Here’s a rare non-Trump year in review (OPINION PIECE)


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 proved 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 African perspective.

February: President Cyril Ramaphosa is inaugurated as South Africa’s fifth democratically elected head of state, promising to rid the 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. He 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. 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 her passing, new revelations emerged about the apartheid state’s extensive efforts under Strategic Communications (Stratcom) to discredit her and the ANC before 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 Swazis 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 admitted 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 co-operation, and more closely align their foreign policies.

July: Australians protest 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 UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other rights organisations for its 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 about 650000 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 before the ruling, the US State Department released $195 million in aid to Egypt which had 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 the election and becomes the president of Brazil, having run a divisive campaign with unparalleled vitriol against women, gays, Afro-Brazilians and Africans. He romanticised the country’s former military dictatorship claiming it failed to kill enough opposition members. Bolsonaro 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 on December 30 amid public discontent over electronic voting machines in a country that has a shortage of electricity supply. 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

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