The old world order, many people argue, is ending.One result of it, they say, is the election of Donald Trump as president of the US. And, a little earlier, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
Angry at the present world where, according to Oxfam (that place where our own Winnie Byanyima is chief) says the gap between the super-rich and the poorest half of the global population has grown so stark that just eight men own as much wealth as 3.6 billion people, voters are rejecting the establishment and embracing dangerous demagogues. People are running back to the comfort of their caves, and the certainty of tribe, and so on.
Question then is, what is happening in Africa? One view is that outside West Africa, and pockets of southern Africa, democracy is sharply in decline.Corruption and state incompetence are deepening. The China-demand fuelled “Africa Rising” story of the years 2003 to 2015, has all but evaporated.
Nigeria and South Africa, the two giants that were supposed to lead Africa to great new prosperity have floundered. Muhammadu Buhari, who came to power in a wave of euphoria and optimism in Nigeria’s first opposition victory in 2015, is overwhelmed and is in hiding somewhere in London, recuperating.
A recent report noted that 20 per cent of the Nigerian currency, the naira, that is in circulation, is fake. But it is easy to list the mess, and we can fill this newspaper with that. It’s harder to see the changes and game-changing shifts, and what they mean. Unlike in the US, and Europe, I think the definitive changes in Africa are the positive ones, and forward-looking responses to crises that will unfold over the years. As this column noted before, one of the things strategic-minded people are watching out for in East Africa, is what some think will be the emergence of Tanzania as the largest economy in the East African Community (EAC), displacing Kenya.
What is really important about that is that it could disrupt more than 100 years of a regional economic system that was built around the Kenya-Uganda Railway.That could happen sooner than five years, according to some crystal ball gazers.
How, you might ask, would that affect the rest of the region? For starters, Lake Victoria would finally begin to rise as a critical economic zone because it would lead to the rise of Kisumu-Mwanza as the most important trade axis in the region.
Historically, Uganda built its trade infrastructure eastwards toward Kenya. With Tanzanian economic hegemony we would have to be western-facing, and gear all our infrastructure toward Bukoba.
Kenya and Uganda have never had to think and make key public and infrastructure investment this way. In re-orienting to these new realities, they will remake the countries they are and possibly unlock new energies. I don’t see nativism as their response.
Further away, at the weekend, Adama Barrow was formally inaugurated as president of The Gambia. He won elections in early December against the erratic and despotic former military Jahya Jammeh.
Jammeh first conceded defeat, then changed his mind a week later and said he wasn’t leaving. A crisis ensued, and neighbouring Senegal led a regional West African (Ecowas) force and chased him away last month. Barrow had been sworn in at the Gambian embassy in the Senegalese capital Dakar, where he had fled to escape the wrath of Jammeh. As soon as that was done, Ecowas moved to help him claim his electoral mandate.
Senegal’s soft-spoken president Macky Sall was the star of the inauguration. There were giant posters of him, with thank you messages, in the capital Banjul.
There was something unprecedented about that. The only time something close to it had happened was Tanzania statesman Julius Nyerere’s role in the ouster of military dictator Idi Amin in 1979.
Typically, all interventions in Africa to oust a toxic ruler by a regional bloc or a leader, have been spearheaded by a soldier-president or former rebel leader-turned civilian (for example Rwanda-Uganda-Angola-Zimbabwe against DR Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko).
Sall was the first democratically elected (former opposition) leader to put his army at the head of an intervention to pressure a strongman to give up power to a democratically elected (former opposition) leader.
It’s the first time a pure civilian democratic leader in Africa has spent his political capital that way, and inserted his country’s military into an external regime change enterprise in that fashion.
The meaning of it shall soon be clear, but it was an intriguing and one of the rarest confluence for democracy we have seen in Africa between securocrats and politicians.It would seem from tracking social media, that that might have made a deeper impression on several Africans than even the Arab Spring did. What next?
Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3