As the world enjoys what is left of the year 2017, it’s important to look back at some of the memorable events that took place in Africa all through the year. While a lot of extraordinary incidents happened in the different realms of life, politics appears to have dominated the African discourse, with some African leaders making some powerful political statements that are likely to go down in the annals of history.
Here, in no particular order, we reminisce some of the top 10 most powerful statements by African leaders in 2017.
Yahya Jammeh, Gambia
After serving as President of The Gambia for 22 years, Yahya Jammeh finally bowed out of office earlier this year after he was overwhelmingly voted out in favor of his opponent President Adama Barrow. Although Jammeh had initially refused to hand over power, citing electoral malpractices, he eventually gave in and fled to Equatorial Guinea. But before he left, he had this to say:
“I believe in the importance of dialogue … I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of this great nation. All the issues we currently face can be resolved peacefully. I believe in the capacity of Africans to decide for themselves all the issues on the way to democracy, social and economic development. My prayer and desire [is] that peace and security continue to reign in The Gambia.”
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
After holding on to power for close to four decades, the curtains finally came down on Robert Mugabe’s presidency just a few weeks ago. Uncle Bob, as many people like to call him, was forced to resign after the military launched a bloodless takeover that saw several ministers arrested. Before he tendered his resignation letter, Mugabe had some words for Zimbabweans.
“The operation did not amount to a threat to our cherished constitutional order, nor was it a challenge to my authority as head of state and government. Whatever the pros and cons of how they [the army] went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns. I do believe that these [concerns] were raised in the spirit of honesty and out of deep and patriotic concern for the stability of our nation. We must learn to forgive and resolve contradictions real or perceived in a comradely Zimbabwean spirit.”
Akufo Addo, Ghana
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo sparked a continental debate earlier this year when he gave a provocative speech on Africa’s continued Western dependency. The 73-year-old President rejected the notion that Africa must depend on the West in order to develop. He said:
“We can no longer continue to make policy for ourselves, in our country, in our region, in our continent on the basis of whatever support that the western world or France, or the European Union can give us. It will not work. It has not worked and it will not work. We have to get away from this mindset of dependency. Our concern should be what do we need to do in this 21st century to move Africa away from being cap in hand and begging for aid, for charity, for handouts.”
Paul Kagame, Rwanda
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was re-elected into office in August this year, recently took issue with the West’s long-held notion that corruption defines life in Africa. Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, Kagame had this to say:
“Corruption is not African, it’s just corruption. People have developed a misconception that corruption is the way of life in Africa. This is far from the truth. In fact, in Africa when corruption occurs, it involves non-Africans…A lot of what happens in Africa happens around the world.”
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda
Referred by many as one of the longest-serving African Presidents, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has often made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In January this year, the 73-year-old head of state startled Ugandans after he criticized them in public, telling them that he was nobody’s servant. Here is part of his speech:
“I am not an employee. I hear some people saying that I am their servant; I am not a servant of anybody. I am a freedom fighter; that is why I do what I do. I don’t do it because I am your servant; I am not your servant. I am just a freedom fighter; I am fighting for myself, for my belief; that’s how I come in. If anybody thinks you gave me a job, he is deceiving himself. I am just a freedom fighter whom you thought could help you also.”
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya
During the recent African Union-European Union Summit held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the Kenyan President spoke passionately about the need for the two continents to work together to empower the African youth. He said:
“Investing in young people is not just the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do. We must not only aim at creating jobs for the youth but also and more importantly, in building their capacities with appropriate skills, expertise and attitudes that will enable them to make positive contributions. It is our firm belief that empowering these population segments is a critical part of harnessing a demographic dividend for long-term economic transformation.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia
As the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first democratically-elected African female President, prepares to exit the stage, a lot has been said about her legacy. While some people praise her for reviving the Liberian economy, others accuse her of not doing enough to empower women. But speaking at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in September, Sirleaf said this about her legacy:
“We left our mark. We have maintained the peace. We have built a foundation for democracy, economic development and the rule of law. We have given voice and hope to the market women, the girl child and to civil society. The next president will inherit an empowered people. Africa knows what a woman president can do.”
Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia
The President of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi may not be the most popular head of state in Africa but he is known for his commitment to fighting for women’s rights. In August, Essebsi called for constitutional amendments to allow Tunisian women to inherit property and to be able to marry non-Muslims.
“It is necessary to develop personal status laws in such a way to promote equality and to keep pace with modern legislation and changing modern times. This is especially true since law No. 73 — which bans Tunisian women from marrying non-Muslim men — has become an obstacle to the freedom of choice of the spouse. This is also necessary for the legal status of many [Tunisian] women married to foreigners. One ought to bring to mind as well Article 6 of the Tunisian constitution, which recognizes the freedom of belief and conscience and holds the state responsible for safeguarding it,” Essebsi said.
Jacob Zuma, South Africa
The South African President Jacob Zuma is considered one of the most controversial presidents in Africa with a string of damaging scandals that continue to taint his presidency. Even so, he has been a major critic of the West. In September, Zuma blasted Western countries for continuing to amass weapons of mass destruction while ignoring the plight of African migrants in Libya.
“The only viable solution to the problems of nuclear weapons is their total elimination as expressed in the recently adopted UN treaty. It can no longer be acceptable that some few countries keep arsenals and stockpiles of nuclear weapons as part of their strategic defence ‚ while expecting others to remain at their mercy. Today‚ those countries are making little effort to promote stability in Libya. The major focus and preoccupation have become how to deal with the flow of migrants arriving in Europe from our continent and the Middle East‚ which are just mere symptoms,” Zuma said.
Omar Al Bashir, Sudan
Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, who is currently being sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to answer to charges of crimes against humanity, recently called on Russia to protect Sudan from aggressive acts of the U.S.
“We are thankful to Russia for its position on the international arena, including Russia’s position in the protection of Sudan. We are in need of protection from the aggressive acts of the United States. We are currently launching a programme to modernize our armed forces and we agreed with the defence minister that Russia will contribute to this. America succeeded in dividing Sudan into two countries and now is seeking to further divide it… we believe that what happened in our country is the result of American policy,” Bashir said.