relies a lot on, and a fall in the naira, the country’s currency, contributed to the sizeable contraction of the economy in 2016.
The anger and frustration among the people was aptly captured by this online comment from one Nigerian in November: “We are now going into depression and deep S***! Buhari has himself to blame for unfortunately being a gentleman!”
Over in The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh is no gentleman – he’s chosen to squat at State House.
He lost the presidential election to Adama Barrow and publicly conceded defeat.
A little later, the thought of leaving the seat he has called his own for the last 22 years overpowered him and he changed his mind.
Africa and the world have asked him to go home, but he is defiant.
As his last day in office approaches on 19 of January, the same force he used to gain power in 1994 could be used to relieve him of his office.
Bowing – Liberia, Angola DR Congo
There are three notable people who will be bowing out of office in 2017.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, is coming to the end of her second and final term of office in Liberia.
One of those waiting on the touchline to join the succession race is football star George Weah.
The former AC Milan and Chelsea striker failed to score in the 2005 presidential tournament but hopes 2017 will be his year.
Angolans will have a chance to replace the only man they’ve known as president for nearly 40 years.
Although Jose Eduardo dos Santos has announced he’ll step down, his blood will still flow through the veins of power and the economy in Angola.
His daughter, Isabel, heads Sonangol, the state oil company and is considered by Forbes to be Africa’s richest woman, while his son, Jose, is chairman of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, Fundo Soberano de Angola.
In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, 2017 could mark the beginning of the end for another family dynasty, which started in 1997 when Laurent Desire Kabila became president after overthrowing Mobutu Sese Seko.
Laurent Kabila’s son Joseph picked up the reigns after his father’s assassination in 2001, and was bent on staying in power until attempts to change the constitution to allow him a third term backfired.
Violent street protests have piled pressure on President Kabila to exit from office this year and the issue is bound to continue into the new year.
Falling – Fees, presidents and skirts
The theme of falling is alive in South Africa.
The #FeesMustFall campaign by university students sought to fight the rising cost of higher education and saw violent clashes between police and protesters, disruptions in the university calendar and the arrest of a number of students.
2017 promises more of the same because not only have the fees not fallen, some top universities have announced an 8% increase.
And then there’s the question of the country’s President Jacob Zuma.
In December 2017, his tenure as leader of the governing ANC party runs out, but his term as the country’s president only ends in 2019.
Allowing Mr Zuma to continue as head of state but with the ANC under someone else’s leadership could create two centres of power, which could be political suicide.
So will the ANC #LetZumaFall as it did President Thabo Mbeki under similar circumstances?
2017 will have answers.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is another that could face the threat of falling in Africa if more African countries continue to withdraw from the Rome Statute.
A number of countries have notified the UN Secretary-General of their intention to withdraw, saying the ICC unfairly targets African leaders in its application of international justice.
And now to international trends where fashion, like history, has a habit of repeating itself.
A quick glance at catwalk signs for 2017 shows that the hems of women’s skirts will be falling – to just below the knee.
Apparently midi-skirts elongate the figure and flatter the wearer, so this must be a good fall.
Rising – Uganda, Africa
The Africa Cup of Nations tournament kicks off in mid-January in Gabon and Uganda carries the hopes of East Africa.
The region has a terrible record in continental football.
Uganda’s last appearance in the finals was in 1978 when it lost to Ghana in the final.
Kenya and Tanzania have never progressed beyond the group stage, so if Uganda can rise, East Africa can stand tall.
In politics, despite all manner of socio-economic challenges, the spirit of the Africans is on the rise – they’ve already just about removed one long-serving president from power (The Gambia, even if he is still resisting ) and in 2017 a couple more might follow (DR Congo, Angola)
When Africa stumbles, it must rise because as they say in Nigeria, the sun shines on those who stand before it shines on those who are sitting.
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