Article written

  • on 18.12.2015
  • at 10:58 AM
  • by Kimberley Evans

2015: Africa for Optimists 0

There has been plenty to celebrate in Africa this year, from successful elections and brave new leaders, to winning the fight against Ebola. 

Burkina Faso brings it back from the brink, in style

There was a moment, in September, when it looked like Burkina Faso’s revolution was in tatters. General Gilbert Diendéré, head of the presidential guard and right-hand-man to exiled President Blaise Compaore, had thrown the interim government into jail and seized power for himself. This was the ultimate sting in the tail of the counter-revolution, and it came weeks before elections were supposed to usher in a new democratic era. But Burkina Faso was having none of it. Within days, it was Diendéré and his henchmen who found themselves in detention, unable to resist a potent combination of popular protests, firm regional diplomatic protests and an army that remembered that its first duty was to people, not politicians. There was no doubt, in this case, that the people had spoken.

They would speak again, in the postponed ballot which was eventually held in November. This was a joyous, cathartic affair. The winner, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, may not have represented a huge change from Compaore – after all, he was Prime Minister in the ancien regime – but that is not the point. What really matters is that for the first time in their history, the Burkinabe got to choose their leader for themselves, and his identity is their prerogative.

Tanzania: What would Magafuli do?

John Magafuli was not really supposed to run for president of Tanzania. He was the ruling party’s compromise candidate, a second or even third choice after the main contenders cancelled each other out. Nor was his election entirely secure, thanks to a strong challenge from an energised opposition coalition. Once in power, however, he wasted no time in showing that he meant business. On his first day in office, he rocked up at the finance ministry unannounced, publicly berating the numerous officials who were not at their desks. On another surprise visit, to Dar es Salaam’s main hospital, he found patients sleeping on the floor, and promptly sacked the hospital director and board.

At the same time, he declared extraordinary cost-cutting measures designed to end wasteful government spending: no more travel, for example, or lavish state banquets. He even cancelled Independence Day celebrations, opting to personally sweep the street outside a fish market instead. His actions have made him an instant hero across the continent. On Twitter, it did not take long for the #whatwouldmagafulido hashtag to start trending, as users compared him to their own leaders.

Cynics may say that his headline-grabbing antics are just clever publicity stunts, and that he hasn’t yet gone after party bigwigs who have grown rich off corruption (and, incidentally, funded his election campaign). They may be right. Nonetheless, Magafuli is single-handedly changing the norms around what citizens can expect from their president, and all for the better. Even if it is only symbolic, it is a wonderful symbol.

Bye-bye Ebola!

This year, both Liberia and Sierra Leone declared themselves free from Ebola, the deadly virus that devastated their populations and destroyed their fragile economies last year. Guinea, although not quite Ebola-free, is nearly there. This disease has been defeated, albeit at great human cost – the final death toll is 11,300.

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By Simon Allison

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