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African view: Back to the future?

A giraffe (left), Islamist militants (top right), the coffin of Guinea-Bissau's leader Joao Bernardo Vieira (right centre) and South African athlete Caster Semenya

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Zimbabwean filmmaker and columnist Farai Sevenzo looks back at 2009.

What a difference a year makes - 12 little months. Where there are events we think we can predict, we find we cannot see past one month, never mind 12 - or, as has been the fashion this month, 10 whole years because everyone wants to look back on a decade that doesn't mathematically end until this time next year.

But this time last year, where were we?

Guinea's coup leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara
History is often so cruel to the history-makers

We Africa-watchers were watching the death of one coup leader in Guinea and marvelling at the wisdom of the French saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara executed his own coup barely six hours after the death of the old coup-master Lansana Conte.

Twelve months ago as Guinea's beret rouge took over the affairs of state, who would have thought that a year on, the architect of that bloodless coup would have gone into medical exile in Morocco with bullet wounds to the head?

Yes, the 45-year-old captain is no longer at the helm in the troubled West African country and he didn't even make it to the first anniversary of his own coup.

History is often so cruel to the history-makers.

Since there are no soothsayers left of any worth, it is difficult to predict where this coming year will take us.

But in the ancient world of talking animals, it was often said that the giraffe was the soothsayer - her long neck allowed her to look into the past with supernatural ease and peer into the future too and see beyond the clouds of predictability to reveal the true essence of the African.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (left) and President Robert Mugabe (rigth)
No wedding presents were forthcoming for Zimbabwe's marriage of convenience

What did she see in Zimbabwe? Old foes becoming friends? The 85-year-old Robert Mugabe indispensable to his party?

Yes, the marriage of convenience stuttered on through many pains and the world was less vocal about the dubious state of this marriage, and could not tell whether the husband was a wife-beater or if the wife was being unfaithful to the cause, and so the wedding gifts were not forthcoming.

But as December comes to a close, there they are in jovial mood, the thin old man and his ample wife, assuring us all that the new year will be a better one because they have nearly resolved their differences.

Sex bans and dogs of war

Meanwhile Kenya's marriage of convenience was given fresh impetus when Kenyan women decided to abstain from sex for a week so the coalition government in Nairobi would know their womenfolk were displeased with their constant squabbling.

Simon Mann
Simon Mann was all smiles after his reprieve from a 34-year jail term

The giraffe tells me this was a laughable gesture, as a week is not a long time in politics and it showed just what part of their bodies made all the decisions.

Then the president of that republic - Mwai Kibaki - and his wife Lucy faced the press to confirm that their own marriage, despite rumours to the contrary, was on far more solid ground and that they were happily married.

Had we bothered to listen to the wise old giraffe, we would have learned that plotting the overthrow of a government does not necessarily mean death and imprisonment - the dog of war Simon Mann was freed on a presidential pardon in Equatorial Guinea.

While in yet another Guinea - this time the volatile little corner that is Bissau - the old dapper dictator Joao Bernardo Vieira was shot dead after being blamed for the killing of an army chief.

Losing footballers

Still, the soothsayer giraffe does not tell us about forthcoming killings because she knows we expect them.

Suspected Somali pirates in a court in Mombasa, Kenya, in January 2009
What we would all give to sleep on a pirate's mattress

Somalia continued to spill blood in its search for sanity, killing cabinet ministers at a graduation ceremony as the Islamists chased after heaven with the odd suicide bomb and a stoning or two of adulterers.

Pirates grabbed our attention too, and I wonder where they are investing their millions in this age of bankrupt banks.

Oh what we would all give to sleep on a pirate's mattress.

Meanwhile another country near the Horn of Africa seems to have been very careless with its citizens for it keeps losing them.

Yes, we are told, thousands of Eritreans continue to leave the country and to leak out of Isaias Afewerki's dubious realm, saying they are escaping tyranny.

It got so bad that the entire Eritrean national football team didn't board their return flight to Asmara following a football match in Nairobi.

As if that wasn't indictment enough on Mr Isaias's rule, the UN want to slap Eritrea with an arms embargo and targeted sanctions for supporting the Islamists in Mogadishu.

You see, said the giraffe, his enemy's enemy is his friend.

Meles Zenewi, Ethiopia's prime minister, talking on a mobile phone in Denmark
The climate change talks did not work out well for Africa or Ethiopia's leader

Mr Isaias's enemy is Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who, having fought the Islamists in Somalia, was last seen looking like a jazz trumpeter in the bitter cold of the climate talks in Copenhagen.

The talks to save the planet from outrageous emissions in the name of development proved frosty.

The Africans in Denmark were not happy with the Ethiopian prime minister, nor with the crumbs from the climate negotiating table.

Mr Meles had negotiated a sum of money to help Africa fight the effects of climate change.

We, they cried, will suffer the most from the rich countries' abuse of the planet and no drought and rising seas is worth a measly $10bn.

True sons of Africa

We veered from politics to pop too, as Africa joined the rest of the world in mourning the death of Michael Jackson and claimed him as a true son of Africa despite the apparent change in his pigmentation.

Celebrations in Kenya as Barack Obama was inaugurated as US president in January 2009
Barack Obama's inauguration was celebrated across the continent

And all year long we've been enthralled by the American election of a Kenyan grandson called Barack Obama, a man so mesmerising that even as he fights two wars, he had time to pick up the Nobel peace prize.

Our 2009 has been so full of twists and turns - great athletes like Usain Bolt and Caster Semenya were remembered for different reasons.

Our football stars dazzled premiere clubs all over the world in preparation for the first football World Cup to be held on African soil.

With Angola hosting the Africa Cup of Nations this coming January, are we in danger of a little sport fatigue in 2010?

Not at all, said the giraffe, every maternity hospital in Africa will see 2010 babies with names like Fabio Capello, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Elephant, Super Eagle, Black Star and Why Not Bafana?

What else then, does the future hold? I asked the giraffe.

A giraffe reflected in a watering hole (left, BBC), former South Africa President Nelson Mandela (top right, AFP), red beret soldiers in Guinea (right middle, AFP), Somali pirates (bottom right, AFP)
A predictable look at the coming year for South Africa, Guinea and Somalia?

The more things change, she said, the more they will stay the same.

A soldier will run Guinea, a president will turn 86 in February; South Africa will have her World Cup tournament after all that construction and a little Madiba magic may return to bring their Bafana Bafana football team to the edge of the quarter finals at least.

I am told that in preparation for this unlikely event, all giraffes have been expelled from Ugandan territory

At least that, I say hopefully. What else?

The Somali pirates will continue to operate on the waters around the Horn.

I told the giraffe that what she was predicting was all too predictable - even for a great seer of the future such as herself.

Well, she declared, if you really want an exclusive it is this: After a couple of decades, it is possible that Uganda will have a gay president.

Now that really was a shock, and I am told that in preparation for this unlikely event, all giraffes have been expelled from Ugandan territory.

Compliments of the season - and may your 2010 be full of African victories.


If you would like to comment on this column, please use the postform below.

A selection of your views will be published below.

The giraffe in all her wisdom forgot to mention that there is one place on the continent we should look to for a glimpse of the lesser known free and fair African election. Botswana saw its 10th in 2009. Perhaps the giraffe didn't want to reminisce about something so out of reach for the rest of Africa.
Ida Alwin, London, UK (Johannesburg, South Africa)

Hmm! The giraffe perhaps has too little time to review 09 and preview 2010. She never mentioned what is going to happen Ivory Coast in 2010. President Gbagbo has promised to hold election and continue to postpone and i wonder if there will be election in 2010 since Gbagbo is a serial postponer.
Muumob Duut, Accra Ghana

Very interesting indeed! What can the soothsayer tell us about the Kenyan grand coalition govt and the coming referendum on the new constitution. Will Kenyans finally get a new const or lose the chance?
Oliver Radet, Kisumu, Kenya.

I totally agree with the giraffe's depiction of the last 12 months in Africa. Like every other seer the giraffe missed out a lot of issues, but it's alright.
chima okechukwu, abuja, Nigeria

What is CAF doing to ensure all African stars playing in Europe are available to play for their countries because we hear most of them will not be coming and we need them because without them the tournament won't be better. Come the finals i expect Ghana 2 be one of the teams.
Daniel mule, Nairobi-kenya

I believe that Peter Moszynski, Godalming, UK is right because the giraffe has forgotten to predict the future of Sudan. Considering the major events that will be taking place in Sudan in the coming two years or even more, I think the giraffe may be interested in starting the next decade's prediction of Africa all over. Sudan is having an election in just four months, its first election in 24 years. Sudan is also running Triple-referenda in 2011 (Southerners voting whether to create their own country, Abyei is to choose whether to secede with South or join North and a consultation referendum in the Nuba Mountain). A continuing war in Darfur and a "proxy war" with Chad along their common borders. Now I don't see how someone can forget a country that's going to cause Africa and her citizens such a headache... oohhh...I almost forgot, did I mentioned that the giraffe has also forgotten Democratic Republic of Congo?
Bol, Sydney, Australia

Oh! Giraffe, you never mentioned anything about President Umaru Yar'Adua health. Please if you can, tell us will he return soon or will hand over on health grounds.
Alex Aina, Lagos, Nigeria

2009 has been quite a year, what we would expect and what we would not have happened. There have been high and low moments and that is how life goes, just as the year is because of the living people who make it. Above all let Africa be applauded for her successes especially the wining of the bid to host the world's biggest sporting event. African countries can also learn from what has happened this year to avoid falling into the same pits that other countries have fallen into. Welcome 2010 and wishing Africa all the best!
Daisy Kumwembe, Blantyre, Malawi

"...because everyone wants to look back on a decade that doesn't mathematically end until this time next year."

Actually Farai, the 'noughties' decade ends with 2009. It started in 2000 so 2009 is the tenth year just as 1990-1999 or 1980-1989 or 1970-1979, etc
Odehe Bannerman, Accra, Ghana

Your Giraffe is useless we will send it back to Uganda as it does not have refugee status in Congo, at least in Uganda Museveni will take care of it specially as it's predicting situation that ignorants such Museveni don't understand. But your giraffe has failed to predict the change that will be happening soon in the DRC, the country will be soon liberated and all the countries of the GRAND LAC will be crossing a very very dark period for years to come........
Simon Iswa, kinshasa

Hmm, that Giraffe needs more time studying geography oh! Abi I'm missing something - when did Jamaica join the United States of Africa? Anyway, welcome Usain... 'shon of the shoil' as say in Ibadan.
Joke Adenuga, Ibadan, Nigeria

The giraffe failed to draw attention to the continuing problems facing Sudan, Africa's largest country, the world's largest recipient of international humanitarian aid and host to the world largest peacekeeping operations, whose president celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the coup that brought him to power as an internationally-indicted war criminal, for which he expelled many of the aid agencies that had been feeding his war-shattered population. Does he think that the new decade will see profound change or will we just see more of the same?
Peter Moszynski, Godalming, UK

The 12 months past are a true picture of our continent and the predictions are just a mere explanation of what transpired the previous year. The world cup prediction I would add is that Ivory Cost, and Ghana shall all be reaching the quarter finals and with the quality to be exhibited in Angola come January shall see one of the two or both reach the semis and finals and probably Ghana wins the first African world cup medal on African soil.
Oematum Jacob Pascal, Kumi, Uganda



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