12/21/2014 10:32 EST | Updated 02/20/2015 05:59 EST

Three Great Things that Happened in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2014

In this photo taken on Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, Woman protest with others during a rally against the longtime president that seeks another term in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Police used tear gas on Tuesday to disperse an opposition protest in Burkina Faso's capital, as tensions increase ahead of a vote this week on whether the country's longtime president can seek another term. (AP Photo/Theo Renaut)

Sub-Saharan Africa did not have a particularly good year. There were internal conflicts in South Sudan, and Central African Republic. Nigeria's north and Kenya experienced considerable insecurity that led to loss of lives. The death toll from Ebola in the three worst-affected West African countries of Sierra Leone, and Liberia was horrific. In the realm of politics, several long-serving rulers engaged in various schemes to extend their hold power.

But great things happened in Sub-Saharan Africa -- one new and two ongoing efforts -- a combination of which hold tremendous potential to empower and improve lives.

People power in Burkina took the world by storm. This revolution was spontaneous. It had no single hero but thousands of women, men, youth, and people from all walks of life singularly driven by thirst and hunger for freedom. The outcome could not have been more uplifting for Burkinabé and Africans at large. The now famous two-day uprising sent President Blaise Compaore into exile three years short of three decades in power. Typical of "big man" politics, government had become a matter of a personal patrimony. There was even talk of Jamila Compaore, the president's daughter, taking over state power from his father. It was estimated that no more than 30 individuals constituted Burkina Faso's ruling elite that determined the fate of 17 million Burkinabé. In the end though, national humiliation and frustration endured over 27 years led to a spectacular and successful revolt. That is how Burkinabé hunger for freedom gave Sub-Saharan Africa a gift for 2014 - peaceful removal of an autocratic government in a region where at least half a dozen of such regimes remain deeply entrenched.

A different kind of revolution continued to gather momentum in 2014 -- the rebirth of the Lagos State, Nigeria. When this developmental revolution began, the city of Lagos was known for crime, traffic, blight, and corruption. A national and regional economic hub, Lagos was run by a dysfunctional state government almost entirely dependent on federal government financial transfers. Enter two remarkable men, Governor Bola Tinubu and his chief of staff, Babatunde Fashola, the latter winning governorship himself after the forner served his two terms. Tinubu and Fashola set the Lagos State on a new course by overhauling governance systems, improving security and sanitation, reducing traffic congestion, expanding infrastructure and transit -- and most spectacular -- raising revenues for provision of basic services.

Tinubu-Fashola politics mainly comprised of forging a contract between taxpayers and state government -- a key pillar in laying the foundation for building a sustainable city state. For example revenue generation and collection moved from a monthly average of US$3.3 million in 1999 when Tinubu became governor to approximately $111 million per month in 2013 during Fashola's second term.

This developmental revolution has given Lagos autonomy from the Federal Government and enabled the city to raise capital in global money markets to invest in USD50 billion infrastructure program that includes a rapid-transit network and West Africa's first suspension bridge. Two power plants will ease the electricity shortage. Meanwhile thriving industries in Lagos include growing film known as Nollywood, fashion, banking, manufacturing and retail. Earlier in 2014, Japan's Nissan began assembling SUVs in Lagos. With a population of over 21 million, it is projected that Lagos state will become the world's third largest mega city after Tokyo in Japan and Mumbai in India in 2015.

The third great thing that happened in 2014 is the rolling out of President Barack Obama's Power Africa, an innovation based on US government-private sector partnerships to increase access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. The importance of this effort can hardly be overstated. Two out of three sub-Saharan Africans or 600 million people, lack access to electricity, and essentially depend on firewood for cooking. Furthermore, enormous funding needed to overcome this challenge far outstrips the financial capacity of Sub-Saharan African governments and foreign donors -- hence the need to leverage US private sector strengths, not least energy companies. Progress reported after one year of operations is encouraging.

The United States government has committed more than $7 billion in financial support over the next five years. The World Bank Group is programming $5 billion in new technical and financial support for energy projects in six African countries, namely, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania, which have partnered with Power Africa. Several US corporations are engaged in provision of expertise, energy technology and capital in Africa. These firms include General Electric, Heirs Holdings, Symbion Power, Aldwych International, Harith General Partners, and Husk Power Systems.

May 2015 bring more great things as the above -- peaceful removal of autocrats, improved democratic governance and socioeconomic transformation, and a greater share of foreign direct investment especially in energy infrastructure that is urgently needed to light up Sub-Saharan Africa.


Summer in Africa | 2014