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Published: Saturday, 12/28/2002

Turmoil in Africa

The year 2002 for sub-Saharan Africa was a year of important promises, but not much was realized in terms of current performance auguring well for the future. The new Africa Union replaced the flawed Organization of African Unity. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), with very important linkages between reform and aid, was launched.

The war in Sierra Leone was brought to an end and elections held in that fragile state. Accords were reached in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Angola, Madagascar, Burundi, and even Somalia that could eventually lead to peace and stability in those countries.

On the other side of the ledger, a rebellion in the Ivory Coast in September has burned more or less out of control to the point that it may result in the overthrow of the government by insurgents. This implosion constitutes a particular loss in Africa because that former French colony had been a model of economic success and orderly government since independence in 1960.

Worse, the north-south, Muslim-Christian nature of the Ivory Coast conflict could be the harbinger of more such conflicts in a number of African countries with Muslim-Christian divisions among their populations.

Nigeria's world image got hammered badly in November when the Miss World contest had to be moved to London in the face of rioting, set off by Muslim outrage at criticism of sharia rule in some of its northern states.

Bad government continues to be a plague in some countries of the continent.

Successful elections were held in Senegal as well as Sierra Leone in 2002 and were scheduled for Kenya yesterday. Considerable negotiations and some fighting took place before the results of the 2001 Madagascar elections were accepted across the island and a sitting government put in place, but reason and regional mediation finally prevailed.

Zimbabwe's elections in March made that country a negative poster child of Africa's problems. President Robert Mugabe, 78, leader of his country since independence in 1980, decided he had to have another six-year term. His supporters and he made it happen, using every dirty trick they could think of, including trying to reserve international food aid to an increasingly hungry Zimbabwean population exclusively for his own party's supporters.

Mr. Mugabe won the elections. Zimbabwe lost. Africa lost.

The new Africa Union and the New Economic Partnership promise well. The agreements establishing them include means of concerting African opinion to deal with problems in individual member countries. The economic agreement has African countries agreeing that the rest of the world is under no obligation to provide them development assistance unless they take the hard but necessary steps themselves to eliminate corruption and otherwise put their economic and financial houses in order.

Taken seriously, this approach can constitute the necessary first steps out of the shadows and into a brighter future for African countries.

No, 2002 wasn't a great year for Africa. The year closed with President Bush canceling his first-ever visit there.

Nonetheless, seeds were planted this year that could begin to flower in a better 2003.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of editorials about the state of the world as the year ends. Other pieces will follow.



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