Africa

Letter from Africa: The highs and lows of 2014

Palm wine tapper Anthony Ozioko drinks palm wine he tapped from a palm tree at Eha-Alumona town, Nsukka district of south-eastern Nigeria on 8 August 2013 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Palm wine is a popular drink in West Africa

In our series of letters from African journalists, Kenya's Joseph Warungu reflects on some of Africa's key moments of the year, and how they show the wisdom of some of the continent's proverbs.

They have a saying in Benin that if you never offer palm wine to your uncle, you will not know many proverbs.

Well, this festive season I knocked many of my uncles cold with a flood of drinks and I'm therefore armed with words of wisdom with which to look back at the year.

The Ghanaians say that nature gave us two cheeks, instead of one, to make it easier to eat hot food.

Certainly, over the last 12 months, Africa was a tale of two kinds of news - the good and the terrible. And we needed both cheeks to cool our continent when events became unbearably hot.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The military runs Uganda's beauty contest

But first to the breezy moments.

It is said in Egypt that youth is beauty, even in cattle.

It is rude to equate the Ugandan military to a herd of cattle that graze on everyone's land and defecate in public.

This year the military in Uganda, perhaps bored with many years of no coups, decided to target the young and the beautiful.

The army took over the running of the Miss Uganda beauty pageant.

But it is not clear whether stunning women milking cows and posing on tractors succeeded in stamping the contest with Brand Uganda, as intended.

Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won't eat you.

This must have been the proverb on their minds when nearly 50 African heads of state and government officials swarmed around US President Barack Obama in August after he invited them to a three-day summit in Washington DC - the first such event.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption US President Barack Obama has tried to boost trade relations with Africa

The focus was on trade and investment and since the summit, a number of US business delegations have visited parts of Africa in search of deals.

Indeed, the crocodile did not bite.

One of the biggest and most tragic stories of 2014 is believed to have started with the death of a two year-old boy named Emile Ouamouno in a small village in Guinea in December 2013.


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Media captionEtienne Ouamouno, whose wife and children are the first known victims of the outbreak, speaks to Tulip Mazumdar

Ebola basics: What you need to know


One year later Ebola has ravaged Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, claiming nearly 8,000 lives, disrupting trade and business, and could cost their economies $3-4bn (£1.9-2.5bn), according to World Bank estimates.

The economic effects rippled beyond the sub-region. Kenya Airways announced it was facing a loss of nearly 4bn shillings ($45m; £30m) after it suspended flights to a number of destinations in West Africa in August due to Ebola.

But no-one can count the real human cost of the disease. Families have been torn apart, children orphaned and homes and businesses abandoned.

Militant threat

The Somali people have a saying that a string is needed to gather scattered beads.

For Nigeria and Kenya, a rope was not enough to gather broken hopes and bleeding hearts as terror struck through their societies this year.

A few years ago Boko Harm was just another local outfit causing the Nigerian authorities difficulties by terrorising people in the north-east of the country. But in 2014 the militant Islamist group gained global attention.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram has stepped up attacks in Nigeria

One of the most notorious incidents was the capture of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram fighters in the north-eastern Borno state.

Its increasing acts of brutality, daring attacks on towns and villages, hostage-taking as well as the capture and control of territory have kept Boko Haram firmly in world headlines.


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Media captionBoko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in Hausa

Insurgency tearing Nigerian families apart

Escape from Boko Haram


Over in the east of the continent, the equally unrelenting killings by al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya ensured that terrorism remained one of the biggest threats to peace and security in Africa.

Nigerians have a proverb that says when the music changes, so does the dance.

2014 was not all a grim dance, there were great moments when the music was upbeat.

This was the year when Nigeria overtook South Africa to become Africa's largest economy with a gross domestic product of $510bn.

And the Kenyan actor and director Lupita Nyong'o made Africa proud when she won her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the film, 12 Years a Slave.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Lupita Nyong'o won her first Academy Award in 2014

'Furious beat'

They have a saying in Mozambique that you should never marry a woman who has bigger feet than you.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe must have stumbled across this proverb recently and compared his feet to those of his sacked Vice-President, Joice Mujuru.

Apparently realising that Mrs Mujuru's feet were growing bigger and accusing her of a plot to step into his presidential shoes, Mr Mugabe suddenly ended their political marriage by sacking her and appointing Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa as the senior of his two deputies.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has tightened his grip over his party after sacking his deputy

Another leader unceremoniously kicked out of office this year was the long-serving Burkina Faso ruler Blaise Compaore.

He was the victim of an African proverb that says if you give bad food to your stomach, it drums for you to dance.


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Media captionBBC News looks back at Blaise Compaore's three decades of power

The rise and fall of Blaise Compaore


In power for nearly three decades, Mr Compaore fed his people a bad democracy diet flavoured with attempts to change the constitution in order to hang on to office.

Eventually his people drummed to a furious beat that saw him dance humiliatingly out of power.

'Gripping case'

They say in Cameroon that a person can never run so fast as to run away from his backside.

This has been President Uhuru Kenyatta's nightmare proverb since assuming office in 2013.

No matter what action he took, or how well he tried to lead Kenya, the problems of the past always got in the way in the form of the International Criminal Court (ICC) charges of crimes against humanity.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Violence after the disputed 2007 election scarred Kenya

So it was with a visible sigh of relief that he received news that ICC prosecutors had withdrawn the case against him, which related to the post-election violence that shook Kenya in 2007-08.

So perhaps some people are actually able to ditch their derrieres.

Perhaps the most gripping court case of the year was that of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Oscar Pistorius is serving a five-year term jail term after being convicted of mansluaghter

In a trial that saw many around the world stuck to their TV screens, Pistorius faced murder charges for shooting dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. His defence was that he thought there was a dangerous intruder in his house.

The judge ruled he was guilty of the lesser crime of culpable homicide or manslaughter, and the prosecution now intends to challenge his murder acquittal in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

There's a saying in Uganda that when there is peace in the land, the chief does not carry a shield.

In South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Libya, the chiefs of the land have shielded themselves with heavy body armour as their nations have been torn apart by rival factions over the past few months.

Image copyright AP
Image caption South Sudan descended into conflict over the past year

Finally, they have a saying in The Gambia that he who doesn't clean his mouth before breakfast always complains that the food is sour.

Football fans on the continent were disappointed by Africa's poor performance at this year's World Cup.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Football fans are looking forward to the Cup of Nations in the new year

With a number of national football associations in disarray, fans are hoping the teams will now clean up their act so that the food at the forthcoming Cup of Nations and the next World Cup will be delicious.

And as 2015 approaches, many on the continent will be praying for peace and hoping that their leaders can heed the Congolese proverb, which says a single bracelet does not jingle.

I'll leave you with that as I dash to check if my uncle has woken up from his drunken stupor.

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