What I set out to do in this piece is to map out 10 of the most well-known countries on the continent. I must, however, point out that it was not easy to choose the 10 out of 54 African countries.
My choice is thus subjective, but I have tried to point out why these countries deserve to be on this list. I have based my selection on the basis of history, geography, political influence, culture, personalities and accidents/incidents.
Let us kick off with the land of the pharaohs – Egypt. Egypt has one of the longest histories of any modern country, and is one of the world’s first nation states. It is a trans-continental country spanning the north-east corner of Africa and south-west corner of Asia.
When one mentions the word pyramids and the Nile River, what comes to mind is Egypt.
The Arab League headquarters are in Cairo. Egypt is one country which took on Israel many times in defence of the Palestinian struggle.
From Cairo to the Cape. South Africa is known for a number of reasons – the apartheid system, the World Cup 2010, Robben Island, while Cape Town and Johannesburg are leading cities globally.
South Africa is the only African country that is a member of the G20 and Brics.
Nelson Mandela’s profile and the international activism of his successor as president, Thabo Mbeki, have kept SA on the world map. And not to forget the 16 June uprising.
Crossing the Orange River into modern-day Namibia, one needs not be reminded that this country has been on the international map since it was placed under League of Nations trusteeship.
Theo-Ben Gurirab at the UN and Sam Nujoma have been popular figures/faces on the international scene.
Not to forget the troika at the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly – Fanuel Kozonguizi, reverend Michael Scott and Mburumba Kerina in 1956.
Then we have sprinter Frank Fredericks, boxer Harry Simon, who brought us silverware, and our Michelle McLean, who brought the Miss Universe title to Namibia. And then we have the unforgiving Namib Desert with its unique Welwitschia plant.
How about one of the two countries which took the case of the former South West Africa to the International Court of Justice in The Hague – Ethiopia? Ethiopia is also one of two countries which were never colonised. On both scores, it is joined by Liberia.
It is the seat of the African Union. The devastating drought of 1984 also made headlines worldwide with that musical concert in London – those lyrics (We are the world,… ) still ring in my ears.
Now talking about the AU, one cannot help but remember that historical figure who said that Ghana’s independence (1957) is meaningless until the whole of Africa is liberated from the yoke of colonialism.
That was Kwame Nkrumah, a statesman and scholar, who was instrumental in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, now the AU.
Out of the two Africans who have been secretaries general of the United Nations, one is a native of Ghana – Kofi Annan. Ghana’s capital, Accra, is a regional hub.
How about the giant next door? The most populous (170 million) country, with the biggest economy in Africa, Nigeria is said to be on track to becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. We had the Biafra war, and the state-driven murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Two celebrated writers – Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) and Wole Soyinka (Nobel Prize in Literature laureate). It is an influential member of Ecowas and the AU – the ‘Lagos Plan’. Five-times participant in the World Cup. Finally, the tragic internal war with Boko Haram and the kidnapped Chibok girls two years on.
From Boko Haram’s terror in Nigeria to the 25 years’ civil war which pitted Jonas Savimbi’s Unita movement against the MPLA government, which is controlled mainly by mestizos and assimilados (see my book: ‘Angola from Socialism to Liberal Reforms’ 1999), oil-rich Angola is one of the most spectacularly corrupt countries in the world, with president Eduardo dos Santos’s daughter said to be one of the richest women in Africa and the world.
Still in the ‘rough neighbourhood’, to borrow from Chester Crocker, we enter the country that president Robert Mugabe views as his ‘wife’, and cannot give ‘her’ to another person. This is Zimbabwe with its double wars.
First, the Chimurenga war against the Rhodesian forces culminating into independence in 1980.
And the second war immediately after independence, whereby suspected anti-government elements among the Ndebele community were identified and eliminated by the notorious national army’s Fifth Brigade, aka the Gukurahundi massacre.
It is also in Zimbabwe where Ian Smith put the world on edge with his unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in 1965. But cool the heat off with the awesome Victoria Falls.
Let us criss-cross the continent once more from the south to the east. How would you remember Somalia, that country with its ancient civilisation?
Would you remember the 1993 UN mission, which was dealt a fatal blow when US rangers were killed in an incident made famous by Hollywood film ‘Black Hawk Down‘, or those brave men on the high seas – the Somali pirates?
Or the al Shabaab group? Not to be outplayed, the Somali pirates who raked in millions of dollars in ransom after their ship hijackings have developed a lucrative new racket – acting as armed “escorts” to foreign ships.
But al Shabaab continues to cause havoc not only in Somalia, but also in neighbouring countries, especially Kenya, with recent attacks being the Garissa University and the West Gate shopping mall in Nairobi. This is the country which came up with the concept of ‘Harambee’.
We remember the first president, Jomo Kenyata, those independent-minded and proud people – the Maasai, the Ovahimba of East Africa.
And one of Africa’s celebrated scholars – the late Ali Mazrui, was a Kenyan. I climbed to the top of Mount Kenya so as to have an eagle’s view of the continent as I was mapping out the 10 most well-known countries. I conclude this by coming down the mountain.