Violence Welcomes New Year In Parts Of Africa

When the year 2013 began, there were signs of improving economies across Africa. But a series of flare ups in Mali, Nigeria, Central African Republic and South Sudan meant a violent year for the continent.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The situation in South Sudan is, in many ways, emblematic of the troubled year the continent of Africa has endured. After two decades of democracies taking root and economies growing, 2013 brought a series of seemingly intractable conflicts: flare-ups in Mali, Nigeria, the Central African Republic and, as we've just heard, South Sudan.

To get a sense of why this is happening now, we spoke to NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who shared her fears and hopes for a part of the world she holds dear. Ofeibea, welcome.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: (Foreign language spoken), as they say in Senegal - a very happy New Year; and we hope a peaceful one in Africa, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Right because, in fact, let's start with the violence, sadly, in several countries in Africa. Now, these countries face different issues but when you look at them, Ofeibea, are there any common threads?

QUIST-ARCTON: Renee, at the risk of sounding knee-jerk, I think poor leadership is the main cause for many of the problems in Africa. We have seen interreligious violence. We have seen ethnic violence. But when you look at the root causes of much of the turbulence, it's people fighting for control and not giving the priority to, of course, the people they're meant to be governing. So I think that is the common thread.

But as others - and I've been discussing this with friends who cover Africa - they also say, but how come so many presidential subjects in Africa are not thumping their leaders and saying stop, no; this cannot go on. And how come so many of them are choosing to leave their countries on perilous journeys? There are many threads but poor leadership, I would say, is the No. 1.

MONTAGNE: Well, when you say making perilous journeys - Italy, the tiny island of Lampedusa, it continues to get a flow of desperate migrants. What has, then, life become for many Africans?

QUIST-ARCTON: For so many people - especially young men with no employment - they feel that it is better to leave home in search of a better life, and to send money home. But as we said, Lampedusa - this small, Italian island - 300-plus people died when the rickety boat that they were traveling on sank, and so close to the shore. And then far away in the Sahara Desert, 100 women and children dead, trying to cross - to go from Niger to Algeria, to beg for money for a better life in the Central African Republic. Now, Christians are fighting Muslims, and Muslims are fighting Christians, in a country where the two religions have lived side by side for years with no problems. Many Africans are asking: Are we rolling the clock backwards?

MONTAGNE: I mean, are there any signs for optimism?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, yes. But you've got to scratch hard. Yes, people are moving this continent forward. I mean small, little islands like Cape Verde, who have moved into the middle income. Mea culpa, have I had time to go to Cape Verde and tell that story? Have I had time to go to Mozambique, where growth levels have been high? Yes, people are moving this continent forward. But we just don't have enough time to focus on that, although I do hope that will be my focus this year.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, I wonder if there are solutions that you've heard of, that might be practical and make sense for some of the issues that are besetting nations in Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: If I take off my journalist cap, Renee - I mean, I have felt pretty desperate in 2013. But yes, civil society - civil society is strong in many nations. But we have to - I say we, as an African - improve the institutions on this continent because, of course, weak institutions and weak leadership leads to weak nations, and that is some of the cause of the problems were seeing. Those who have a voice for the people, use it.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Thank you, Renee.

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MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking to us from her home base - Dakar, Senegal.

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