.. Depending on where you stand. The past two years have been interesting ones for Africa. Africa stands tall in something it hasn’t been noted for, and interestingly, therefore, the uniqueness of it has almost slipped under the radar. Four of its notable leaders died while in office! By this, I don’t mean those who were forced out, including what happened during the Arab Springs. I mean those who died normally (to the extent that you can call illness and sudden death normal). First was the president of Nigeria, then the president of Malawi, followed by Ghana, and then most recently, the prime minister of Ethiopia!
Off course Africa, will not be Africa if some of these events were not somewhat colorful! And thus, we had countries like Nigeria allegedly trying to cover up the death of the president, to the president of Ghana, who allegedly took a run in the sun to prove he was healthy when he had been clearly advised by his doctors to take time off. I anxiously await what happens in Ethiopia, but I remain hopeful. At least if my friend and colleague, Seeye Hagos, the former defense minister of Ethiopia who fought alongside the former President Meles Zenawi, has anything to do with it. In a note to me, he states “Yes, the Ethiopian political landscape is changing fast. It may be a bit too early to predict the direction of the change but my hope is that it will be for the better.”
So let’s trace what I’d like to bring attention to. In Nigeria, an election was conducted after the death of the president. Despite some trepidation, his vice, Goodwill Jonathan, got the goodwill of the people to lead. In Malawi, the vice president, the much-maligned Joyce Banda, became the president and is now amongst the few women presidents in the world. In Ghana, within 10 hours, the vice president, John Mahama, was sworn in and is now the president of Ghana, albeit he goes into elections in a couple of months. There seems to be peace within Ethiopia so far!
In my lifetime, I have seen Africa evolve from a continent in which coup d’etats were perpetually the expectations of the people if things did not go well, to a continent where most of the people now tentatively expect something much better: democratic elections. The terrain is changing fast to one in which people are not constantly afraid of unscheduled forceful changes in governments, but worry about other things that affect their survival. The conversation is changing around the table. People focus on economics, education, health and food; the new president in Africa can hope to stay in power within the term of office if s/he tackles these.
This shift has been so subtle, it has almost gone unnoticed and thus, its real import has somewhat been glossed over. To get to the point in any country in Africa (let alone somewhat consistently across the continent) where a change from one government to the other done legitimately and following laid-down democratic structures, is seen as no big deal, is a big deal!
Permit me my wish to indulge therefore! To pause and savor the taste of this moment and rejoice that in my lifetime, I have seen this great shift. Let me applaud the peoples of these great nations who have changed the story of the continent. I encourage the brave people of Africa to stop and appreciate and affirm this new dawn that has hit the continent and to call on the people of this marvelously resilient continent to continue to change the story and to fight any regression into the past.
Baby steps, baby steps maybe; but in this instance, they are the baby steps of an elephant!