The Continent: Africa A-Z of 2021

Alpha Condé: One day you’re hanging out with your friends at the African Union exchanging stories about changing constitutions. The next day you’re removed from power in the least sexy way: a coup, carried out by a dashing military officer whose marital status you revealed on TV. The former president of Guinea remains under house arrest. 

Big numbers: Are our leaders secretly competing to see who can win by the biggest margin? This year saw Denis Sassou Nguesso claim 88.4% of the vote in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Djibouti’s Ismail Guelleh received 97%, and in Benin Patrice Talon secured a second term with 86%. 

Coups, and coups within coups: In addition to Alpha Condé’s removal in Guinea, there was Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goïta who, after removing Ibrahim Keita in 2020, announced he had fired the new transitional president and prime minister and was soon sworn in as interim president himself. Sudan’s transitional prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who came into office following the removal of Omar al-Bashir, was subsequently removed from power by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in October – and then reinstated a month later. A failed coup was also reported in Niger

Daring journalism: Another year of brilliant work by fearless journalists from across the continent, from Kenya’s John Allan-Namu to Niger’s Samira Sabou to Uganda’s Patience Atuhaire, to our very own contributors. African journalists brought us necessary stories during another difficult year. 

Essence: Our favourite song of the year by Nigerian stars Wizkid and Tems (and yes okay there is a Justin Bieber version), has taken the world by storm. Meanwhile Burna Boy won his first Grammy, we fell in love with South Africa’s DJ Uncle Waffles, while Angélique Kidjo, Black Coffee and Tiwa Savage brought us some incredible tracks! 

Field Marshal Idriss Déby Itno: He was declared winner of a sixth term, and then hours later, authorities announced that President Déby of Chad had been killed “on the front line.” Enter his son Mahamat Déby, who took over as president in a move that critics branded a “constitutional coup”. Déby Junior has also been upgraded to army general, meaning his uniform will now have five stars instead of four! Meanwhile let’s hope the people of Chad won’t be left seeing stars instead of the elections he has promised! 

Gender-based violence: It’s been described as the shadow pandemic with the UN saying violence against women and girls has intensified since the outbreak of Covid-19. The hashtags, the days of activism and the speeches are not enough. Governments need to implement policies that not only protect women but also enable them to access adequately funded services for support. Enough is enough. 

Heroes: Health workers, activists, whistle-blowers, teachers, those keeping cities, towns and villages running. You, dear reader, and your own personal heroes. The list is long, so be assured they exist among us. Often taken for granted, often putting their own lives at risk, often making sacrifices. They are heroes! But first and foremost they are human. 

Internet disruptions: Ethiopia, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Chad, Uganda, Eswatini, South Sudan, the Republic of Congo and Senegal have all experienced internet disruptions this year. There is no justification for this, particularly during a pandemic when people are trying to stay in touch with loved ones, work from home and run internet-dependent businesses. 

John Magufuli: The president of Tanzania died earlier this year, leaving a nation in shock. On one hand “the bulldozer” was known for his no-nonsense approach; on the other his scepticism around Covid-19 and support of laws such as the banning of pregnant girls from school received much criticism. In his successor Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania got its first woman president. Her own response to Covid-19 has been a step in the right direction, but opposition and civil society groups say oppressive policies remain in place. 

Keeping other people’s stuff: France returned 26 stolen treasures to Benin. The University of Aberdeen returned a Benin Bronze to Nigeria. Ethiopia received artefacts that were looted at the Battle of Maqdala in 1868. Germany said it will return looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. The British Museum meanwhile continues to be as silent as the stolen statues it has on display. 

Literary victories: Abdulrazak Gurnah received the Nobel prize for literature and Damon Galgut won the Booker. Mohamed Mbougar Sarr won the Prix Goncourt, while fellow Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop received the Neustadt International Prize. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi won the Jhalak prize and Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga won the PEN Pinter prize and the 2021 peace prize of the German Book Trade. 

More years in power: Denis Sassou Nguesso extended his 36-year rule in the Republic of Congo with another election victory, Ismail Guelleh began his fifth term in Djibouti while Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni got his sixth! 

Netflix, Cannes et al: African films, documentaries and TV shows garnered much praise this year! The Gravediggers Wife by Finnish-Somali filmmaker Khadar Ayderus Ahmed premiered at Cannes Critics Week and is Somalia’s first Oscar entry. Kenyan documentary I am Samuel garnered much praise as did Lingui by Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Opposition: Alas, many opposition members and leaders faced hardship this year: Tanzanian opposition party Chadema’s chairman Freeman Mbowe was arrested on terrorism charges. Bobi Wine reported that his house was surrounded by security during the Ugandan elections, while a court in Benin sentenced opposition leader Reckya Madougou to 20 years in jail for “financing terrorism”. 

Pandora Papers: Among those featured in the document leak was President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, whose family has allegedly been “accumulating a fortune behind offshore corporate veils”. The papers also revealed that Republic of Congo’s President  Denis Sassou Nguesso low-key owns a company controlling diamond mines. Neither has addressed the report, despite Kenyatta promising to do so. Can’t blame them really, they’re probably very distracted. Imagine opening the report and then… “ohhhh shiny diamond!” 

Quick-acting officials: Aside from Covid-19, this year saw Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea. In both cases health officials across the continent jumped into action to manage the outbreak. The folks at Africa Centres for Disease Control have also continued to do a sterling job amid this pandemic. 

Regional blocs: The Economic Community of West African States has been busy demanding Mali and Guinea return to civilian rule following their respective coups. Southern African Development Community leaders seem to enjoy summits as they held a fair few before finally deploying troops to Mozambique. They did however call for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe and sent a delegation to Eswatini. The African Union suspended Sudan and Guinea, frequently “called” for things in various countries and somehow granted Israel observer status

Sporting prowess: At the Olympics, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge won gold in the men’s marathon while Faith Kipyegon grabbed gold in the 1 500m. Namibia’s Christine Mboma secured silver in the women’s 200m, Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai came first in the women’s 300m steeplechase and Joshua Cheptegei got his gold in the men’s 5 000m. Nigeria’s Latifat Tijani, Bose Omolayo and Folashade Oluwafemiayo won gold medals in powerlifting at the Paralympics while 19-year-old Ntando Mahlangu returned to South Africa with two gold medals! 

Transfer of power: Zambia’s opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema was elected president, bringing an end to Edgar Lungu’s reign. Sure old Ed has left behind a little (lot) of debt, but the main thing is, he left. In Niger, Mohamed Bazoum was sworn in as president, succeeding Mahamadou Issoufou, who stepped down after serving two terms. Opposition candidate José Maria Neves won Cape Verde’s presidential election after Jorge Carlos Fonseca completed his two terms in office. 

Unhappy neighbours: Kenya and Somalia continue to have strained relations even after they finally restored diplomatic relations earlier this year, while tensions between Algeria and Morocco are at an all time high with the severing of diplomatic ties. And of course no resolution has been reached over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which has Egypt and Ethiopia at each others’ throats. 

Vaccine apartheid: In March 2021 the Africa Centres for Disease Control director told The Continent: “Europe is trying to vaccinate 80%. The US is trying to vaccinate everybody. They will finish vaccinating, impose travel restrictions and then Africa becomes ‘the continent of Covid’.” Boy, was he right. Western countries hoarded vaccines, leaving little behind for everyone else. Then they “donated” some of the jabs to African countries. When some of these countries had to destroy doses that were close to expiry when they were donated, western media blamed it on vaccine hesitancy. Amid all this came the Omicron variant, which was shown to be present in many countries, yet Britain, Europe and the US promptly banned travellers from a range of African nations. Perhaps this actually belongs under T for trash. 

Worrying situations: Conflict, insecurity and violence leading to displacement, suffering and crisis in the Sahel, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Darfur and parts of Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is also famine in Madagascar and drought in some parts of the Horn of Africa. The list goes on. Action to defuse, stabilise and save lives is needed, and quickly. 

Xtra judicial killings: Another year in which we’ve seen protesters killed in countries such as Sudan and Eswatini. And six police officers in Kenya are accused of killing Benson Njiru and Emmanuel Mutura, two young men who were arrested for allegedly being out after curfew. 

Young people: The future of the continent! We saw the likes of climate activists Vanessa Nakate and Oladosu Adenike shine at COP26. Senegalese born TikTok star Khaby Lame has gone from success to success, as has Kenya’s Elsa Majimbo. Young Africans are bringing their creativity, talent and skills to all sectors and, for that reason alone, this is a continent to watch. 

Zzzzing leaders: What other explanation can be given for those not listening to their populace, than that they are asleep? For almost two months the people of Sudan have been holding protests demanding a return to civilian rule. Meanwhile, pro-democracy protests have been taking place in Eswatini. Both countries have seen protesters killed, tear gassed and injured. It’s time to wake up.

This article first appeared on The Continent, the African newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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Samira Sawlani
Samira Sawlani
Samira Sawlani is a writer, journalist and analyst, specialising in East Africa.
The Continent
The Continent is a free weekly newspaper published by the Adamela Trust in partnership with the Mail & Guardian.

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