The Non-Trump 2018 year in review
It is shocking just how many reviews of 2018 focus on Trump in almost every entry. The English language news seems to revolve around a man who has proven himself to be against most of what the modern and progressive forces in the world stand for. In an attempt to avoid the obsession with Trump that has gripped the mainstream media, here are 15 highlights of the year gone by from a South perspective.
February: President Cyril Ramaphosa is inaugurated as South Africa’s 5th democratically elected Head of State, promising to rid government and state owned entities of corruption. Ramaphosa pledged to improve service delivery and the country’s infrastructure, and spur economic growth by wooing foreign investors, and focus on manufacturing and industrial development.
March: Abiy Ahmed is elected as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, ending decades of political repression against the opposition and hostility with neighbouring Eritrea. Within months of being in office Ahmed had lifted the ban on opposition groups, encouraged opposition members to return to the country and wooed the diaspora. Ahmed welcomed Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to Ethiopia, and border crossings between the two countries were opened.
March: Russian President Vladimir Putin secures a fourth term in office in the Russian Presidential elections with 77% of the vote, with voting also taking place in the Crimea.
April: There was an outpouring of grief in South Africa as the masses mourned the passing of Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, for many decades known as the Mother of the Nation. In the wake of the icon’s passing, new revelations emerged about the apartheid state’s extensive efforts under Strategic Communications (Stratcom) to discredit her and the ANC prior to 1994.
April: Swazi King Mswati III changes his country’s name from Swaziland (the British colonial name) to eSwatini. The absolute monarch claimed the name Swaziland was being confused with Switzerland when Swazi nationals travelled overseas.
May: Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the EU parliament and later the US Congress on how Data firm Cambridge Analytica misused the data of millions of Facebook users without permission. In November Facebook admits is was used to incite violence in Myanmar.
July: South Africa hosts the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg where the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged to increase development financing through the New Development Bank, fast track development cooperation, and more closely align their foreign policies.
July: Australians protest across the country against the five year policy of detaining migrants and refugees on the Pacific Islands of Manus and Nauru. Australia came under heavy criticism by the UNHCR and other rights organisations for their treatment of migrants and refugees, keeping them in detention for years.
August: A Canadian Foreign Ministry tweet called for the immediate release of Saudi human rights activists, leading to an unprecedented spat between the two countries where Saudi Arabia threatened to terminate trade, and withdraw its doctors and students from Canadian institutions.
August: The UN calls for Myanmar’s top military generals to face genocide charges for the large scale ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslim population of Rakhine state, where 650,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The situation is being called the world’s fastest growing refugee and humanitarian crisis. In November Amnesty International withdrew its most prestigious human rights prize from Aung San Suu Kyi, criticising her for not speaking out against violence perpetrated against the Rohingya.
September: Egypt was roundly criticised by human rights groups for imposing death sentences on 75 Egyptians who participated in the 2013 sit-in protests. Two months prior to this ruling the US State Department released US$195 million in aid to Egypt which had previously been blocked due to concerns over President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s human rights record.
October: Turkey accuses Saudi Arabia, and particularly Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of masterminding the brutal killing of Saudi national and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was dismembered by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities shared an audio recording of Khashoggi’s gruesome death with a number of intelligence agencies and world leaders.
October: Jair Bolsonaro wins election as the President of Brazil having run a divisive campaign with unparalleled vitriol against women, gays, Afro-Brazilians, and Africans. Bolsonaro romanticised the country’s former military dictatorship claiming it failed to kill enough opposition members, and has appointed a number of military generals to his cabinet.
December: The long awaited elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo are scheduled to take place December 23rd amid public discontent over electronic voting machines in a country which has a shortage of electricity supply, and key opposition leaders have been barred from running for office.
The overall trend in 2018 suggests that democracies, human rights, journalists and multilateralism have come under increasing threat, more than at any other time since WWII.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for Voices360.