It’s the time of the year when we start to look back at major events of 2018. From a political perspective there have been some very interesting leadership shifts in Africa.
One of the most talked about political about turns has without a doubt happened in Ethiopia. Since the new Prime Minister, 42-year old Abiy Ahmed, took up the position in April, he has called off the state of emergency, opened up the political arena, welcomed back exiled opposition groups, freed thousands of political prisoners and ended a decades-old conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.
Passenger flights between the two countries have resumed and families who were separated by the border dispute have been reunited. Abiy has appointed the country’s first female President and a government comprising of 50 per cent women. The government is slimmer, better educated and more ethnically diverse than under his predecessor.
The old political elite is not overly pleased by the new dispensation and there has been a sudden surge in political violence in the country. In fact, violent events and protests have increased since Abiy took over. The reason? With the new freedoms and a less authoritarian rule, long grievances and ethnic tension is now out of the box. But, the violence is no longer state versus people, rather civilian groupings fighting each other.
It’s still early days,but it looks as if Abiy has steered Ethiopia onto a new path and if he manages to calm things down, he has proven that a more open political space and increased civil liberties, can replace repression and authoritarianism as a tool to govern a country as large and diverse as Ethiopia.
Other noteworthy changes during the year include South Africa where president Jacob Zuma stepped down on Valentine’s Day. His successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is now trying his outmost to put the country back on track and unite a fractured and disintegrating ANC.
A few months later, Mokgweetsi Masisi in Botswana took over the reins from Ian Khama (son of the country’s first president Seretse Khama). Since then, reports from Botswana points in the direction of increased transparency, improved relationship with the press and further commitment towards equal rights. In December Masisi was lauded for publicly speaking up for Botswana’s LGBTI community, something that is very rare amongst African presidents.
There are also leaders whose departure is long overdue, but who manged to remain on their post.Cameroon’s veteran president Paul Biya won a landslide victory in a much debated and controversial presidential election. This will be his seventh presidential term and on his watch, Cameroon is falling apart. In Zimbabwe, elections were held in July and for the first time in decades, Robert Mugabe did not stand. Instead he was watching from the side as his Zanu-PF retained power despite heavy criticism from election observers, and from the opposition whocried foul.
On sick-leave we have president Ali Bongo of Gabon who is recovering in Morocco after a stroke.
The most bizarre claim this year, however, is that president Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has died and been replaced by a clone. The president strongly denies the rumours and insists that he will be running for another presidential term in next year’selection.