Nigeria/Africa Masterweb News Report
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2005: Another mixed bag for Africa
( Tuesday, December 27, 2005 )
Africa ought to be celebrating the election of its first female president in 2005, but the year also brought its own socio-economic challenges and political turmoil accentuated by poverty, human misery, endless civil strife and high-level disease burden.
One long-serving African leader extended his mandate in 2005, and looks set to break the record of another who died in office, while a former leader died in exile, and an exiled ex-dictator became a political football, in a controversial extradition request, which is bound to test the resolve and capacity of the African Union (AU) to deal with impunity and rights violations committed by serving and former leaders.
Like 2004, when the coveted Nobel Peace Prize went to Kenya`s environmentalist Wangari Maathai, the highest honour for 2005, arguably should go to another female top achiever, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the indefatigable 67-year-old grandmother, who after seeing off Liberia`s dictators and warlords, outscored the former world footballer George Weah in a bitterly contested presidential run-off in November 2005.
The Harvard-trained economist, public administrator and former UNDP, World Bank and Citibank top executive, will be inaugurated in January 2006, for the more formidable task of reconstruction and healing the wounds of a 14-year bloody civil war that ruined Liberia, Africa`s first republic founded by freed slaves from America in 1847.
The year 2005 started with the signing in Nairobi, Kenya 9 January, of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended one of Africa`s longest- running conflicts in Southern Sudan.
But the joy that followed the end of the two-decade war that killed some two million people terminated in near anti-climax after John Garang, the man who had led southern Sudanese in the struggle for self-determination, died in a helicopter crash 31 July, three weeks after he assumed the vice-presidency of Sudan and the presidency of South Sudan.
The late enigmatic freedom fighter was promptly replaced in both positions by his second in command, Silva Kirr, a fellow comrade in the southern-based Sudan People`s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).
But Sudan is still searching for peace in the restive east and troubled western region of Darfur, where AU peacekeepers are absorbing fires from the warring sides who are routinely violating the ceasefire they had signed.
There was another mourning on the continent following the death 5 February of the "doyen" of African politics, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled his country Togo with an iron-fist for 38 years.
An unconstitutional plot by Togo`s politicised army and supine parliament to foist Eyadema`s son Faure Gnassingbe on the long-suffering Togolese, was only aborted by an international outrage. However, the 39-year-old still managed to win a hurriedly arranged presidential election in April, and has since succeeded his father in spite of opposition`s protestations that the poll was rigged.
Elsewhere in Gabon, Omar Bongo, who has ruled his oil-rich country since 1967, and has added Ondimba as his last name, took the baton of Africa`s longest serving leader from Eyadema, by winning a seven-year extension to his 38-year-long mandate.
Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, thanks to an earlier change to the constitution, also won for himself a third seven-year mandate in an election that produced scant opposition, although the ghost of his friend Thomas Sankara, killed when Compaore took power in a bloody coup in October 1987, still hovers over the mainly desert country.
On 2 February, former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano handed over power to his anointed successor Armando Emilio Guebuza, and Namibia`s ruler from independence in 1990, grey-bearded Sam Nujoma did the same 21 March, relinquishing the mantle to a fellow freedom fighter, Hifikepunye Pohamba.
After months of political equivocation, President Mathieu Kerekou of Benin bowed to pressure and announced while in France that he would not be standing for re-election in March 2006.
But ignoring donors` cut and suspension of vital foreign aid to his country, Uganda`s Yoweri Museveni, who has been unable to defeat the rebel Lord`s Resistance Army waging a separatist war from the north for almost 20 years, is intensifying his bid for re-election in March 2006.
His predecessor in office, former President Apollo Milton Obote, exiled in Zambia, and whom Museveni had threatened with trial if he dared to return home, died in South Africa in October and was given a State burial in Uganda by the Kampala government.
However, shortly after his return from self-imposed exile also in South Africa, another Museveni political foe Kizza Besigye, his former physician, whom he defeated in the 2001 presidential race, was promptly arrested and is now swimming in political hot water.
The opposition leader is in jail facing trials in both civil court and military tribunal for alleged treason, rape and terrorism, with his supporters claiming the charges are part of a government ploy to stop him from challenging Museveni in the 2006 presidential poll.
But defiant Besigye has filed his presidential nomination from prison, and should he win the race, Uganda will be setting an African record of a president-elect walking straight from jail into the State House - a highly unlikely scenario in a continent where the awesome power of incumbency is deployed to crush opponents, real or imagined.
The third-term syndrome is also alive in Nigeria, the home of AU chair, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who despite saying a lot, has failed to clear the air on whether or not he will seek re-election when his current second four-year mandate expires in 2007.
The feud has so strained relations between him and his deputy Atiku Abubakar, and divided their ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that critics, including Nobel Literature laureate Wole Soyinka, say they now fear for the future of democracy in Africa`s most populous nation, which suffered the loss of its First Lady Stella Obasanjo, who died in a Spanish hospital in October, and continues to endure a string of air crashes that has killed more than 220 people in the last two months.
The no-love-lost relationship between a president and his deputy is also playing out in South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki fired vice-president Jacob Zuma in June over corruption allegations.
Zuma`s trials for corruption and rape charges have not only split the ruling African National Congress, but have all but shattered the political ambition of the man many had thought would succeed Mbeki.
Somalia moved a notch close to the semblance of a nation, with the formation of a transitional government and the election of a parliament in exile in Kenya, having existed virtually as a failed State from 1991, when warlords toppled former President Mohamed Siad Barre, who died in exile in Nigeria in 1995.
But the new transitional government of President Abdullahi Yusuf is still unable to govern lawless Somalia from Hargesa, its preferred base to the nation`s insecure capital Mogadishu.
Zambia and Malawi, two of the six southern African countries where millions face acute hunger, are coming to terms with the consequences of departing African leaders picking successors, who turned against them later on assuming power.
President Bingu Mutharika of Malawi has since ditched the Malawi United Democratic Front (UDF) on whose ticket he rode to power in 2004. He formed his own party and is currently waging an anti-corruption war that has put his predecessor and former mentor, Bakili Muluzi, on the firing line.
Omar Bongo, who has ruled Gabon since 1967, has added "Ondimba" as his last name. He has taken the baton of Africa`s longest serving leader from Eyadema, by winning a 7-year extension to his 38-year-long mandate.
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