Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Comment - A Difficult Year Ends

'Peace on earth, goodwill to all men'. Very few West Africans will be saying that over Christmas and an even fewer number of those who will say so, will mean it.

It is not an easy thing having good will towards all men, nor wishing for peace on earth when one is hungry and one's little corner of the earth is in turmoil. It has not been an easy year for the region, but that is stating the obvious, when has it ever been an easy year for countries in West Africa and it could be said that this year has been no different, so why state what has been a normal occurrence?

Coups, counter coups, rumours of coups have played their traditional role but then political instability has been the mark of West Africa for almost two decades.

Economic problems have bedeviled the region, again that is normal occurrence, even if some of the countries have had more than their fair share of the problems. The single natural phenomenon that affected the region more acutely than anything else, is the continuing drought and the bush fires that ravaged most of the forests and farms.

The drought meant hunger, famine on an unprecedented scale for those in the countries whose economic problems were already acute and Ghana especially, experienced famine on a frightening scale.

Even the once proud Akosombo hydro-electric power supply has been humbled with grave consequences not only for Ghana but also for Togo and Benin who depend on Ghana for a major percentage of their power needs. The effects of the drought are being felt keenly now in Northern Nigeria.

It has also been the year of the great exodus from Nigeria. The mass expulsion of illegal aliens from the country attracted world-wide attention on an unprecedented scale. The suffering and hardships faced especially by the over one million Ghanaians involved in the incident captured the imagination of the world as few other events have done.

Nigeria felt she was not given a fair hearing by the international community and was harshly judged. Severe strains were brought to bear on the regional organisation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Many commentators openly expressed doubts about the continued existence of the group. Somehow ECOWAS survived, but many will agree that it was a near thing.

The expulsion might have been spectacular in its effect and produced the more sensational headlines but easily the most important event in the region this year was the successful organisation of elections in Nigeria.

At certain stages, it appeared as though the country would not be able to emerge in one piece from the experience, and at other times it seemed that a mass death wish had gripped the entire nation; so determined were some that victory should be theirs even if it meant the destruction of the country.

But in spite of all the trials and tribulations, Nigeria managed to conduct elections and made history in Africa, a sitting government that went before the country with other political parties to seek a fresh mandate. The allegations of rigging and irregularities have been so widespread that it is quite easy to state that the results of the elections were as close to the truth as can be possible. Even though the Federal Government remained in the hands of the ruling National Party of Nigeria, on the State level, fundamental and wide ranging changes took place to merit an assertion that a revolution had taken place without the intervention of the military. As many as eight sitting Governors lost their seats, a phenomenon that many had despaired would ever happen in Africa.

On a quieter but equally far-reaching scale, Cameroon has undergone big changes this year. Ex-President Ahidjo's successor, President Paul Biya has excelled himself and to the incredulity of friends and foes alike, has been introducing liberal reforms making Cameroon one of the exciting areas in the region today.

Luckily for the Cameroons, the economic problems of the other countries in the region have not been as acute and the country can still boast of growth.

Animosity between the French and English speaking areas of the country continue and President Biya still has to find an acceptable solution to this problem if the country is to unite behind him. Compared to the turmoil in the other parts of course, Cameroon is the oasis in an area of arid desert and dry heat.

Next door in Chad, definitely there has been no respite this year, the civil war has continued with savage intensity and the attention of the superpowers have been directed to this miserable country threatening at many stages to escalate the war to international proportions. The current stalemate and uneasy quiet appear to many observers as the calm before the renewed storm.

For the majority of people in our region, life still means a struggle for the basic necessities of existence. Many will count themselves lucky if on Christmas Day, they have enough food for their children.

It would all be bearable if the people could look forward to a 1984 that would be an improvement on 1983. The tragedy is that the majority have no reason to expect any such improvement and no reason for optimism that their lot in life will be any better than before.

Many people will argue that much of the blame for the avoidable problems of the region should be laid at the door of the apathy of those in a position to do something to improve the general situation.

This has also been the year that saw the start of the 'Talking Drums' adventure, instituted to show that it does not need big scale enterprises to make a difference to any state of affairs.

We are glad we have seen the end of the year and that so many people have taken the trouble to take an interest in our progress.

For those of our readers outside the West African region, we would say it is important to make your voices heard and 'Talking Drums' remains committed to providing a forum for the airing of all shades of opinion.

Those of our readers inside the region, we extend the same pledge and an even more earnest invitation to tell their point of view from the perspective of those who are on the spot.

With something to look forward to it should be possible to say a very Merry Christmas to all our readers.

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