It was a year that seemed destined to be shot through with the ‘Africa rising’ debate. Much of the world’s media had over the last couple of years moved from one simplistic narrative when covering the continent: war and famine. To another: booming economies and a newly confident middle class.
It was a story that was written so often that, though many African countries were and are growing impressively, it started to look like an apologia from mostly Western correspondents for years of coverage perceived by some to be overtly dark.
Many Africans, initially pleased that the foreign media was telling the good news, had started to question the impact – on policy, on aid, on the poorest – of replacing one distorted and reductive narrative with another. Still, though, there is hope in growing economies and Africa’s as a whole grew by 4% this year.
That debate about Africa is now often of the economic variety is a sign of a burgeoning continent – giddy on its potential – and changing at speed.
In January, however, France went to war with al-Qaeda-linked rebels in Mali and a different major news theme for 2013 appeared: conflict. The rebels were chased across the Sahara but, despite a recent election, the situation in the country is still very volatile and will continue to be so into 2014.
In March, a rebel group in the Central African Republic known as Seleka – which means ‘alliance’ in the local language – overthrew President Francois Bozize and the de-facto leader of the rebels, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president.
Most of the world, even as civilians were slaughtered and the Anti-balaka – or anti-machete – militia emerged to take Seleka on, didn’t appear to care much, focused instead on wars in Syria and other more strategically important places.
It would be months later – November – when the United Nations would finally warn that the country was at risk of spiraling into genocide, the media would start to pay attention, and French and African troops would intervene.
Like Mali, this story is going nowhere and the world shouldn’t look away in 2014.
One African country the world did look at closely recently – albeit very briefly – is South Sudan. The continent’s newest nation was officially declared a state in June 2011 and, with world leaders in attendance, it introduced itself with an impressive can-do spirit that made many think it could succeed.
But on the 15th December, just as 2013 was drawing to a close, fighting broke out in the capital Juba and President Salva Kiir said his former vice president, Riek Machar, whom he had fired, was trying to oust him. As the year ends, there are worrying signs that the political struggle is taking on an ethnic dimension. Still, peace efforts are underway and both men say they’re willing to talk.
Overshadowing these conflicts, Africa – and especially South Africans – found themselves witnessing something they never wanted to: the death of Nelson Mandela. The world responded with love and reflection and Africans noted there was no other person who could ever have inspired such global mourning – a mourning that turned to celebration: of rebellion and of reconciliation.
It was not lost on many Africans as they looked back on this remarkable life that there were few among their current crop of leaders who could compare. And they took to their newspapers, their airwaves and to Twitter to make this point.
Even as Mandela was laid to rest and his beautiful words were pored over again, conflicts – much less just than his own – were again blighting the continent.
But it’s in that pushback from Africa’s chattering classes that many see hope. The young in the countries still dealing with conflict seem less willing to put up with both it and the leaders on whose watch it happens.
Their voice is sure to get louder in 2014.
Follow Barry Malone on Twitter: @malonebarry