/ 24 December 2023

The A-Z of 2023 for Africa

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Soul Train: South African singer Tyla’s song Water was huge this year. Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffing/Getty Images

All Change for Archange: The Central African Republic held a constitutional referendum earlier this year, which, among other things, would allow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to run for a third term. Quelle surprise: results of the vote showed that 95% of voters were apparently in support of the changes. 

Bye Bye: There were a fair few goodbyes this year as Muhammadu Buhari’s two terms as Nigeria’s president came to an end and Bola Tinubu took charge. Liberia’s George Weah also exited the pitch following his election loss.

Coup, coup and attempted coups: Successful in Niger and Gabon, failed in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. The kind of events that we’re sure had our leaders crying for their mummies. 

Drama: Niger accused France of planning a military intervention following the Nigerien coup. In Kenya, Raila Odinga and William Ruto traded barbs as the opposition leader called for protests. Mali demanded the UN withdraw its peacekeeping mission. Chad expelled Germany’s ambassador for being “disrespectful”. 

Escape attempts: Niger’s ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum has been under house arrest since the July coup that saw him removed from office. In October the junta announced that Bazoum was caught trying to escape with his family – and two cooks.

Frexit: After taking power, Niger’s junta ordered the expulsion of France’s ambassador, revoked military agreements with Paris and basically told the French to “foot the camp”. A sulky Paris duly began withdrawing its troops, and recalled its ambassador. Burkina Faso also demanded withdrawal of France’s troops and have over the year suspended the distribution of French publications Le Monde and Jeune Afrique, and the broadcast of France24. 

Gabon but not forgotten: Having inherited the presidency from his daddy in 2009, Ali Bongo decided to run for a third term and was declared winner. Then the most embarrassing thing happened – a military coup! Soon a video of him began to circulate on the internet, in which he called on people to “make some noise” because “the people here have arrested me”. Interesting that he looked to the internet for help, the same internet he had blocked during his own election.

Hello again: While some leaders made an exit, others are not going anywhere. Julius Maada Bio secured a second term as he was declared winner of Sierra Leone’s elections, a result rival candidate Samura Kamara rejected. Put your hands up in the air for Madagascar’s DJing President Andry Rajoelina, who also secured victory in polls boycotted by the opposition. And least surprising of all, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa snapped up a second term.

In our hundreds, in our millions, we are all Palestinians. As Nelson Mandela said, “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.

Jet setting: Kenyan President William Ruto has received much criticism for his frequent trips abroad. Perhaps being awarded the title of the Dora the Explorer of African Presidents, which was last year given to George Weah, will cheer him up. Billy says he is taking these trips as part of his plan for the country and is not just out there being “a tourist” (except perhaps in Kenya).

Keeping Up With The Coupdashians: Two new cast members joined the show this year. From Gabon we have General Brice Oligui Nguema, and from Niger we have General Abdourahamane Tchiani. They, like the gang from Mali, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, have made promises about transitioning back to civilian rule, but will they be kept? Move over Kim, Kourtney, Khloé, Kendall and Kylie; Mamady, Assimi, Ibrahim, Brice and Abdourahamane are in town.

Love: Tired of being rejected by regional blocs, the Coupdashians have come together with the kind of love that rivals our adoration for our Nairobi bae. Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso announced they would work together for the lifting of sanctions against them. Then, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger signed a military pact, stating that an act of aggression against one of them counts as an act of aggression against the others.

Music: It’s been another year of seeing African artists take the world by storm. Tyla, Asake, Joshua Baraka, Burna Boy, Bensoul, Maya Amollo, Tems, Blinky Bill, Libianca Fonji, Roseline Layo, there is not enough space to add the names of all our favourite hit-makers!

Natural disasters: Or perhaps unnatural. This year has seen our continent be hit by extreme weather conditions. Between the droughts, floods and cyclones, lives have been lost, livelihoods destroyed, homes swept away, and entire communities destroyed or displaced.

On track and on the field: South Africa’s spectacular Rugby World Cup win, Banyana Banyana’s brave performance in the Women’s Football World Cup, Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon smashing record after record. Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa set a new women’s marathon world record in Berlin. 

Protests: Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sudan, Guinea, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo are just some of the countries where people took to the streets this year. In most cases they were met by police brutality, tear gas, violence, and arrest. The right to protest is enshrined in the constitutions of many of these countries. But then, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.

Questionable results: Zimbabwe’s elections saw Emmerson Mnangagwa secure a second term, but not everyone was convinced. Even regional bloc SADC, which never says anything about anything, noted that some aspects of the polls “fell short”. The European Union said it would suspend financial support to Zimbabwe’s electoral commission due to concerns about its management of the process, and the opposition called foul. 

Red Card: That’s what Liberians gave George Weah in a closely fought electoral playoff that saw him lose the presidency to opposition candidate Joseph Boakai. George’s failure to tackle corruption, plus his frequent trips abroad, may have lost him the election, but we’ll give him points for accepting defeat with a modicum of grace.

Superstars: The writers, the activists, the actors, the creatives, the poets, the journalists, the lovers, the dreamers, the Kermit the frogs, the people who work hard every day to make this continent a better place. We salute you all. May your jollof be perfectly spiced, your avocados always ripe and your pockets full!

Trials and tribulations: Some come in the shape of humans (real talk, hon: it’s the end of the year, please stop messaging that person who will not text you back). Others in more serious forms. Insecurity in the Sahel region continues to take lives. War in Sudan rages on. Conflict in the DRC has led to a record 6.9-million people displaced. The death toll from the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon continues to rise. When you see the figures regarding the number of people killed and forced to leave their homes, a reminder that these are not just statistics, these are whole human beings.

Unexpected announcements: Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, announced that he would not be running for a third term in the 2024 elections. His supporters claimed that the Constitution allowed him to run again, an argument critics disagreed with, leading to opposition-led protests. Congratulating him on not defying constitutional praxis feels a bit “bare minimum” as the kids say, but here’s hoping for peaceful elections when Senegal heads to the polls at the end of February.

Vision: You’re going to need the special kind of night-vision goggles to get around after sunset in some parts of this continent. Kenya had three nationwide blackouts this year, plunging the nation into darkness. The country’s energy cabinet secretary Davis Chirchir said he too was wondering what the heck was going on. Bit awkward, that. If he wants some tips on how to deal with outages, he should pick up the phone and give South Africa a call. As the locals are wont to say, with over a decade of load-shedding under their belts already: they’ve been having it.

War and the search for peace: In April war broke out in Sudan, and the ongoing consequences of it have been devastating. More than 12,000 people killed, 6.6-million people displaced inside and outside of the country, and the violence continues. Brave Sudanese journalists, activists, citizens, and members of the diaspora have done all they can to keep Sudan in the news. But are we paying attention?

Xtravagance: A number of our leaders attended the coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla the Patron Saint of Sidechicks. Unnecessary really considering the Star of Africa (aka the Cullinan Diamond) was already there to represent. Chuckles and Camz then made a visit to Kenya where they did everything except say sorry, or mention the word reparations. Not that it bothered the leaders cosying up to the royals. Might be time to read a few history books, lads.

You: Thank you, dear reader, for your support. For sharing the work we do here at The Continent with your friends, colleagues, fellow students and your family; for your generosity and the donations you’ve sent us to help us keep this strange, wonderful publication going; and for always picking up what we’re putting down. It’s you. It’s always been you.

Zakayo Ruto: A new name for the Kenyan president, inspired by Zacchaeus, the sycamore-climbing tax collector of the Bible. New taxes he proposed have gone down like a lead balloon. Billy is a staunch Christian, so perhaps he thinks Jesus will redeem him like he did Zacchaeus. Or maybe he’d just tell him he’s out of his tree.■

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read andshared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.