From AI, magical Faith to end of KCPE, here are 26 events that made 2023 outstanding

Faith Kipyegon celebrates her victory after the Women's 5000m Final in Budapest, Hungary on August 26, 2023. [Xinhua]

A for Artificial Intelligence

2023 was a watershed moment for AI. In May, 75-year-old Dr Geoffrey Hinton, often labelled the father of AI, quit Google in a huff, citing the technology’s risk of misinformation and upending the job market.

Other players in AI had sounded alarm earlier on, including dollar-billionaire Elon Musk, who had safety concerns and feuded with Larry Page over the same, and Valerie Pisano. In the same year, complaints of plagiarism in school assignments due to the unregulated use of ChatGPT skyrocketed.

B for Brazil’s Lula

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, a leftist, was sworn into office on New Year for a historic third term. His predecessor, far-right Jair Bolsonaro, threatened violence to hurt the transition. Interestingly, the 77-year-old Lula had previously spent a year and a half in jail on a corruption conviction but made a spectacular comeback to unite a polarized country, whose millions he dragged out of poverty in his first term.

C for Cop28

In the sweltering heat of Dubai, over 65,000 core delegates met for the climate summit, dwarfing the 36,000 who were at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the Cop27 last year. The conference concluded the first global stocktake of climate action under the Paris Agreement and adopted a decision calling for accelerated short-term action and an orderly transition away from fossil fuels towards climate-neutral energy systems, according to the EU. Kenya ferried 765 delegates to Dubai, a move largely criticised as unnecessary and wasteful.

D for Dedan’s wife Mukami 

Mukami Kimathi, wife of veteran Mau Mau freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, died in May aged 96. She was, in her own right, a critical player in the clamour for independence, helping in resource mobilisation and the dispatching of spies for the guerrilla warriors. Her lifelong prayer to locate the burial site of her iconic husband bore no fruit in her lifetime.

E for El Nino

After what looked like a tug of war between the Kenya Meteorological Department and the government over the intensity of the imminent rains, the El Nino finally came. It wreaked havoc in the northern and coastal regions especially, with more than 174 people dead by last week. The obvious unpreparedness also led to a short war of words between Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and governors over the disbursement of resources to cushion the most affected regions, but the rains have since subsided significantly.

F for Faith Kipyegon 

The phenomenal Kipyegon had her best year. Within a week in June, Kipyegon shattered the 1,500m and 5,000m world records, before breaking the one-mile record the month after. On Jamhuri Day, President William Ruto honoured her with the Elder of The Order of The Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH), moments after she was named Female World Athlete of The Year on track by World Athletics.   

G for George Weah

The only footballer from an African nation who won the Ballon d’Or (1995), Weah romped to victory in 2017’s Liberia’s presidential poll. Named the African Player of the Century in 1996, Weah’s presidency was less scintillating and he was criticised for his inability to tackle corruption and poverty. In November’s poll, Weah lost the seat to Joseph Boakai after a tight runoff. Experts have labelled Weah’s one-term presidency a wake-up call for other African leaders.

H for Hamas 

On October 7, the paramilitary wings of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, launched an attack on Israel. Protesting Israeli occupation and blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is often labelled an open-air prison, Hamas attracted powerful retaliation from Israel and tens of thousands of Palestinians lost lives and were maimed. Last year, Human Rights Watch wrote: “The closure has devastated the economy in Gaza, contributed to the fragmentation of the Palestinian people, and forms part of Israeli authorities’ crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.” The war is still ongoing, with calls for a ceasefire often ignored.

I for India 

In April, India overtook China to become the world’s most populous country with over 1,425,775,850. According to the UN, in 2022, at 1.2 births per woman, China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. India’s fertility rate was 2.0 births per woman. For the first time since 1950 when the UN began collecting these statistics, China is off the top spot.

J for Javier Milei 

Argentina’s anarcho-capitalist presidential frontrunner Javier Milei finally won the seat in a runoff, tidily beating Sergio Massa. Far-right heavyweights from other countries suddenly came to life in the jubilation of one of their own, who is expected to tame Argentina’s perennially intensifying economic problems. He promised to do away with the political caste, a message that resonated well with an electorate disillusioned after a torrid run in the last many years.

K for KCPE

The first Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam was administered in 1985 and the last this year. In comes the KPSEA (Kenya Primary School Education Assessment), under the Competency-Based Curriculum. Within that period, Kenya has had 14 ministers for Education, some in more than one stint. More than 26 million people have gone through the 8-4-4 system.

L for Lionel Messi 

Widely considered the best footballer in history, Messi won a record-extending 8th Ballon d’Or in October, beating close challenger and treble winner Erling Haaland. Messi’s exploits in Qatar in December 2022, where he captained Argentina to their third World Cup trophy and his first, played a huge role in placing him in pole position for this gong. His closest rival, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, has won five such awards. No other footballer has won more than three.

M for Mwangaza

Just over a year since she was elected into office, Meru Governor Kawira Mwangaza found herself clutching at straws for the second time in October as MCAs impeached her, sending her to the Senate for possible confirmation. Misuse of public resources, nepotism, bullying, usurpation of statutory powers and contempt of the assembly were some of the core accusations. She survived for a second time, but rumours of a third attempt at impeaching her started flying immediately after.

N for NADCO 

The National Dialogue Committee finally sat to agree on a rationale to debate issues, including the electoral process, that would heal divisions that have been experienced since the 2022 elections, leading to mass protests. There was dissatisfaction, however, when it emerged that the cost of living was not prioritised as it should have, and some Azimio leaders disagreed with the outcome of the talks. Among those not entirely backing the report is former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the leader of Jubilee.

O for OpenAI

The Sam Altman story, if you may recall. On November 17, Altman was fired from his CEO position by the OpenAI board. A day later, they were asked to rehire him. Four days later, he was reinstated, with a new board being constituted. The 38-year-old had been accused of a lack of transparency that impaired the board’s supervisory role in the company. A “deliberate review process”, they said, informed his sacking. He had, immediately after his firing, started flirting with Microsoft Corp for a top job.

P for Police

In support of a Multinational Security Support Mission, Kenya promised to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti. The Caribbean country is famous for its notorious gangs which have seized critical infrastructure and which have rained chaos on citizens. Police there lack the necessary equipment to combat the gangs, which were responsible for the assassination of Jovenel Moise, the president, in 2021.  The High Court in Kenya has, however, extended a block to send the police, with a ruling set for January 26.

Q for Queen Camilla 

On the last day of October, King Charles III touched down in Nairobi, accompanied by his wife Queen Camilla. It was their first visit to Africa since the coronation of Charles III following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, who served as Monarch since her father’s death in 1953. Queen Camilla was hailed for her calm demeanour, and tempering mood as her husband addressed historical injustices against Kenyans in the clamour for independence.

R for Rubiales 

When the Spain national team won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in August, the president of the soccer federation was seen, during the medals’ presentation, solidly planting a kiss on the lips of Jennifer Hermoso, one of the team’s standout players. Rubiales came under pressure to resign but resisted for weeks, maintaining that the kiss was consensual. But even Hermoso herself joined those who called out the inappropriateness of the action. In what is seen as a great win for feminists and a step closer towards eliminating sexual misdemeanours in sports, Rubiales finally resigned.

S for Sixty 

On December 12, Kenya celebrated 60 years since it gained independence. After gaining internal self-rule on June 1, 1963, the country became independent six months later. Since then, the country has grown in leaps and bounds, from a population of around 8.9 million by independence to an estimated 53 million in 2023. The country has had 5 presidents who have overseen tremendous improvement in the sociopolitical and economic spaces.

T for Turkey

 In the first week of February, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and parts of Syria, with aftershocks of up to 6.7 magnitude rocking the same areas. Around 14 million people were affected and not less than 59,000 lost their lives. While other quakes in the past have had devastating effects including way more deaths, this earthquake rang such terror because of fear of another immediate tremor. Five months later, in July, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey near Adana. No casualties were reported. 

U for Under 18s

Kenya’s Under 18s football team Junior Stars cruised to the finals of the CECAFA U18 Championship. On the back of playing smooth football and showing great promise ahead of their potential transformation into Harambee Stars in the foreseeable future, the team attracted thousands of spectators on each outing. The boys, mainly drawn from secondary schools, lost to Uganda in the finals but left a mark and hope that Kenya’s football could still be a success. 

V for Visa-free entry

 In his Jamhuri Day speech, President William Ruto announced that starting in 2024, entry into Kenya would be visa-free. Kenya is the cradle of mankind, he said, and global citizens would be returning to where they belong. A digital platform to identify tourists prior to their visit, meaning they will only need to obtain electronic travel authorisation, will however be put in place. Kenya intends to attract more visitors and boost its foreign reserves. 

W for World Coin

 Multinational cryptocurrency and digital ID firm World Coin, which was founded by Sam Altman, came to Kenya and attracted crowds who, in exchange for an eye scan, took home $49 (Sh7,523) each. As hundreds thronged the site, concerns about the storage of the biometric data, safety in the hands of a private company and the legality of the process ensued. Following local investigations, the process was suspended in August but is rumoured to be eyeing a return in 2024.

X for X 

Twitter rebranded to X in July, the “everything app” that promises more freedom of speech, according to Elon Musk. After acquiring Twitter for $44 billion in 2022, Musk has introduced a raft of changes that accommodate free speech in an unprecedented way, allowing some former outcasts back onto the site. The app also now aims to do “everything”, including supporting citizen journalism, which Musk is a big proponent of. Journalists such as Tucker Carlson have used the new offering to post long videos on the platform and increase engagement.

Y for YOLO

 Scientists sometimes venture into ridiculous things in experiments, but explorers go above that, and are often ungovernable. Five people died aboard the Titan submersible on an expedition to view the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic Ocean on June 18. The Titanic, an ocean liner that sank in 1912, has been a tourist attraction since, albeit all left of it is a wreck that sits 3.8km below the sea. Failure of the pressure hull led to an implosion that killed the party underwater following a tense few days as expeditions tried to locate the submarine.

Z for Zelenskyy

 It has been another tough year for Ukraine’s president, with almost 700 days gone since the first battalions from Moscow breached the border. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the 6th president of Ukraine, has been lobbying for support from the West, but with distractions such as the Israel-Hamas war, the attention on what is happening in his country has dwindled. EU leaders have agreed to open membership talks with Ukraine, but they could not agree on a $54.6bn package of financial aid for Kyiv due to opposition from Hungary, reports the Guardian.

His ardent support by President Joe Biden of the US has been stifled by the Republican side in Congress delaying a 61 billion dollar grant proposed by the Biden administration. As the year closes Russia has retaliated against Ukraine's sinking of its warship in the Black Sea through a drone attack in several cities of Ukraine including Kyiv the night of December 28, leaving 26 dead.

Happy 2024!