Letter from Africa: Anxious start to 2015

Hanah Siafa lies with her daughter Josephine, 10, while hoping to enter the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment centre on 17 August 2014 in Monrovia, LiberiaLiberia is one of three states badly affected by Ebola

In our series of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian writer Elizabeth Ohene, a former government minister and member of the opposition, gives her predictions for 2015 on issues ranging from the Ebola crisis to the fate of Africa’s rulers.

How I wish we could wipe away many of the things that happened in 2014 and that this New Year brings a totally fresh beginning.

Top of such a list would be the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

I feel thoroughly depressed at the very idea that we are carrying over Ebola into 2015.

Unfortunately, the year is starting with the three countries still in the grips of the deadly virus and the rest of the sub-region will continue to be nervous about the entry of another Patrick Sawyer – who took the disease to Nigeria even though it was successfully contained – to spark an outbreak in their country.

Patrick Sawyer and his daughter Ava in an undated family photo
Patrick Sawyer, seen here with his daughter, became the first person to die of Ebola in Nigeria
A child stands near a sign advising of a quarantined home in an effort to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in Port Loko, Sierra Leone (22 October 2014)
Sierra Leone’s government has taken extraordinary measures to curb the outbreak

If we didn’t know it before, the Ebola outbreak has brought it home forcefully to us that we, in this region, live in a country called West Africa.

There might be some 18 countries in West Africa and 54 on the continent and Ebola might be in three of them, but to outsiders, everybody from the continent is damned as an Ebola carrier.

Talent scouts

The first big event on the continent is the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament which kicks off on 17 January in Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea football supporters outside the stadium in Malabo - 2012
Equatorial Guinea agreed to host Africa’s premiere football tournament after Morocco withdrew

Thanks to Ebola, the competition is unlikely to have the fiesta atmosphere that normally comes with it.

And English football clubs will moan, as usual, about their players being taken away to play for their national teams but that won’t be news.

The talent scouts will, however, hesitate to make a trip to Equatorial Guinea to watch matches as they will be afraid of contracting Ebola.

I am looking forward to Ghana winning the Cup even though I suspect we haven’t yet exorcised the ghosts of Brazil 2014.

Africa Cup of Nations groups
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who came to the rescue of the Confederation of African Football by offering to host the competition after Morocco pulled out at the last moment for fear of Ebola, will be hoping he has bought some political breathing space for himself by his hosting heroics.

After long -serving Burkina Faso ruler  Blaise Compaore  was chased out office when he was trying to negotiate yet another presidential term for himself, a number of leaders on the continent are going to be nervous this year.

Togo, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola and Uganda are all ripe for Burkina Faso moments.

A Burkinabe soldier stands guard outside the national television headquarters after gunshots were fired around the premises in Ouagadougou on 2 November 2014
Mass protests in Burkina Faso forced the regime out of power

Their presidents will deny any personal interest in staying in office and will claim that they remain only because their people want them to, but if push comes to shove would they stand aside?

Lucky Jonathan?

Elections are scheduled to be held in nearly 20 countries, including Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad and Tanzania. But the big one will certainly be in Nigeria next month.

Will President Goodluck Jonathan remain the man with all the luck or will he lose to opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari?

Supporters of Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan react during his declaration to seeking a second term in the February 2015 presidential election, in Abuja on 11 November 2014
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan defeated Buhari in 2011
A party member kisses a poster depicting former military ruler and presidential aspirant of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) Muhammadu Buhari
Ex-military ruler Muhammadu Buhari is likely to do well in the mainly Muslim north

Unfortunately on voting day, most eyes will not be on people casting their ballots but on militant group Boko Haram. The insurgents will doubtless try to stage a dramatic attack on the day.

It is heart-breaking but I fear the first anniversary of the abduction of more than 219 girls from the north-eastern town of Chibok will come in April and most of them still won’t not be back home with their families.

One hopes that a few of them will find their way back so we can keep hope alive and the news of the abductions in the headlines.

Escaping to Europe

Commodity prices will be very much in the headlines this year since they affect the economies of so many countries on the continent.

General view of an oil offshore platform owned by Total Fina Elf in the surroundings waters of the Angolan coast 15 October 2003.
Oil-producing countries like Angola could face a tough year because of the fall in prices

If the current trend of low oil prices continues, it will spell very bad news for the producers – especially Nigeria and Angola – and will cause major problems for their budgets.

It should mean good news for importing countries but there is no guarantee it will mean those economies will perform better.

And struggling economies on the continent will mean there will be more desperate young African migrants washing up on the shores of Lampedusa in Italy and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

The African Union (AU) will hold regular summits and our leaders will make speeches that will make no reference to why our young people are so desperate to leave our countries.

I make one bold prediction: There will be no power outages in Ghana this year. I have the word of President John Mahama, uttered solemnly before the altar of the Almighty, that darkness will be banished from our country this year.

The light will shine from Ghana and beam onto the rest of the continent in 2015.

Elizabeth Ohene

credit : Elizabeth Ohene