History makers: the Nigerian women's bobsleigh team. (Photo/NBSNigeria).

Goodbye 2017: In A Difficult Year, 10 Small And Big Moments Worth Toasting To In Africa (Part 2)

THE first article of this two-part series, explored why, though Africa in 2017 was marked by several crises, it is still here – and parts of it are thriving.

There were several points of light and toast-worthy moments, and 10 of them – nearly all non-political – stood out for the positive trend they signalled.

  1. In August a CNN story noted that; “The cutting edge of drone delivery isn’t one of the usual technology hotspots, such as Singapore or the United States. The honour belongs to East Africa”.

It was a story about Tanzania becoming the second East African country after pioneer Rwanda, to announcing that it launch a fully automated drone delivery programme in 2018. “The drones will fly themselves, far from the view of humans – a move that’s not yet legal in the U.S. While plenty of countries have dabbled in drone delivery, no programme has matched the scale and impact of what’s unfolding in Rwanda and now, Tanzania”, it said.

Preparing a Zipline launch in Rwanda. Tanzania is set for the biggest drone delivery programme in the world this year. (Photo/Sarah Farhat/World Bank).

Early this year, Tanzania’s government will begin using drones to deliver medical supplies such as blood and vaccines to remote areas. Rwanda, working with Silicon start-up Zipline, has already completed 1,400 similar deliveries.

Tanzania also will work with Zipline, and another drone company, to provide more than 100 drones and 2,000 flights a day.

There was more to this than technology. Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline, said; “There’s a major shift [occurring] where it’s not about the country with the most resources; it’s more about the countries with modern regulatory reform and a willingness to try new things”.

Laurean Bwanakunu, who heads the Tanzanian government’s agency responsible for procuring and storing medical supplies, put it more succinctly: “The issue is being able to dare and try it. We made a decisions as a country that we wanted to move forward.”

2.  This spirit of daring to try, and introducing modern regulatory reforms that makes it possible to take on new things, was also evident in Senegal, which launched a digital national currency.

Senegal became the second country in the world, after Tunisia in 2015, to offer its national currency to be transmitted through cryptocurrency.

The eCFA, the name for the new currency, runs on the blockchain, just like bitcoin and Ethereum’s ether.  However, it’s different from Bitcoin as the new Senegalese e-currency has a Central Bank for regulation.

3. Equally headline-making, in November, the breakaway republic of Somaliland, after joining several other African countries in blocking social media during elections,  it then took a huge leap into the future when it became the first country in the world to use the iris biometric voting system in its presidential vote.

Iris recognition is the scanning of the eye to verify the identity of registered voters before they are cleared to vote.

This feat is notable, not least because Somaliland is not recognised by any country in the world. It also holds the freest elections along Africa’s eastern coastline.

4. There were other exciting stirrings in West Africa. Ghana launched its first radio astronomy observatory in an effort to widen knowledge of African skies. A 32-metre wide (104-foot) radio telescope, converted from an old telecommunications dish, forms the heart of the observatory, in Kuntunse. It was the first of a number of planned conversions.

The Kuntunse radio astronomy observatory.

Until the conversion of the Kuntunse telecoms dish, South Africa was the only African country with radio telescopes that linked to other countries. With the inclusion of the Ghanaian telescope, global radio astronomy networks will be able to see the universe in greater detail than before.

Dr Bernard Duah Asabere, manager of the new observatory, the country’s first local astronomer, had only recently returned to Ghana from South Africa, where he studied, to manage the observatory.

Ahead of the launch, South Africa’s science and technology minister Naledi Pandor, spoke of the bigger picture; “Initiatives such as this bring our talent back home. They promote brain gain,” he said.

Robotics in Libya: the good, the bad and ugly have all converged there. (Photo/YES Program/Flickr).

5. As 2017 drew to a close, Africa and the world reeled in horror and outrage, after reports of savage mistreatment and the auction into slavery of African migrants in chaotic Libya.

Anything between 400,000 and 700,000 African migrants are estimated to be stranded in Libya, where they are held in squalid camps, as they attempt to get  Europe in dangerous journeys over the Mediterranean.

Despite the political crisis that has engulfed the country since its long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi was lynched in the Arab uprisings of 2011, it was reported that there is at least one area where the country bests the rest in Africa – salary.

The average monthly net salary after tax in Libya is $1,713.77, far higher than you will get in any other African country, even the very stable ones.

6. Nigerian women became the first African team to quality to compete in bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics, which is being held February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Fit for a blockbuster movie.

The team comprises former sprinters Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere, and Akuoma Omeoga.

Their achievement has been billed as the greatest bobsleigh story to come out of a tropical nation, since the Jamaican men’s bobsleigh team that competed at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, and inspired the 1993 film Cool Runnings.

The Washington Post reported that they started out with a GoFundMe campaign, hitting their $75,000 goal which “proved enough to goad Nigeria into starting a governing federation for the sport, as well as for for the team to start practicing in a real bobsled on ice” in the US.

7. Be it Rwanda, or Djibouti, or the island nations, Africa’s small countries have tended to be trailblazers. In 2017 they came through again.

Cape Verde’s seeking to be a renewable energy nirvana. (Photo/Shutterstock).

As part of its “sustainable energy for all” agenda Cape Verde, the small island archipelago nation off Africa’s northwest coast, pledged to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2025. Although almost all of the islands’ 550,000 residents have access to electricity, about one-third still rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking.

8. HIV/AIDS used to be the source of the bleakest source of statistics about Africa, with apocalyptic predictions 25 years that it would all but wipe out most humans on the continent.

That now sounds like a very long time ago. A report in August by the fact checking organisation Africa Check said that HIV/AIDS is no longer the leading cause of death in Africa.

Based on numbers from the World Health Organisation (WHO), it showed a 24% decrease over five years in the number of deaths from AIDS/HIV.

The data reflected a continuous downward trend in AIDS/HIV mortality, with 760,000 people dying from the virus and its complications in 2015, compared to 1 million in 2010 and 1.5 million in 2005.

9. In April, it was reported that the world’s first notably effective vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi – starting in 2018.

A malaria/mosquito warning painting in a corridor in Maputo, Mozambique. The battle against malaria just got upped. (Photo/Kevin McKidd/Flickr).

The RTS,S vaccine trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquito bites.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the jab had the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

The pilot will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months.

The three countries were chosen because they already run large programmes to tackle malaria, including the use of bed nets, yet still have high numbers of cases.

Despite significant recent progress, there are still 212 million new cases of malaria each year and 429,000 deaths. Africa is the hardest hit and most of the deaths are in children.

10. Zeitz-Mocaa gallery, the largest contemporary art museum in Africa, opened in Cape Town September 2017.

The Zeitz-Mocaa.

Zeitz-Mocaa is not the first of its kind, but it is the largest such institution on the continent, with 100 galleries spread over nine floors – and a boutique hotel at the top. It will focus exclusively on 21st-century work from Africa and the diaspora, centred around the private collection of Zeitz.

An El Anatsui work. (Photo/Matteo Bittanti/Flickr).

The Zeitz-Mocaa building is in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic on the Victoria and Alfred waterfront, an area regenerated 30 years ago for retail, real estate and tourism. The silos themselves were built over coal sheds that once supplied steamships.

It made 2017 was another good year for Africa art, with an auction at Sotheby’s in London leading to record bids. The work that fetched the highest price of $940,000 (£730,00) was “Earth Developing More Roots” by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.

Bonus item, “The missing women”: Remaining on the creative scene, it offered up its bummer as well. African musicians too are making more and more money. A report on the top 10 richest African musicians in 2017, was striking for what was absent from it – not a single of them is a woman.

-The author is publisher of Africapedia.com and Roguechiefs.com. Twitter@cobbo3

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