/ 31 December 2002

Africa during 2002

The year 2002 in Africa will surely go down in history as the year of the woman. When African men stood around, wringing their hands, or sores, justifying their paralysis in the face of tyranny, abuse of power, and religious bigotry in Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Nigeria, the women of Africa stood up to be counted.

For many years to come, the name of Lindiwe Dlamini, the unassuming Swazi mother who faced down King Mswati II for kidnapping her daughter, Zena Mahlangu, will reverberate around Africa. Dlamini showed up not just Mswati but other African Big Men for what they are, spoilt brats abusing Africa’s great traditions for their self-indulgence.

Dlamini has not been alone in the fight for Africa’s honour and self-respect. Vanessa Carriera, then reigning Miss South Africa, showed the world what real solidarity looks like when she refused to participate in the Miss World contest that was to have taken place in Nigeria. Amina Lawal, the young Nigerian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for bearing a child out of wedlock, deserves all the support she can get in her struggle against religious fanatics in her country. Carriera came through for Lawal and indeed for many other Africans being tortured, maimed and killed daily be religious bigots throughout the continent.

The third woman of principle, and courage, who put the seal on 2002 as the year of the woman was Brigalia Bam, chairperson of the South African Independent Electoral Commission. Bam saved our country’s honour in the eyes of the world by standing up to the black doctors’ plot that is determined to whitewash the low-intensity war being waged by Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe. She had the courage to report what she saw during the Zimbabwe presidential elections of March, which was that the elections were neither free nor fair. The black doctors — Dr Sam Mutsuenyane, Dr Eddie Maloka, Dr Itumeleng Mosala — claimed against all evidence that the will of the people of Zimbabwe had been freely expressed.

There were other fields, especially arts and science, in which African women distinguished themselves during 2002. Judith Sephuma rightly won a well-deserved Kora All Africa Music award for her exquisite album, A Cry, A Smile, A Dance. Also special honours must go to Debbie Glencross of the University of the Witwatersrand for her ground-breaking medical research into HIV/Aids.

If it were not for the brave deeds of these women — and the wonderful achievements of our female artists and scientists — Africans would be seeing 2002 off on a very low note. We will now be seeing it off with our heads high. To you, women of Africa, we say thank you.

And now for the bad news. An expert on solving conflicts recently told me that there is an iron law that governs African conflicts. The lower the stakes, the more fierce and bitter the struggle. For me this was the most depressing discovery of 2002. The most savage African conflict during the past few years — and it is by no means settled — was the Ethiopia-Eritrea war where thousands were slaughtered over a couple of months. The second major conflict of a similar scale is the Burundi civil war. Add to this another conflict that refuses to go away, the civil war in Algeria, which has cost more than 100 000 lives, many of them killed under the most brutal of circumstances. What really are the stakes in these conflicts? Very little.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea war was over a few square kilometres of largely barren territory inhabited by a few villagers. In Burundi a small clique of ethnic Tutsis wants to lord it over the majority Hutu and the rest of the Tutsi, in return for what? Peanuts. In Algeria a handful of generals wants to stay in power, apparently in perpetuity, irrespective of the will of the people who voted overwhelmingly for the Islamic Salvation Front.

During 2002 one long-standing armed conflict, the Angolan civil war, was settled through a military victory by government forces, in the process killing Jonas Savimbi. Not many people will miss Savimbi, the power-hungry rebel leader who stooped as low as forming alliances with the apartheid regime to advance his ambitions. A question remains yet to be answered, however. What has been the cost of the MPLA’s military victory over Unita to the people of Angola and what does this victory bode for the future of Angola?

While we must rejoice at the end of the carnage in Angola, and wish that great country and its people well for the future, two other armed conflicts started as the Angolan conflict ended — in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.

By all accounts, these two conflicts are threatening to engulf most of West Africa. The conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, in particular, could set alight the tinderbox of a religious war between Christians and Muslims that is forever rumbling in, for example, Nigeria.

Before we leave the depressing subject of Africa’s violent conflicts, three other unresolved conflicts deserve special mention:

  • The yet unresolved conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The unresolved conflict resulting from a rigged presidential election in Zimbabwe.
  • The coming election in Kenya that could easily go the way of the Zimbabwe election.

The highlight of the year in Africa was the launch in Durban in July of the new African Union, which replaced the ageing Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The party was great — the police parachutists landed on target; the South African National Defence Force parade was flawless; the Zulu cultural troupes gave the visitors a glimpse of South Africa’s energy; Moammar Gadaffi in a ravishing purple outfit actually talked sense. Will the AU deliver the goods in the coming years? We will have to wait and see. In its heyday the OAU delivered the liberation of Southern Africa, including the former Portuguese colonies. The AU has an even tougher call; it has a twofold mission: to deliver democracy and economic development.

The AU has unfortunately inherited the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and its African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a sideshow that took to the road during the last days of the OAU and was issued a paternity certificate by the OAU from its deathbed. Both Nepad and APRM suffer from major design flaws that could keep the AU distracted for many years to come. For example, the notion of a government being accountable to other governments for good governance in its territory is fundamentally flawed. A democratic government is accountable to the people who elected it and not to other governments.

Let us hope the AU disentangles itself quickly from the many imponderable it has inherited from the OAU.

Moeletsi Mbeki is in private business and is deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs