The good, the bad and the ugly of 2019
The year 2019 has been monumental in many ways and for my last column of the year, I have devised a list of some of the most troubling developments internationally as well as some of the great highs, in my humble opinion of course.
The year started off with yet another salvo from the US regime change arsenal, with the US unilaterally recognising Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela. Guaido being the unelected opposition politician who was groomed for over a decade by hawks in the US administration to take over political power in Venezuela.
By 2018 Guaido had travelled to the US, Colombia and Brazil to coordinate plans for mass demonstrations outside Maduro’s presidential inauguration in January this year. By January 10th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly recognised Guaido as the self-declared President of Venezuela, even though only one in five Venezuelans had even heard of him. So much for democracy! It was a taste of what was to lie ahead, particularly with regards to regime change in Bolivia.
Come the month of March, our own region of Southern Africa was devastated by Cyclone Idai which ravaged Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, leaving catastrophe in its wake. I had the opportunity of travelling with the then Minister of International Relations to survey the damage by helicopter in order to push for donor support for the region’s reconstruction. Beira in Northern Mozambique was a wasteland, with crops, homes and infrastructure flattened. Unfortunately there was negligible support from the big powers when it came to disaster relief, but we were proud of our own Gift of the Givers and the rescue efforts they made to save lives.
In May, we got the bad news that our very own athletic legend Caster Semenya had lost her appeal against the IAAF testosterone rules. Why can’t African women just be able to be who they are born to be and bask in the glory of their achievements? The international body had to determine that Semenya was born with just too much of a chemical advantage to compete - it was a sad day for sport and for women’s rights.
But April brought about a political transition few thought was ever possible - Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup d’etat amid mass protests. This is the man wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide in Darfur, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. For almost 30 years he led Sudan with an iron fist and ensured that women lived under severe oppression. For years, Sudanese women were flogged by the state for wearing pants, leaving their homes at night without their husbands or a male chaperone, or for violating the ban on alcohol. Girls as young as nine could be forced into marriage if their male guardians allowed it, and female genital mutilation had become the norm. In 2016, there were 15 000 women sentenced to flogging under Bashir’s rule.
What was so liberating was that it was women across Sudan who led the mass protests against Bashir. What was also inspiring during the demonstrations was that during Friday prayers, young Coptic Christians carried large plastic sheets as a giant umbrella to shield their Muslim compatriots from the sun while they prayed. This was a revolution in 2019 to celebrate and the beginning of a new dawn for the country. But the caveat is that there is still a long way to go considering that the transitional Sovereign Council is being headed by the notorious Himeidti - the very same man who formed and led the Janjaweed militias accused of genocide in Darfur.
August brought two further doses of catastrophic news. One was the raging fires devastating the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, thanks in large part to the right wing policies of President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has forged ahead with opening up the Amazon to greedy capitalists who want to clear the land for mining, logging and farming. The authorities were thus told to turn a blind eye to the numerous fires started to clear the land for that purpose. The world was up in arms at the environmental destruction to one of the world’s most precious ecological regions, with the French and German leaders calling it an international emergency.
The other catastrophic blow was what many legal experts have deemed the illegal revocation by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of Article 370 of the constitution, guaranteeing Kashmir’s special status and a certain degree of autonomy. Just as in Brazil, it was the agenda of Modi’s right wing government to open up Kashmir to Indian capitalists, and to control the region’s rich natural resources. The unilateral decision has gone against a number of UN Security Council resolutions which have reiterated the right of Kashmiris to self-determination. We are witnessing another modern-day colonial project in Kashmir, with the occupying Indian forces carrying out horrendous human rights abuses against the people of Kashmir.
Our spirits were lifted in the month of September, however, by the exhilarating win by the Springboks against England at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Nothing could have done more for our morale as a country than that incredible feat, and it brought us together as a nation as few things have been able to.
We also celebrated as Africans the bestowing of the Nobel Peace Prize in October on Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ahmed has championed inclusiveness and the building of bridges to reconcile differences. He has been praised for ending the armed conflict with Eritrea, empowering women, releasing thousands of political prisoners and establishing a reconciliation commission. While Ahmed has to confront the challenges of ethno-nationalism in Ethiopia, he has gone a long way towards establishing a new dawn.
* Shannon Ebrahim is the Group Foreign Editor