A Fiery New Year – By Nnimmo Bassey.

What interests some of us about the moment of transition from one year to another is that it is not one moment across the globe but rather staggered according to global time zones. We see in the cascades of joy and excitement the hopes that the new holds promises of better days. We see an unfolding wave of hope across the globe.

Colourful fire works light up the Sydney harbour in Australia, hours before the fireworks in Hong Kong, Abuja, and London and later in New York.  While some of these major fireworks are displays of coordinated engineering feats, what lights up some neighbourhoods are irritating and wretched “knockout” sticks or “bangers.” These irritants neither display beauty by way of lights or sounds. One thing they register is the waste of scarce resources by juveniles whose parents would probably be wondering how they would eke the means to settle the looming rent, school fees or hospital bills.

The waves heralding a new year have in their wings different realities for different peoples.

For residents of the EL Salvadorian region where the Chaparrastique volcano erupted on Sunday (29 December 2013) morning the sky has been set ablaze by spewing hot ash and smoke. Those who live far off the dangerous belch would probably be enjoying the sights, but for those within three kilometres radius of the volcano a quieter end of 2013 would have been preferred to being forced into becoming a refugee at a time of festivities. Happily the authorities in El Salvador had been monitoring the increased activities in the volcano weeks before the eruption. With more than 20 volcanoes in that beautiful nation, complacency has not been an option.

No matter how we look at it, 2013 was a momentous year. It saw tortuous uprisings and did not end in a whimper. The closing days and weeks of December witnessed heavy rains and floods in Brazil, Britain, Canada and Palestine. Floods also devastated the Eastern Caribbean islands of St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Dominica.

While some continents ended the year tackling what we euphemistically term “natural” disasters, events in Africa were patently of the unnatural sort.  The fireworks in Central African Republic (CAR) and in South Sudan are of the deadly sort emitting from AK47s and providing no spectacle but rather filling communities with terror, corpses and despair.

True, there was a time when Africa was wracked by large-scale wars that were arguably fuelled by the Cold War as well as by the then Apartheid regime in South Africa. Others were fueled by the scramble for natural resources in a manner that would make the Wild West cowboy movies look like stories from comic books.

At a time when hope of peace was gradually beginning to be entertained in Africa, the new flay points, combined with smoldering conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and others raise new fears. Pictures and stories from the conflict zones display horrid levels of miseries and abuses. We hear of unconscionable brutality against women by both state and rebel fighters (including same sex rapes) in the Congo as though their daughters and mothers were the objects of war.

The drums of war in CAR are already signalling a potential of not only destroying what is left of that country but could spread beyond its borders with catastrophic impacts across the Sahel. The root cause of the conflict here is not easy to decipher. The fights have been blamed on poverty and underdevelopment. It might well also be land resource pressures exacerbated by climate change and masquerading as religious conflicts as is often the case in Nigeria.

While the world watches, South Sudan, the youngest country in the world, is descending into a bout of war that that country, indeed Africa, can ill afford. South Sudan raised the hopes that their act would clearly teach that dependence of nations on rents from hydrocarbons extraction is neither helpful to the global climate nor to the communities living in the mine or oil fields. When the young South Sudan temporarily shut down its pipelines in January 2012, and kept them shut for over a year, because of disagreements with Sudan on sharing of oil fields and value of rents for use of pipelines, it indeed sent a strong signal that even poor countries can leave crude oil in the soil and seek revenue from other sources. Now the pipelines are open and the fireworks have been reignited.

The war in South Sudan today confirms the fact that fragmentation of countries does not necessarily guarantee peace. There are always internal tendencies in every enclave that can unearth or create differences even within families and villages to justify calls for further splits. Although the conflict in South Sudan is about the control of state power, it is obvious also that the impetus is for the control of petroleum resources. It is a fight for petrodollars.

Sovereignty entrepreneurs have long had their compasses poised over the map of Africa, speculating on which country to carve up and what beneficial business and geopolitical influence they could then build in the fragments. Somalia has remained a bone in the throat of such speculators.

Brazen target dates for certain nations, including for Nigeria, to fail have been set and appears to be ordained to happen. Scriptwriters and interpreters hover everywhere pushing their narratives, like predators praying over dying preys. But fragmentation should not be an option for African states. Although Nigeria cannot boast of having provided consistent exemplary or inspiring leadership for the rest of the continent, her centenary should provide an impetus for reawakening conversations on the need for a wider African amalgamation. After a hundred years of colonial amalgamation, the great need arises to look at the wider African interests rather than local and regional cleavages.

We agree that Nigerian situation remains complex and vexing. With general elections coming up in 2015 it is a shame that local politicians of all ilk continue to play politics of personalities (presenting parties that look like gangs and cults) rather than of programmes, issues, ideas and strategies. It speaks to our shame that up to this moment parties are still grandstanding and candidates for the presidency are yet to make even tentative steps of indicating interests to contest. Will the 2015 presidential elections be decided by a toss of the coin?

While some nations have their poor gnashing their teeth over empty food bowls, political leaders in Nigeria are finding ways of minimizing public perception of the monumental gaps in accountability and transparency.  We refer here to the letter from the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank to the President over the non-remittance of $49.8 billion US dollars into the bank’s coffers. A belated, but welcome, reconciliation meetings between relevant government agencies narrowed the gap to either $12 billion or $10.8 billion. Even in the most compromised state, these sums cannot be argued away as tiny slices.

2014 has dawned in a mix of fireworks, natural disasters, wars and twisted politics. Will the year see us digging deeper into the holes of crises or will peoples around the world rise up and declare a collective NO to predatory politics? A collective NO to climate crimes? A collective NO to extractivist impunity over the planet and peoples?

Whatever your answer, welcome to a fiery New Year.

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