2022 and the state of the world
It is a tough time to be celebrating a new year.
For many people, the year that has just passed was an annus horribilis. So was the one before it.
2021. A year in which the gloomy spectre of COVID 19 continued to dominate thought and action across the world. Industry and Commerce were held in thrall, the travel and hospitality industries were in shambles, and nobody could pretend that it was business as usual.
It was difficult to tell if Africa was moving forwards or backwards in 2021. Several elections were held. In a few places, power changed hands peacefully. Yoweri Museveni, the heavy weight around the neck of a hapless Uganda, won election to a sixth term of office as President, amidst visuals of horrendous violation of the rights of opposition figures, especially the charismatic musician Bobby Bland who stood up bravely and with the predictable futility of a Don Quixote, against the juggernaut. In Niger, Mohammed Bazoom defeated former President Mahamane Ousmane.
There is a desperate need for cheer, coming from the depression of COVID19 and justifiable sadness at the state of human affairs
In neighbouring Benin, Patrice Talon won election for a second term, after the beautiful, courageous leader of the opposition was banned from the election. She was subsequently sentenced to twenty years in prison. In the People’s Republic of Congo, Sassou Nguesso won himself a fourth term, attended by the sad event of the death of his opponent from COVID-19 infection. Close by, his brother-leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, was trying to consolidate democratic power, but vast areas of his mineral-rich country remained ungoverned territory because Africans let it happen and because Europeans and Chinese who mined precious minerals required for the manufacture of mobile phones and other modern-day necessities preferred it so.
Zambia provided an intriguing development as opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, after five futile efforts at the office, defeated the incumbent President Edgar Lungu in a landslide victory. Adama Barrow retained power in The Gambia, while opposition candidates won elections in the islands of Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe. In Djibouti, perched on the horn of Africa, President Ismael Guelleh won an extension of his two-decade rule. In Rwanda, gangling, deliberate President Kagame continued to rule with an iron hand, earning plaudits for development, but also accusations of tyranny.
Less happily, military coups reared their heads again on the continent. In Guinea, a coup overthrew the 83-year-old Alpha Conde, who had wanted a third term in office. In Mali, there was a coup within a coup, with Assimi Goita solidifying his grip by displacing his civilian partners. Attempted coups failed in Madagascar, as in Sudan and Niger.
How did Civil Society fare?
In different countries on the African continent, civil society expressed itself loudly, for good or for ill. In South Africa, riots broke out, with looting of shops in some parts of the country after President Ramaphosa kept his nerve and allowed justice to prevail, sending his predecessor Jacob Zuma to prison. Zuma’s supporters and many in the ruling African National Congress had threatened fire and brimstone. In the end, heavens did not fall. Zuma went to prison.
Demonstrations rocked Tunisia when President Kais Saied suspended parliament and froze legislation.
In Nigeria, the anniversary of the #ENDSARS protest was marked with token demonstrations, and a strong-arm countervailing policing. Accusations of a callous massacre by government troops were resurrected. Some voices, while noting the justice of the cause, remarked that the youthful demonstrators needed to take stock and accept that they had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, so to say, because of a failure of strategic thinking.
Boko Haram, killer ‘herdsmen’, terrorist ‘bandits’, kidnappers, and an assortment of criminals continued to wreak havoc in different parts of the country. Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu were in detention – Sunday in Benin Republic, Kanu in Abuja. The voices of the people who wanted the Oduduwa Republic and those who wanted Biafra, and those others who wanted the nation restructured and returned to a federation of willing, equal partners, remained loud in the public space, as did the resolution of Aso Rock not to give in to their demands or even parley with them. Africa’s biggest nation was hobbled by internal strife and a manifest absence of trust in its leadership as 2021 came to a close.
With all of this as the backdrop, what promise is it legitimate to ask of 2022, or to make on behalf of the new year? A new beginning, or more of the same? There is a desperate need for cheer, coming from the depression of COVID-19 and justifiable sadness at the state of human affairs.
Speaking of COVID-19, it is said that the dreaded rampant OMICRON mutation may be nature’s way of doing what the various vaccines have not succeeded in doing, making humanity able to co-habit with COVID-19 as a permanent, if an unwanted guest, and leading to herd immunity. Will 2022 see the end of COVID-19 as a pandemic that has crippled the world and disrupted international travel and social existence?
2022 – The year of mid-term elections in the USA. Will American Democracy, as the world knows it, begin to unravel as a Right-wing that does not believe in truth or respect the rules inexorably tightens the noose of permanent state capture?
Will the story of Africa be of more coups and ‘Presidents-for-life’, or will there be stronger evidence of the forward march towards positive possibilities? For Nigeria, is 2022 the road to 2023 and the promise of another ‘business-as-usual’ election, or the year when the nation will finally face its moment of truth?
The beginning of a year is like the moment just before the commencement of the Football World Cup, when all options are on the table, including the possibility that an African minnow, such as Senegal or Cote D’Ivoire would win the World Cup. It is possible, and even necessary, to hold on to hope.