Sunday, January 4, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia

2008 was one year to remember for many generations to come. It was a year that started with many setbacks and ended with a lot more surprises across the globe.
Kenyans will remember 2008 for the violent return of Kibaki to power after disputed elections. They will remember the unnecessary deaths of over a thousand innocent people who lost their lives and thousands of people who lost their homes and property as a consequence of badly managed general elections.

In Uganda, the solution to the 20 year old LRA conflict continued to be elusive despite several attempts to reach a peace deal. Even the final push to bomb the LRA out of their Kiswahili hideout in the forests of the DRC seemed to have yielded no positive results for the combined Ugandan, DRC and Southern Sudan forces.

Deep inside South Africa, former President Thabo Mbeki was given his marching orders by the ANC at a time that he least expected it. As a result, the ruling party ANC went through its first major split since it formed its first government under Mandela nearly fifteen years ago.

In Tanzania, President Kikwete had to contend with rampant fraud in his government culminating in the resignation of his Prime Minister, several members of his cabinet, the governor of the central bank and finally the dissolution of his first cabinet.

The year also ended with the East African Community making little progress with the move to a Common Market basically because Tanzania had been understood to be dragging its feet on protocols regarding land ownership and acceptance of national identity cards from member states as valid travel documents.

Back in Kenya, a number of milestones were recorded in the area of reforms mainly as a result of the earlier conflict in January of 2008.The negotiated coalition government found its hands tied with the Kofi Annan deal that made it mandatory to investigate and reform its electoral system and deal with political violence that had dogged Kenya since the advent of the multiparty system in 1990. Consequently, Kenya’s electoral commission was dissolved while political leaders suspected to have masterminded the 2007 election violence will face a Hague- like Tribunal in Nairobi from March 2009.

As we move into the New Year, Robert Mugabe is still very much around despite calls by some African statesmen to topple him through use of force. The same can be said for President El Bashir of Sudan who, despite an indictment from the International Court of Justice over the Darfur massacres, is still very much in office.

As usual, Somalia remained volatile with armed combatants raising the bar. A number of them especially from the Puntland province became pirates along the Eastern African Indian Ocean waters with dire consequences for international shipping companies. As the year came to a close, more than 40 commercial liners had been hijacked and ransoms worth over $40 million paid to the bandits.

For Abdulahi Yusuf; the Somali President who never made a mark, his was to throw in the towel and leave the country for an unknown destination. Except for the ever hopeful AU membership, every soul who cared saw that the man elected and installed in Nairobi four years ago was as doomed to fail as his predecessors.

But perhaps the most surprising elections to end the year in Africa was the intriguing Ghanaian search for John Kuffor’s replacement after eight years following the exit of strongman Jerry Rawlings. Ironically, Rawlings’ party that lost power due to disaffection with his record actually wrestled power from Kuffor’s self styled democrats!

With Mbeki, Obasanjo and Kufuor gone from the African scene, the European Union and the G8 will have to shop for another breed of African leaders to attend their meetings. And with their departure, the fate of NEPAD, the APRM and other African initiatives must precariously hang in the balance unless the likes of Kagame, Museveni and Melles step in and inject more life into these institutions.

For the Americans and the world community, the most upsetting victory was the election of the first African American to the White House. Barack Obama’s shock election as America’s 44th President invoked emotions across the globe like never before. For a society that had prided itself as the land of equal opportunities, Barack Obama’s election was testimony that the true American Dream had not died with Martin Luther King Jr. forty years earlier.

With a new boss at the White House, let us hope that the world’s economy and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa will be dealt with by a more honest broker.