2016 in Retrospect: 6 Things in 2016 

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Kingsley Okeke & Ehis Ayere

It’s 7:45am in Nairobi, the Capital City of Kenya; the swirling traffic signals the dawn of a new day in the upscale business district on Elgon Road. The day sets out on a fast-paced tone, but not without breakfast, served from the 24 inch screen, sitting on the far-right end of the table in my hotel Room. “The President of Angola, Dos Santos, have stated that he would not be presenting himself for reelection, during the country’s general election. The President made this known, when he received a business delegation from Europe, who paid him a courtesy visit…” “Rwandan President Paul Kagame has said that despite, the country’s 2015 referendum which allows him to extend his term in office, he would not be offering himself for reelection in 2017. The revelation which came as a shock to many has received commendation from international organization, commending the president for doing the right thing…” Not waiting to savor the remaining part of the breakfast-cum news, i made for my jacket, as i dashed out of the room to the waiting vehicle meant to take me to my meeting scheduled for 9.00am.  So eager to discuss my breakfast experience with the team i was to meet, i sprang across the lobby, with a Bolt-like move; only to be reminded when i had settled in my car that I had asked a young chap to wait for me at the lobby, for a 10 minutes chat, before I set out for the meeting.    .

This is, of course, a fantasy. Some leaders in the continent appear ill-prepared for the burden of leadership, electing only to cling to its promises.  So, our work is cut-out in 2017, as we must hold more leaders accountable. Leaders have to wake-up and smell the coffee. However there is nothing wrong in fantasizing- as we say Goodbye to 2016 and Hello, 2017, who knows, this may just become the upsides of 2017. In the mean time, let’s go down memory lane in 2016 to see some of the high and low points of the year 2016.  

  1. Democracy and Politics in Africa

it is worthy of mention, quite unprecedented, and very remarkable that Africa in 2016 continued to cement and consolidate the democratic successes the continent recorded and celebrated last year in a number of countries, such as Nigerian, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique. The continent of over 1.1 billion people made a giant stride in recording yet some credible and transparent elections with peaceful transfer of power in 2016.  With elections being at the heart of modern democracy, Africa has firmly underscored the entrenchment of democracy in the cultures of the African peoples.

In gauging some of the election of 2016, it could be said that the Republic of Benin’s February presidential poll, for instance, was inclusive, highly competitive, definitive and somewhat historical. It was conducted in quite a peaceful atmosphere. It is considerably devoid of intimidation. And the sitting president, Mr. Patrice Talon was chosen by citizens who enjoy broad constitutional freedom to criticize the government.

The statesmanship of the former President, Mr. Tomas Boni Yayi who led the nation since 2006 by adhering to the constitutional provisions barring him from running for a third term is worthy of note in telling the democratic story of Benin. Mr. Yayi did not seek to change the constitution to allow him to run. It was also fascinating when the former Prime Minister, Lionel Zinsou, who with the support of his boss, Mr Yayi contested in the poll, conceded defeat  when preliminary results from a presidential run-off election gave Mr. Talon an insurmountable lead, paving the way for the peaceful transition of power.

The election of Mr. Faustin-Archange Touadera in March as President of the Central African Republic has been a significant giant stride that has led to reconciliation  and rebuilding of the nation after years of violent turmoil. The leadership of Catherine Samba-Panza, who served as Interim President with the task of ensuring peaceful restoring peace in the country was also quite commendable.

In spite of a number of challenges, the elections held in about 27 African countries in 2016 was considerable credible, but for a few countries. Admittedly, leaders of some African countries manipulated, and rigged the system to remain in power at all cost, recording violence and intimidation of voter.

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan who conceded defeat in 2015 to an opposition candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, once said “the stronger the boat of (democracy), the more it is able to meet the challenges of its voyage and deliver on its promise to citizens.” This is the message for African leaders for the coming years.

  1. Africa’s Economy- with the Drop in the Price of Commodities

The drop in oil price has exposed the underbelly of mono-economies in the continent. Countries like Nigeria and Angola are worst hit with the slump in oil prices, which unfortunately may remain so, for a while.  Consequently, the Nigerian government announced in August 2016 that the country is officially in recession, the worst in over three decades. For Nigeria, the case is all the more glaring because of the new administration that came to power on the strength of their campaign for Change, which got the attention of majority of the electorates. The Government have however in the last two years, had to cut back on some of their promises – while maintaining that they never knew things where as bad as they met.  This has also affected the job creation drive of the government. Coincidentally, the last time the country was in a recession; it was the same president-then as the military head of state, forcing many to question the president’s understanding of the economy. On the upside, some countries have developed an ambitious road map towards diversifying their economies. Agriculture and ICT are the sectors of the future and some countries are making huge investments to attract investment into these sectors. Nigeria hopes to reduce the amount spent on the importation of food. Findings have shown that the country spends about $30 Billion annually on the importation of foods items. According to Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, “the major items on the import list are Rice, Sugar and Milk and we have made some progress towards reducing the huge amount of Forex spent on importation annually. Though slow, we have been stead and also working on irrigation to guarantee all year round production of food, which is key to our mandate.” The Minister, who spoke to our team in Abuja, also said that the country spends about $5Million daily on the importation of rice. He hopes to see Nigeria feed the world. In his words, “The West has been feeding off Africa; but for West Africa, France would have been long dead.” He also added that “the world is at war, but this time an economic war, which is even more ruthless.” 

  1. Diplomacy- Contributing to Africa’s Development

Africa’s relations with the rest of the world in terms of fostering mutual-beneficial agreements and deals, as well as the tenet of shared prosperity and collaborative development over the last one year has improved. In August 2016, Africa was able to sell its infrastructure developmental needs to Japan, an Asian country that has intensified its interest in Africa’s abundant natural resources, along with the United States of America and China.

At the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in Nairobi- Kenya, a laudable initiative of the Japanese Government, launched in 1993 to facilitate high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and its development partners to mobilise international support for Africa’s development, Japan pledged  to over the next three years invest U.S. $30 billion in private and public support for the development of infrastructures and the expansion of education and healthcare systems in the continent.

This is in addition to the $32 billion that Japan pledged to Africa at the fifth TICAD meeting in 2013, which has supported Africa-owned infrastructural development projects in Eastern Africa, such as the new container terminals at Mombasa in Kenya and Nacala in Mozambique.

For a country as Nigeria in a recession, it is also interesting to note that diplomacy could be a tool foster economic growth. In an exclusive interview, Nigeria’s Honourable Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama told journalists of the African Leadership Magazine that Nigeria is “trying to use foreign policy initiative as tool to address these issues; the security issue, anti-corruption issue and economic issue.  So, we have an economic diplomacy to push the economic agenda. We have a security agenda to support our security interests and challenges. And, of course, we have the anti-corruption drive through which we are trying to get back looted funds and get foreign governments to engage with us in preventing further looting of our treasury and resources.

  1. Gender Mainstreaming- and Women in Africa’s Development Story

The arduous, but yet noble task of closing the gender inequality and marginalisation in the region was quite fruitful. In 2016, Africa witnessed a good turn-out and involvement of women in the politics and governance.  Catherine Samba-Panza, the first female president of Central African Republic, in an interim capacity demonstrated her leadership abilities as she was able to promote peace and security in the country with the credible elections that ushered in the current government in March 2016.

The Federal Republic of Somalia, a country located in the Horn of Africa, has a female candidate running for the office of president. Mrs Fadumo Dayib, now the first female presidential candidate is strong and seems very prepared to break the ultimate glass ceilings in the society. Her involvement in politics has ignited hope, not just for women, but for peoples of the country who believe she is better equipped to saddle the responsibility of restoring peace in the war-torn country and foster development in the nation.

Dr. Isatou Touray, another African woman is also running against incumbent President Yahya Jammeh, in the forthcoming December presidential election. There are also a number of women who have stepped-up for leadership in the continent, winning elections to parliaments in Africa, and appointed to key positions of companies and institutions in the continent.

  1. Education

African governments have continued to make significant efforts to invest in educational infrastructure, engendering policies to improve the quality of education and research in the continent. With influential statistics indicating that 1 in 3 Africans are between the ages of 10 and 24, and approximately 60 percent of Africa’s total population below the age of 35, there is no doubting that investments and deliberate attempt to engender growth and development of the educational sector is crucial to transforming to continent’s youthful population from liabilities to assets.
In June, University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) launched the construction of a globally competitive state-of-the-art modern library to accommodate over 800,000 books, with capacity to host 6,000 people, a conference room and Confucius Centre that can accommodate 2,100 and 500 people respectively, financed by China at a grant of 40 million US dollars (about 90bn/-), serving as a public library and resource centre. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) thus commended the government of Tanzania for its initiatives to raise external and internal resources to finance development projects in the educational sector, instilling discipline in public service, citing teachers’ absenteeism, which has dropped sharply by 40 per cent, increasing the teaching days by 24 more.

A number of African countries have also made investments in the sector the year 2016. Uganda recently opened an aviation university to boost air transport and international trade in the country, while enhancing manpower. The Entebbe International University (EIU) which was incorporated in November 2010 was established to close the existing unemployment gap in the country.

Nigeria last month approved about 9 private universities to complement the existing ones. China’s Shenyang University of Chemical Technology made headlines in the country when it announced in July to establish a Chemical University in Kano State, Nigeria, to ease student’s travails in search of knowledge overseas.

  1. Job Creation/ Youth Empowerment

With the world’s largest reserve of young people, estimated to double by the year 2020, the need for investing in Africa’s young people cannot be overemphasized. According to the United Nations, about 200 million people in the continent are aged between 15 and 24, hence the need to invest in this critical segment of the society. U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the Chevening Scholarship programme of the United Kingdom, as well as other exchange programmes yet remained very strategic, vigorous and determined attempts to empower the continent’s youth population across the political, economic and business spectrums. In 2016, they top significant efforts by the international community to support, mentor and invest in the next generation of leaders in Africa as they address the challenges of the continent.

One of the most ambitious projects in the year under review is no doubt, the Nigerian government’s N-Power program, a social investment programme designed to help young Nigerians acquire and develop life-long skills. The program aims to provide teaching opportunity for 500 graduates, with a monthly stipend of N30, 000 monthly. The first phase of the program will commence in December 2016 and accommodate 200,000 young graduates.  

While this is indeed a noble project, some analysts have argued that the project is unsustainable. Some have maintained that the government would do well by creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive; encourage entrepreneurship, and allow the private sector to create jobs.

Overall, Africa can look back and say it has not been a bad year entirely after all, albeit in hushed tones, because, the world expects more from the continent. As the curtain call, this year is gone and we must look to the future with a confident expectation. According to Charles Spurgeon, “You might not always get what you want, but you get what you expect.” In the end, we were right to fantasize; it might just become our reality in 2017.  

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