Letter from Africa: 2014 unlucky for some?

Kenyan children with painted faces enjoy a ride on a toy horse during New Year's celebrations at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya, Wednesday, 1 January 2014

In our series of letters from African journalists, Kenyan Joseph Warungu has been staring into his crystal ball to predict what the next 12 months might hold for the continent.

I'm not superstitious.

In fact I get very suspicious of people who stare into space, toss about some strange objects on the ground, and then make profound proclamations about how your life will turn out in the future.

If I'd believed such seers, my life would have been different: I'd not be here writing this letter - I'd be writing out cheques for six-figure sums to advance the cause of Africa.

I'd fight poverty, conflict, disease and hunger. I'd be cheering Africa on as it takes over the world.

But not yet. First, we have to get through 2014.

So what will this New Year have in store for my continent? Could the secret lie in the number 14?

Not according to the Chinese, who consider it the unluckiest number.

Yet my inner voice tells me money will out-juju the number 14 and Chinese plans to improve Africa's infrastructure will not waver.

Whether it's a dam in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, or the enhancement of the port at Nouakchott in Mauritania, or roads and railways projects in Angola and Kenya, the 24-hour Chinese construction machinery will roll on.

Image caption Chinese construction projects can be found across Africa

Whatever you think of the Chinese, the more than $2.5bn (£1.5bn) they have already invested in Africa, will change the face of the continent in 2014 and beyond.

Car of justice

However, 2014 will definitely not be a perfect year for Africa, partly because the New Year is already contaminated by the old.

The continent has carried over a number of conflicts that flared up or got worse in 2013, such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Egypt.

These events, sadly, mean Africa will continue to witness conflict in 2014.

And with atrocities comes a desire for justice at local or international level.

Already the past year kept the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague busy pursuing justice for victims of war crimes in Africa, especially Ivory Coast and Kenya.

However, judging by the fervent events of 2013 - diplomatic or otherwise - my crystal ball whispers conspiratorially that in 2014 ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will be stuck in her two-speed gear car of justice going nowhere anytime soon in the case against the two big political fish netted in "lake" Kenya.

Image caption Will most of Africa be watching the World Cup on digital TV?

She may reluctantly contemplate switching into reverse gear.

But in my crystal ball things appear a little cloudy for the Kenyan journalist on trial at The Hague. Without the political and diplomatic muscle or the shoulders of the state to lean on, his may be an uphill court battle.

Scramble for African domination?

With only a year left to the 2015 International Telecommunications deadline for countries to switch from analogue to digital broadcasting, many more African nations will make the transition in 2014.

This effectively means more space on the spectrum and hence more TV channels and hopefully more choice for the consumer.

However, my crystal ball tells me that, ironically, instead of an expansion of the public arena for free expression, the curse of the number 14 will mean a reduction of space for media to operate freely.

Image caption Nigerian football fans will be hoping the Super Eagles will make history in Brazil

Parliamentary examples from South Africa and Kenya showed that politicians do not like journalists who talk too much and reveal the nudity of the emperor.

In 2013 they responded by sewing their mouths with tough legislative thread.

My crystal ball sighs that in 2014 politicians on the continent will want to continue protecting their privilege to talk a lot, decide who else can talk and what they can say.

Despite the goings-on in national assemblies, Africans will dutifully troop to the polls to find new or better leadership for their countries.

Presidential or parliamentary elections are due to take place in several nations including South Africa, Botswana, Algeria, Mozambique, Namibia and Niger.

If all this appears too gloomy, Africa and the rest of the world can look to Brazil for some relief in 2014.

Cameroon, Ghana, Algeria, Ivory Coast and Nigeria will carry Africa's hopes at the Fifa World Cup.

Although no African team has ever made it to the semi-finals, Ghana got our hearts racing by reaching the quarter-finals in 2010.

BBC editorial guidelines restrain me from using the kind of words I would love to hurl at the man who smashed the continent's dreams and prevented the Black Stars from making history.

This time round, the unlucky 14 notwithstanding, Africa is ready to get much closer to the final in Brazil.

The last time the number 14 appeared on a calendar was 100 years ago in 1914, and it still had significance then for Africa.

It was the year that immediately followed the end of the scramble for Africa by European powers.

At the start of the scramble in 1880, Europe only controlled about 10% of Africa. When the scramble was over, almost all of Africa was in European hands.

Ever the optimist, I've quietly colluded with my crystal ball to conclude that with great innovations coming out of Africa, with some of the world's largest unexploited natural resources residing in its soil, with the continent's football stars shining everywhere and with its population now well over a billion, 2014 could just be the year Africa begins to turn the tables on Europe and take over the world.

Just watch this space.

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