The month of March has come with some welcome surprises for our beloved continent.
These may well be ordinary events for some. But they are notable strides for a continent oft associated with poverty, corruption, autocratic rulers, disease and any negativity imaginable.
The dates of interest when these events occurred are 8th, 26th and 31st March. Reviewing each of these casts some clear light on why this is positive for Africa.
His Excellency collapses
It was to be a warm Sunday and our women were to be celebrated. It was their day, women’s day on 8th March.
A prize would be in order for anyone that remembers the theme this year. Because the event in Zambia was overshadowed by what happened on the main podium.
President Edgar Lungu was reported to have collapsed. Medics immediately swung into action to manage this public spectacle. Social media was awash with varying accounts of what happened. The print media had their own way of reporting the following day what transpired.
Before leaving the Heroes National Stadium, President Lungu took to the podium to announce that he was feeling uncomfortable and would be leaving but the event could continue.
And he left.
Uhuru cracks the whip
Fast track to Nairobi a couple of weeks later on 26th March.
Corruption continues to haunt Africa relentlessly. So many statements have been made about this plague and politically correct efforts publicised, perhaps for the cameras and microphones (who knows!).
Therefore when President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya delivered the state of the nation address (a constitutional requirement, by the way, at least once yearly), not much may have been expected. At least from the perspective of the average African.
However, what ensued after the address was to say the least encouraging. What happens further in this episode will be even more inspiring should it yield anticipated (or is it desired) end results.
It has been reported that this vice of corruption has been spiralling out of control in Kenya among top officials. It is therefore not surprising that President Kenyatta was accorded a standing ovation after his speech when he did the unprecedented, directing that all officials regardless of position step aside to facilitate investigations.
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) had issued a confidential report listing scandals and naming officials linked to the rot.
In cementing this stern message and setting the tone, President Kenyatta could not be more explicit when he stated that “Consequently, I hereby direct that all officials of the national and county governments that are adversely mentioned in this report, whether you are a Cabinet secretary, principal secretary, or chief executive of a State institution, to immediately step aside pending conclusion of the investigations of the allegations against them.”
Usually this would be taken as political rhetoric. But since the address, several top officials have stepped down from their positions as they comply with the President’s directive.
This is a development that cannot be ignored both in Kenya and across Africa. It is time real action was taken against corruption at the top level.
No more luck for Goodluck
Away from Kenya, on the Western side of the continent, a milestone in democracy was underway at the end of March.
Nigeria was voting.
The continent’s most populous nation had its presidential polls. The contest was a very close one between the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhhamadu Buhari.
Goodluck’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in power since 1999, was on the wane and his popularity shaken in the wake of various factors including the elusive Boko Haram.
On the other hand, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) had mobilised to unite the opposition to challenge the ruling party. This was refreshing on a continent that has briefcase and one man/woman political parties.
By the evening of March 31st, President Jonathan had conceded defeat. It was widely reported that he had actually called his opponent to congratulate him on the victory.
That gesture too can well be considered a rarity on the continent. But there it was happening in our time again.
So what does this mean for Africa?
The biggest question for us all is what this may signal for our beloved Africa. Are these flukes or signs of efforts to do things in a new way by our leaders?
President Lungu’s collapse and how this was handled speaks volumes of the progress we have made or can make. The issue here is not what is speculated about the authorities being forced to own up.
What I believe is commendable is the President making the effort to step back on the podium and let the people know he was not well.
Zambia has lost two presidents in office and one in retirement. This is quite a number for a half century old nation. This therefore immediately makes presidential health a very public issue. The country has endured enough pain and huge resource drain due to presidential deaths.
So the fact that President Lungu shared his condition that day and regular updates followed on a daily basis is nothing short of commendable.
This transparency is a welcome development on a continent where the president’s health is a closely guarded secret.
Additionally, what happened in Kenya also sets the long overdue standard against corruption and poor leadership.
It is very appropriate for President Kenyatta to take the tough stance he has. Even more heartening is that this did not end up on a forgotten piece of paper (speech) or end with clever oratory. The cited senior officials have stepped aside.
For once we are seeing action beyond rhetoric. How many more leaders will now follow suit? We watch expectantly.
Finally, in Nigeria, an incumbent president was defeated and he conceded. This is a nation not shy on coup attempts and military takeovers. It has a very volatile governance past.
President Jonathan becomes the first sitting president to be ousted from power in Nigeria.With all the instruments and advantages of incumbency at his disposal, he did not opt to challenge the wrong way.
The fact that this is beginning to happen in Africa should boost our hope for a better future. In the recent past, Zambia had in 2011 also experienced this when President Rupiah Banda conceded following defeat at the hands of the late opposition leader Michael Sata. On the eastern side of Zambia the same fate befell Malawi’s President Joyce Banda.
In addition to this democratic milestone, this must serve as a loud message for all our leaders, current and future. The people are now watching closely and have become very clear about their expectations. This is extremely critical in driving accountability on the part of our leaders.
Leaders must no longer get away with promises they make with no attempt to follow through or deliver on. Any leader worth their salt must keep their side of the bargain and walk the talk.
Like both President Bandas, the citizens now speak loudly through the ballot, making it known that they cannot be taken for granted anymore. Delivery, inspirational and transformational leadership is what our continent requires to keep us relevant and progressive.
The dawn of hope
The foregoing may appear simplistic. But with an eye on where Africa is coming from, these are milestones that must be celebrated.
It is a fact that there remains a lot of work to be done to move Africa forward. But even baby steps are a welcome indication of development. But the more we begin to see a progressive brand of leadership, it will soon become a norm and a minimum expectation.
We deserve it and we must demand it. It is the only way Africa will exploit and realise her fullest potential.
As I ponder on these events in March, I cannot ignore the growing sense of optimism that is building inside me.
Maybe, just maybe, this is a good sign of things to come. One cannot be blamed for being hopeful.
The sun seems to finally be shining on Africa.