New dawn for Africa or another false start?

Friday, April 5th, 2024 02:15 | By
Senegal's newly-elected President Bassirou Diomaye Faye waves to supporters from a car after taking an oath of office as president during the inauguration ceremony in Dakar, Senegal April 2, 2024.
Senegal's newly-elected President Bassirou Diomaye Faye waves to supporters from a car after taking an oath of office as president during the inauguration ceremony in Dakar, Senegal April 2, 2024. PHOTO/Reuters

The political landscape in Africa is undergoing a significant shift. The recent election and inauguration of President Bassirou Diomaye Faye in Senegal is not just a local event, but a part of a larger trend sweeping through West Africa. These former French colonies are demonstrating a strong determination to chart their own course, free from the influence of their former colonial power.

Periodically, a new wave of hope washes over the continent, carrying with it the promise of better times. In East Africa, this wave arrived in 1986 with Yoweri Museveni’s forces, which swept through Western Uganda from Tanzania, bringing an end to years of political instability, and heralding a new era.

Young Museveni, carrying the credentials of a revolutionary, made all the right noises. Indeed, Uganda’s initial days under Museveni were different. Peace came back, refugees returned home, and the name Uganda began to gain some international respectability.

Museveni had no time for leaders who stayed in office for too long. But that was some four decades ago, and he is still in office today. His son, now serving as the head of the military, may one day succeed him. In the meantime, his wife serves in the Cabinet and is tasked with overseeing the education docket, among other things.

In the early days of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency in South Africa, hope reigned supreme again. By then, military coups as a mechanism for assuming power in Africa were on the wane. Across the continent, countries were posting impressive economic growths. Ethiopia and Mozambique were setting examples.

South Africa, once a beacon of hope, is now grappling with a series of challenges. The country is experiencing a decline, with rising unemployment rates and political feuds. The ruling African National Congress is struggling to maintain its hold on power, as evidenced by its recent efforts to counter the influence of its former president, Jacob Zuma.

In Kenya, 2002 was probably the greatest year of hope since independence. Mwai Kibaki swept into power, shoving off the fightback staged by President Daniel arap Moi’s Kanu. Kenyans had lived through some difficult times under Moi.

It is universally agreed that the economy grew under Kibaki, more children got into school and infrastructure development kicked off again, among other things. Kibaki gave the nation Vision 2030.

However, it is also under Kibaki that the nation witnessed its most scary internal conflict due to the contested 2007 election. It remains a blot on Kibaki’s presidency. Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and later Willian Ruto succeeded him and the place of Vision 2030 grew hazy.

The national happiness index has declined considerably, and there is no indication that things will look up for Kenya soon. The strike by the medical professionals could be a pointer to the disaffection across the economy. All indications are that the wrong people have their hands in the till, and who knows, all those who peddle influence could soon divide the national assets at their disposal among themselves.

Leaders bring hope or kill it. Diomaye Faye, riding on the wave of excitement that his mentor Ousmane Sonko ignited, could either carry this forward or break the delicate glass Senegalese have handed him.

Senegal has a reputation to protect, and Senegalese have worked mighty hard to preserve their democracy. The previous two presidents tried to violate it but somehow were repulsed. It was a beautiful scene watching immediate former president Macky Sall hand over the symbolic keys to the State mansion to the new president, be escorted out of the palace and ride into the political sunset.

In neighbouring Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the new military regimes have thrown down the gauntlet to France by seeking to delink their economy from that of France. Senegal appears set to join the group. The three countries have also decided to leave ECOWAS, meaning it will no longer be business as usual in ECOWAS.

Africa often has a false start. Is this another start, or is it simply too many sparks with little heat?  For the sake of Africa’s young population, it is time to generate some heat rather than mere sparks.

—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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