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Ethiopia’s re­nais­sance

On Oc­to­ber 10, sev­eral hun­dred dis­grun­tled sol­diers marched on the pres­i­den­tial com­pound in Ad­dis Ababa. They were armed. The protest was osten­si­bly over pay, but may have had more sin­is­ter in­ten­tions. Ethiopia is no stranger to mil­i­tary coups, af­ter all.

Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed in­vited the sol­diers into the com­pound and then ad­dressed their con­cerns. He then chal­lenged the sol­diers to a push-up com­pe­ti­tion in which he par­tic­i­pated. By the time he had fin­ished, the sol­diers were smil­ing and laugh­ing, and re­turned peace­fully to their bar­racks.

If any one mo­ment can en­cap­su­late just how much Ethiopia has changed over the past year, this is it.

He has al­ready ac­com­plished so much that it is easy to for­get that Abiy has only been in power since the be­gin­ning of April. He has ended the state of emer­gency, freed thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, re-es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with Eritrea, stream­lined a bloated Cab­i­net, ap­pointed an op­po­si­tion leader as head of elec­tion plan­ning, tack­led cor­rup­tion in the mil­i­tary and placed the se­cu­rity ser­vices un­der civil­ian con­trol. Just a year ago, each of these re­forms would have been un­think­able.

As the world be­comes more au­thor­i­tar­ian and pop­ulist lead­ers grow in strength, Abiy is a re­mark­able ex­cep­tion. If he gets it right, he will have forged a new tem­plate for pro­gres­sive lead­er­ship ev­ery­where.

South Africa’s un­cap­tur­ing

Few ap­pre­ci­ated just how bad the Jacob Zuma years were in South Africa — un­til he was gone. Yes, we knew that cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions swirled around his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Yes, we knew that the Gupta fam­ily had some­how got its ten­ta­cles deep into the state. Yes, we knew that state-owned en­ter­prises were rot­ting from the in­side and that gov­ern­ment de­part­ments were stag­nat­ing.

But the full ex­tent of the rot is be­com­ing clear now that a new ad­min­is­tra­tion is in place. The com­mis­sion of in­quiry led by Deputy Chief Jus­tice Ray­mond Zondo, in par­tic­u­lar, is de­liv­er­ing rev­e­la­tion af­ter rev­e­la­tion that de­tail how the state was cap­tured and to what ex­tent it was fleeced.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa has be­gun the long and painful process of re­build­ing what was lost. It is a daunt­ing chal­lenge, but Ramaphosa’s new broom of­fers the hope that South Africa can turn things around. And a healthy, pros­per­ous South Africa can only be good news for the rest of the African con­ti­nent.

Africa’s in­cred­i­ble in­ven­tors

A ma­chine that har­vests wa­ter from the air. A fully au­to­mated chicken coop. Elec­tronic gloves that can trans­late sign lan­guage into speech in real time. These are just a few of the ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ven­tions short­listed for the 2019 Africa Prize for En­gi­neer­ing In­no­va­tion. The award recog­nises Africa’s most ex­cit­ing new engi­neers and ideas, and proves that, for in­no­va­tion and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, this con­ti­nent can com­pete with the very best.

A nec­es­sary caveat, how­ever, is that the op­por­tu­nity for in­no­va­tion is not spread evenly through­out Africa. Kenya boasts an im­pres­sive six en­tries and Nige­ria four, with two apiece for South Africa and Uganda. Other coun­tries are fail­ing to de­velop the tal­ent at their dis­posal. Who knows what ground­break­ing dis­cov­er­ies we are miss­ing out on as a re­sult?

African Union’s gen­der rights

While Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma was chair­per­son of the African Union Com­mis­sion, she made gen­der equal­ity a pri­or­ity of the con­ti­nen­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion. In speeches and pol­icy doc­u­ments, most no­tably her long-term blue­print, Agenda 2063, she made it clear that she was com­ing for the pa­tri­archy.

But be­hind closed doors, in the com­mis­sion it­self, a very dif­fer­ent story was play­ing out. Women were be­ing side­lined for top ap­point­ments and frozen out of key de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment was rife and women who spoke out faced threats and in­tim­i­da­tion. These trends got worse when Dlaminizuma was re­placed by Moussa Faki Ma­hamat.

Even­tu­ally, enough was enough. Some 37 women signed a pe­ti­tion com­plain­ing about the “gen­der apartheid” in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and sub­mit­ted it to Faki’s of­fice. It was ig­nored. Only af­ter a whis­tle-blower con­tacted the Mail & Guardian, and the news­pa­per pub­lished an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sub­ject, did the chair­per­son’s of­fice re­spond.

An in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion was con­sti­tuted to look into the al­le­ga­tions. Many of the women who had spo­ken out were scep­ti­cal, ex­pect­ing a white­wash. But, to its credit, the in­ves­ti­gat­ing panel took its job se­ri­ously and de­liv­ered a scathing re­port, find­ing that sex­ual ha­rass­ment and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion were far worse than the news­pa­per had re­ported. Some 40 spe­cific cases were iden­ti­fied for fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, cov­er­ing al­le­ga­tions of fraud, nepo­tism, cor­rup­tion, ir­reg­u­lar hu­man re­sources prac­tices, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ual as­sault.

Credit where credit is due: there are few in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions that would be sim­i­larly trans­par­ent in re­spond­ing to al­le­ga­tions of this na­ture. In­deed, this is ground­break­ing for the African Union it­self, which has his­tor­i­cally been slow to ad­mit fault. This must be ap­plauded. But the job is only half done; spe­cific cases now need to be prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated and per­pe­tra­tors pun­ished and re­moved from of­fice. Repa­ra­tions are due to the women who have been vic­timised. Only then can the African Union rea­son­ably claim to be do­ing jus­tice to its lofty rhetoric on gen­der equal­ity.

New lead­ers

Ugan­dan Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni has out­wit­ted more than his fair share of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents since as­sum­ing power in 1986. None­the­less, he is run­ning scared of Bobi Wine.

The rap­per-turned-politi­cian has used his celebrity to preach a simple mes­sage of change, and it res­onates with dis­af­fected ur­ban pop­u­la­tions. He was elected to Par­lia­ment last year, and two in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates achieved un­likely by-elec­tion wins af­ter re­ceiv­ing his en­dorse­ment.

It was ahead of one such vic­tory that Ugan­dan se­cu­rity forces pounced, ar­rest­ing Wine and sev­eral of his sup­port­ers dur­ing a march. In cus­tody, Wine was tor­tured and charged with trea­son. He was even­tu­ally re­leased on bail, and the case has been ad­journed un­til January.

Wine is part of a new gen­er­a­tion of young, charis­matic, so­cial me­di­asavvy African lead­ers who are taking on the old guard. Oth­ers in­clude Evan Mawarire in Zim­babwe and Boni­face Mwangi in Kenya. They work out­side the es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal sys­tem — re­ject­ing both rul­ing and op­po­si­tion par­ties alike — and are run­ning on plat­forms that cen­tre on good gov­er­nance and hu­man rights. Be­cause African pop­u­la­tions are pro­jected to get even younger, it is no won­der that di­nosaurs like Mu­sev­eni are get­ting ner­vous.

Pro­gres­sive tem­plate: Ethiopi­ans have en­joyed a num­ber of pos­i­tive re­forms un­der their Prime Min­is­ter Abiy Ahmed, who came into power in April. Photo: Yonas Tadesse/afp

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