JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
MUCH HAPPENED AROUND THE WORLD LAST year. Edward Snowden stained America’s diplomatic reputation (at least to those the United States National Security Agency spied on); Hugo Chavez and Margaret Thetcher died; we saw Boston bombings; al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate mall in Nairobi; Typhoon Haiyena pulverized The Philippines; Egypt’s ailing new democracy; vigorous geopolitics with respect to Syria; the Eurozone escaped the recession; recent nuclear deal with Iran etc. I could go on counting the number of events that shook the world this past year. And early last month, Africa’s George Washington, Nelson Mandela, passed away. Here, I unleash my thoughts on few events that shook the whole world last year.
The death of Hugo Chavez was a setback to those who denounce America’s global power. But it’s fair to say that by the time Mr Chavez died, he had lived up to his convictions. He was a true socialist whose mission was to destroy capitalism.
This was reflected in Venezuela’s very socialist economy as well as his rhetoric. He’d make promises at every election campaign, and to some extent keep them. Of course the poor did benefit from his policies, but only in the short term. His policies were unsustainable, and today his country faces huge economic challenges – a staggering deficit and rising inflation which has led to the shortage of basic food products.
In all these problems, the government led by Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, always has someone to blame – the United States. Even under Chavez’s leadership, there was always someone to blame for Venezuela’s socioeconomic ills. He politically benefitted from his policies, and Venezuelans did economically benefit as well, at least to an extent. But he darkened the future of a country with massive oil reserves. It’s puzzling because given the amount of oil reserves that Venezuela has, the standard of living is supposed to be matching that of Qatar or Saudi Arabia. It is not. Hugo Chavez may have died a hero to some, but I believe what he left behind was an utter mess.
Further among the events that terrified me last year, was a terror attack that took place in Woolwich, England. On broad daylight, in public view, two men slaughtered a British soldier with meat knives and cleavers. Some reports suggested the victim was beheaded. It was a severe shock that stunned me to the extreme. The perpetrators proclaimed that they were doing it in the name of Allah, that they did it to express their discontent over British foreign policy in the Middle East.
It clearly was a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists, and highlighted a huge global challenge on the war on terror. Actually, as Fareed Zakaria points out, Boston bombings and the Woolwich attack reminded us that the nature of terrorism is evolving.
These two attacks alerted us that we shouldn’t think of terror as something that’s coordinated in remote caves and mostly in countries with weak governance – people can radicalize over the internet and eventually commit evil acts for which the result will be the disaster we saw in Boston and Woolwich. In other words, we should not think the source of terrorism will always be in the East – it could, at any point in time, emerge in the West.
Last month, TIME Magazine chose its 2013 Person of the Year – Pope Francis. The first non-European Pope to helm the Catholic Church. I personally think it is Edward Snowden who deserves the newsmaker of the year award. There have been many Popes before, but there have been very few men like Snowden. I doubt there’s anyone who has revealed as much intelligence secrets before. His revelations had a very negative impact on America’s diplomatic relations with its allies, most importantly when it comes to “trust”.
On December 5th 2013, Nelson Mandela died, at the age of 95. I wrote a tribute the day after his passing. We all lauded his contribution on the founding of the post-apartheid South Africa. Madiba engineered the “Rainbow nation”, which led to the creation of the country where everyone can contribute to its productivity regardless of the color of their skin or beliefs. Fareed Zakaria said, “He shaped the conscience of the world”. I couldn’t agree more.
On the global economy, I think we did better than in 2012. After a series of quarterly negative growth, the Eurozone escaped the recession. Germany and France led the return to positive growth. On the other hand, the United States seems to be slowly recovering well, although things could have been much better if we had not seen that political insanity in Washington.
The Eastern economies have been paving their way through, although their growth has slightly declined due to economic ills in the developed world. I’m optimistic about 2014. I think the overall economy is heading in the right direction, although slowly.
There is much I didn’t mention here. But as we reflect on 2013, we’ll remember what shook the world and what didn’t. We’ve crossed the bridge to 2014. I hope with optimism, and energy to solve the global problems of today. PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI