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Volume 8 Number 1
1 February 1999

However great the temptation, it is unfair to categorise ‘Africa` as a monolithic entity. Across the continent, differences in economic development, social systems, religions and politics shape the identity of each country. Yet, the reality is that ‘Africa` will continue to be viewed as a whole, and what happens in one country or region will be viewed outside the continent as being to the benefit or detriment of the continent itself.

From this perspective — although by no means the only one — what does 1999 hold? Will this be the year of the African renaissance, the end of the Angolan war, or of the re-establishment of democracy in Nigeria? Of course, these questions cannot be answered, but the year ahead does hold the promise of a series of positive and negative developments in forthcoming elections, brewing economic problems and ongoing conflicts.

This year will see important elections being held in two of the continent`s largest countries: Nigeria and South Africa. Nigeria has begun to take the steps towards democracy after fifteen years of military rule. The first two elections — local government and state governership elections held in December and January — are showing positive signs that Nigeria will hold successful presidential and national assembly elections in February. When General Abubakar steps down in May, a new page may be written in Nigerian history.

In South Africa, the African National Congress is tipped once again to gain the majority in the country`s presidential elections. The challenge is to hold elections that will be seen as free and untainted by opposition parties and voters in what are, in some ways, the first true national elections of post-apartheid South Africa. People who voted with their hearts in 1994, are now contributing to the realisation of the pledge of democracy in which each vote counts, by voting with their ‘heads`. The positive impact of a smooth election on South Africa and on outside perceptions of the country should be an incentive to those preparing for the day.

In Lesotho, 1999 will be spent in trying to create conditions that will allow new elections to be held in 2000. The Interim Political Authority, still not functioning, needs to set the procedures in place that will ensure that the next round of elections do not further damage the fragile country.

From politics to war: 1999 has begun bleakly in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone, to name but a few. What sceptics have long been saying, has come true, and peace in Angola is more elusive than it has been in years. The DRC threatens to go the same way, with each side having too much to lose and not enough to win in a slow and brutal war. And Sierra Leone, that heralded the return of its democratically elected president only late last year, is once again a war zone with rebels fighting the ‘peacekeeping` forces of the Economic Community of West African States.

And yet, the countries that constitute the African continent may just surprise us all. Perhaps, what seems unlikely in January, will be done by December. Reforms in Kenya and Zimbabwe may take hold and provide stability to those countries. Maybe the bloodshed that continues in Algeria will be met with a commitment from the government to bring it to an end. And perhaps, what has been heralded as an ‘African Renaissance` will flourish at the end of this millennium.