Year of changes in narratives in Africa: Revolutions. Blackouts on the Internet. Tree plantation. Migration. Feminist songs Dismantling of media. Cyclones and climate change. Increase in opposition. Cultural icons that die. Diseases, cures and healing.
A year of changing narratives about Africa.
From the fall of former leader Omar al-Bashir in Sudan to the emergence of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Ethiopia, Africa witnessed another year of profound changes in his leadership in 2019. In Guinea, after President Alpha Condé announced his intention to run At a third term, protests against the government emerged in pan-African solidarity. The former leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, died on September 16, 2019, and left a complicated legacy between “freedom fighter” and “despot.”
Perhaps no other opposition voice was stronger this year than that of Robert Kyagulanyi, known by his stage name Bobi Wine. The leader of the People Power opposition party in Uganda criticized the long-running leader Yoweri Museveni, and declared his intention to run for president in 2021. But Wine was arrested several times for organizing protests against the “social media tax” of Uganda and, if convicted, would not be allowed to appear.
Wine, along with many others, has been fighting the current trend across Africa to close dissent, often under the guise of laws written to prevent hate speech and fake news online. In 2019, governments deployed Internet closures during periods of political burden in Zimbabwe, Sudan and Ethiopia, among others.
Journalists and media workers remain in the line of fire of wars for freedom of expression in Africa. In Nigeria, human rights activist and journalist Omoyele Sowore, editor of SaharaReporters, was arrested in August on charges of treason and harassment of President Muhammadu Buhari, after running for the February elections. In December, hours after being released on bail, Sowore was arrested again on the grounds of the Abuja High Court. And in Tanzania, journalist Erick Kabendera continues to languish behind bars for charges related to economic crimes. His lawyers claim that the kidnapping and detention of Kabendera, a respected government critical investigative journalist, was politically motivated.
We lost some big ones in 2019. On May 21, 2019, the world lost the Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, an open LGBTQ activist and creative writer who insisted on changing the way we see and write about Africa. And on August 6, 2019, legendary American writer Toni Morrison died, and left a hole in the heart of literary Africa. Morrison, an advocate for black and African narrative, had a profound influence on African writers and social critics.
But survival stories also defined the year 2019. In March, when the deadly cyclone Idai almost destroyed the city of Beira (Mozambique), as well as many parts of Zimbabwe and Malawi, the region came together to think critically about how to improve Quick response systems to save lives. In the Democratic Republic of Africa, scientist Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum, general director of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB), discovered the cure for Ebola. And in Ethiopia 350 million trees were planted in a single day, flooding the planet with the hope of facing imminent climate change.
There were also difficult stories that forced us to face the inequalities that threaten our shared humanity. Traveling for Africans is still an extreme sport. For Africans traveling outside the continent, applying for a visa is like offering sacrifices to a voracious god. Most countries assume that traveling Africans will not return to their countries of origin, leaving African visa applicants the burden of proof. For example, in May, DJ Duke and MCZO, two musicians from Tanzania were denied a visa to the United States after a month-long visa application process.
With the stories of survival come the stories of healing and reconciliation. This year, Gambia embarked on an innovative process of truth, reconciliation and reparation that captivated citizens, as witnesses, perpetrators and victims came forward to share testimonies of torture under the former regime of Yayheh Jammeh. The process, which will continue in 2020, is a testament to the power of truth in storytelling to heal and address abuses of power, but it also raises questions about the extent to which absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The Global Voices Sub-Saharan Africa team’s worked hard this year to shed light on the stories that transform Africa. Of the hundreds of stories told this year, these are the ten that most caught our attention in 2019.
Nigerino has been stranded in Ethiopian airport for months
Eissa Muhamad of Niger says she has been stranded in the transit section of Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for months, since November 6, 2018. Muhamad, 24, was deported from Israel, where he lived for eight years as a migrant.
Guinean President Alpha Condé tells supporters to prepare for the fight
Although the Constitution of Guinea only allows two consecutive terms, the current president of the country, Alpha Condé, recently announced his intention to seek a third term. To help achieve this, he has not hesitated to call for violence.
Is it premature to award Nobel Peace Prize to Ethiopian Prime Minister?
On October 12, just 24 hours after the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali, received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, they arrested the organizers of a protest and were prevented from giving a press conference in Addis Ababa. Abiy, a 43-year-old intelligence officer, became the fourth prime minister of Ethiopia on April 2, 2018. He immediately initiated a series of reforms that not only were unprecedented but would have seemed impossible five years ago.
Four countries in South Africa file petition to lift international ban on ivory trade
While the world was preparing for the XVIII Annual Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and its Conference of the Parties, four countries in southern Africa – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa – presented a petition and proposal to eliminate restrictions and allow international trade in registered raw ivory of its elephants.
Social media turns blue for Sudan
Since the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April, protesters' attempts at democracy to negotiate a transition to a civil government with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) of Sudan staggered, stagnated and then It came down. Mohammad Mattar, 26, was one of many protesters who were shot dead during a deadly sit-in. To cope with their pain, Mattar's friends began a campaign in the social media to have people change their profile photos to blue tones in solidarity with the prodemocratic struggle of the protesters. Went viral.
New York Times announcement for Nairobi head of office is full of clichés about Africa
On July 3, 2019, The New York Times announced a job announcement in search of the next head of the Nairobi office, Kenya. The simplistic language used to describe the role and responsibilities of the ideal candidate revived a huge debate on the traffic of Western media out of exhausted stereotypes about Africa.
At 48, Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan writer who taught the world how to write about Africa dies
The openly gay writer faced the conventions and challenged the situation of things, and triggered a literary revolution that opened the door to thousands of aspiring writers willing to change narratives in and about Africa. Writer, educator and LGBTQ activist, Binyavanga Wainaina died at the age of 48 on May 22 in Nairobi, Kenya, after a brief illness.
La morna, a Cape Verdean musical genre, is a world heritage site
The morna, music and traditional dance of Cape Verde, was approved by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora was one of the best known performers of the genre and was nicknamed “the queen of the morna”.
Taxing dissent: The social media dilemma in Uganda
Every day, millions of Ugandans use social media to get the latest news, chat with their friends and express their opinions. But in May 2018, when the Ugandan government introduced controversial taxes on social media and mobile money services to increase revenue and “curb gossip,” it meant closing the internet in terms of accessibility and affordability. This year there were massive protests against the social media tax while the opposition warms up before the 2020 elections in Uganda.
Is Mandarin Chinese the language of the future of East Africa?
The introduction of the Mandarin Chinese language in East African school programs is a sign of China's growing influence on Africa as a world superpower. As China strengthens its already strong commercial and infrastructure ties with Africa, Confucius Institutes financed by the Chinese Government and Confucius Classrooms are increasing in East Africa.
This article is based on stories originally written by Abdoulaye Bah, Ọmọ Ọmọ Yoòbá, Afef Abrougui, Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein, Dércio Tsandzana, Endalkachew Chala, Faaris Adam, Georgia Popplewell, James Propa, Kudzai Chimhangwa, Liam Anderson, Nwachukwn, Perberegwn, Egbunnd, Perb Prisca Daka, Rosebell Kagumire, Rosemary Ajayi, Sandra Aceng, Sheila Halder, Susie Berya and Taisa Sganzerla. A huge thank you to all our collaborators, editors and translators in 2019.