With the year coming to a close, it is custom for international news sites to review the past year in Africa. Sadly, many of these reviews will be rather gloomy and arguably with good reason; the continent faced a lot of challenges in the past year.
The names that made headlines this year were the likes of Gbagbo, Gaddafi, and Kabila. However, 2011 wasn’t all bad on the continent. In what I hope will be a different kind of review, below is a list (in no particular order) of five of the biggest winners in Africa in 2011. These are names that may not have made headlines and thus may not be easily recognizable. I would argue however, that they had as much of an impact on shaping the year in Africa and are as much an indication of the year to come as the newsmakers.
The Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank was Forbes' Africa Person of the Year for 2011. He is credited with spearheading extensive reforms within Nigeria’s troubled banking sector. Despite receiving death threats which have forced him to employ armed guards, he forged ahead with a campaign that included taking over nine banks and firing their executives, many of whom are now on trial for corrupt practices. If Africa is ever to meet its full potential, it is going to have to tackle the endemic corruption that plagues the continent. In 2011, Sanusi boldly took on this challenge, serving as an example to many across Africa.
The second Nigerian to make this list, Aliko Dangota had a great year in 2011, which saw his fortune soar by a whopping 557% and saw him overtake Mohammed Al Amoudi and Oprah Winfrey as the richest person in the world of African descent. Dangote makes this list because in many ways he represents the economic resurgence currently occurring in Africa, which has been captured in a series of recent Economist article. His Dangote group, which has subsidiaries in six African countries, focuses on the provision of local value added products and services to meet the needs of a growing African population. The group employs over 11,000 people and represents about 25% of the capitalization of the Nigerian stock exchange.
The Gambian lawyer was recently selected as the next Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and will take over from current Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in the New Year. Many observers, myself included, hope that this will mark a new era in the life of the ICC, which in recent years has been heavily criticized by the African Union for exclusively pursuing cases in Africa and overlooking similar or worse atrocities occurring elsewhere. It is hoped that Fatouh Bensouda will help restore parity in the ICC’s case log and its quickly fading credibility.
This Ghanaian investigative journalist had a very busy year. His special interest pieces exposed corrupt practices occurring at different levels of Ghanaian society, including at the country’s orphanages and within the Ghana Revenue Authority. This year, with support from Al-Jazeera’s Africa Investigates initiative, he has put life and limb on the line to expose illegal mining activities in Ghana and the persecution of the albino population in Tanzania.
I am cheating a little here but I am thinking specifically of three outstanding individuals. The Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee was recognition of the extensive role women have played in advancing peace, security, and development everywhere on the continent. I am thinking also of Fatimata Bazeye, who played a key role in steering Niger to a successful election and democratic transition and was named Media Trusts Limited’s 2011 African of the Year.
This list, which is by no means conclusive, is a reminder that for all the challenges Africans faced in 2011, there were numerous bright spots. The year experienced by the individuals above also gives reason to be hopeful about the prospects for Africa in 2012. Lamido Sanusi and Aliko Dangote give me hope that the fight against corruption will gain momentum in 2012 and that Africa’s economic resurgence will continue in 2012.
Fatouh Bensouda gives me hope that 2012 will bring a little more parity in the international system. Arnas Aremeyaw Arnas point to the rise of responsible journalism. Finally, women like Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Fatimata Bazeye give me hope that in 2012, peace, security, democracy, and respect for human rights will find true expression in Africa.
Photo Credit: World Economic Forum