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.
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