The tradition of this blog of choosing the African characters of the year that is ending now turns a decade this December, in a summary marked by the coronavirus and political turbulence. As always, we remember that it is an open list and that we would like to know your own candidates, women and men, to be part of it. For guidance, if you wish, you can consult the editions of 2019, 2018, 2017 (women and men), 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. Thus we begin the review of this strange year throughout the planet, including the African continent.
Those who left
The obituary section is necessarily big in 2020. It started with the death of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni after a long illness. Reaching almost centenarians, Daniel Arap Moi, the former president of Kenya, and George Bizos, Mandela’s tireless lawyer and an icon in the fight against apartheid, also passed away. One of the probably most unexpected deaths was that of Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, aged 55 and from cardiac arrest. Nkurunziza was preparing to leave office after 15 years in power and after the elections held on May 20, in which his dolphin, Évariste Ndayishimiye, won the victory amid allegations of fraud by the opposition. There are only four of the deaths of distinguished African citizens that occurred in the year that is now ending and whose rate increased with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, a disease that ravaged the leaders and the longest-lived people of a continent that it seems that it is escaping the worst predictions of the experts.
And the covid-19 arrived
The African continent has shown, in general, resilience to the virus: high recovery figures, few infections and a good capacity to go through the different waves and bumps of the disease without reaching the hecatomb that everyone predicted. However, covid has also caused casualties in Africa. Manu Dibango was among the first celebrities to fall at the hands of this disease and among the last are three former presidents: the Malian Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), the Ghanaian Jerry Rawlings and the burundian Pierre Buyoya. Among them is Rawlings, the protagonist of the first peaceful transition between two democratically elected presidents of different political parties in the history of Ghana.
Covid has marked us all and has discovered new global heroes. It is impossible to leave behind Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ethiopian and director general of the World Health Organization, which is responsible for the response to the pandemic on a global scale. Another such hero is Cameroonian and Africa CDC (African Union Center for Disease Control) co-director John Nkengason, one of the laureates of the annual Global Goalkeepers, who we got to know better in an interview with Noor Mahtani. published in The country coinciding with the awarding of this award. Our favorite, however, is Julienne Anoko, a WHO anthropologist who is fighting the coronavirus on the ground, after fighting Ebola also on the front line. It does so from a different perspective: inclusion in the equation of culture, community and understanding of African societies.
In a year marked by COVID restrictions, civil society has tried to take to the streets, aware that some measures by their governments were aimed at controlling dissent and, at times, crushing any possible opposition.
Among the activists and movements that stood out in 2020 are Aisha Yesufu and EndSARS in Nigeria, which has made a huge impact in a year of growing political instability in West Africa. Yesufu is a well-known activist of the #BringBackOurGirls movement and came to the forefront of the media and peaceful combat, again, with the protests against a special Nigerian police squad notorious for its brutality, which resulted in a broader expression of criticism against the Nigerian government, especially in the wake of the Lekki massacre.
Cyber activism flourished, again with women at the forefront, across different countries and realities. Protests and hashtags multiplied on social media, from #FreeSheena in Uganda to #VraieFemmeAfricaine by Ivorian Bintou Traoré, sparking an angry and ironic debate about gender roles in and around the Ivory Coast. The struggle of Stella Nyanzi, a renowned feminist academic, both in Uganda and internationally, continues to be in the limelight, who has gone through jail and several trials in her country and is emerging as an opponent of President Museveni in the upcoming elections.
The Nobel who started a war
Ehe Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 43 and At 44, he started a war. Just three months after coming to power, he formalized the signing of a peace agreement with his neighbor Eritrea that unblocked a border conflict stalled for two decades. However, 2020 showed us the other side of the Ethiopian miracle. The notices that all that glittered in the country was not gold came with the hundreds of people who died violently in the Ethiopian region of Oromia after the shooting murder of the iconic musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, at the age of 34. The end of this year finds us talking about Tigray, an area of the country that has just been invaded by Ethiopian troops after a short war, of whose real dimensions we are still not aware.
The year has been turbulent when it comes to the political situation: Alpha Condé and Alassane Ouattara have started their respective third terms prohibited by their respective constitutions after elections marked by violence, the Malian IBK was overthrown by a coup and the Mauritanian Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz faced serious accusations of corruption and embezzlement. In 2020 we have also witnessed the fall from grace of Isabel Dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa, daughter of the former Angolan president and also accused of corruption. On side B of the “death and destruction” section of the African political landscape, Malawi, which premiered the leader of the opposition, Lazarus Chakwera.
Writers to power
Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga faced two courts in November: one in his country to decide if he was guilty of a crime for his protests against government corruption and another literary, which decided if he had written one of the best novels of the year in English, a candidate for the prestigious Booker. The Ethiopian Maaza Mengiste accompanied her in this last case. Dangarembga did not win the award for his work This mournable boy. Neither did Mengiste. In the first case, moreover, the power left the author alone – at least for the moment – wrapped up in an international campaign after her arrest and who, once released, continues to write in media around the world and express herself on networks social. Another committed writer who was talked about this year is Cameroonian Djaili Amadou Amal, a candidate for the Goncourt 2020, who won the Goncourt Student Award for his book The impatient, a novel about the situation of women in their country, which denounces daily violence and polygamy.
Netflix, Burna Boy and Nocembo
“There has not been a better time for African fiction,” he opined Dorothy Ghettuba, earlier this summer, in The country. Ghettuba is the Kenyan filmmaker that Netflix has relied on to nurture its catalog of African content and expand it throughout the world and was referring to a section Made in Africa that flourished, spectacularly, during these months. Queen I am and How much does the blood weigh?, the first two African series on the platform, were South African, had women as protagonists and they triumphed. It was the first time that the platform produced original content from this continent – with local filmmakers, actors and stories – and it is not anecdotal. These two premieres were the starting shot of an ambitious plan that already has many novelties in the portfolio, according to Gemma Parellada.
Also in what refers to culture and among the musical bombs of the year stand out Burna Boy and the anthem Jerusalem. With his previous album, African Giant, the Nigerian Burna Boy “cemented a soundtrack against institutionalized racism, the educational system inherited from the old metropolises and inequalities”, as Javier Domínguez tells us. His latest record release, Twice As Tall, aims to create a “bridge” that stretches over the destroyed roads left by the colonial past and illuminate a common struggle.
Jerusalem, for its part, is a gospel song, afrohouse, created by the South African Master KG, musician and producer, and Nocembo, singer with a deep and velvety voice, which began in 2019 as a song to be performed among friends and a year later it has been become an international phenomenon, reaching the number 1 of the top 40. After accumulating more than 200 million views on YouTube, the song has skyrocketed in popularity on all social networks with the viral challenge #JerusalemaChallenge that has already toured the world several times..
The WTO doubt
We close this list of characters of the year with the Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, possible new director of the World Trade Organization, if Donald Trump does not prevent it. Former economy minister in her country and former director general of the World Bank, Okonjo-Iweala has been named African of the year by Forbes and has the support of the European Union to occupy the position. She would be the first woman to lead the WTO and compete with another woman, a Korean national. His possible appointment is blocked by a decision of the United States, which privileges his competitor. This woman has already been on our list, like Ahmed and others who return with the tradition. We wish her luck and, above all, the African continent, so that the institution is favorable to them and the year that begins as well, filled with characters who enhance and improve it.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.