Surveying the world scene as a new year and new decade dawns, many would agree, on the basis of events this past year that there aren’t many rays of hope on the horizon.
—As Middle East Institute President Paul Salem describes the year past: “In the Middle East and North Africa, there were five uprisings, four ongoing civil wars, and three key elections. Of the uprisings — in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran — one has transitioned positively (Sudan), one has been temporarily crushed protesters (Iran), two are in play (Lebanon and Iraq) and one is witnessing an attempted revolution (Algeria).”
—According to Amnesty International, at least 304 people were killed and thousands more injured during anti-government protests in Iran in November. The British-based human rights organization said the latest protests — following similar uprisings a year ago — may have resulted in the highest number of casualties and arrests in Iran in the four decades since the present government seized power. More than 7,000 people were arrested.
—Pro-democracy protests in PRC-controlled Hong Kong have entered their sixth month, with few signs of let-up, as the mainland Chinese regime continues to support its Beijing-appointed principal leader in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam. Yet the world took note: VOA and Radio Free Asia sent teams to Hong Kong to interview youthful protesters about their demands for a popular election to determine freely-elected indigenous leadership in their community.
—A largely unreported crisis in central African countries of the Sahel — as anti-government protests fill the streets in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where extremist attacks grew from 180 incidents in 2017 to approximately 800 in the first ten months of 2019, with Mali the most devastating. Mali, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) “is doing the bare minimum, demonstrating little willingness to invest in its violence-wracked north and central regions, including counter-insurgency operations and community programming.”
EASING OF CRISES ELSEWHERE, AS A NEW YEAR DAWNS
Ethiopia’s new reform President Abih Ahmed formally received the Nobel Peace Prize December 10 for his successful election and peacemaking efforts in ending years of conflict with his country’s northern neighbors, Eritrea and Djibouti — significantly calming northeastern Africa. And Ethiopia set a new world record for tree planting in a single day last July, 353 million trees in 12 hours.
Across the Red Sea, there are prospects for a long-sought end to the Yemen civil war. On November 26, a Saudi-led military coalition announced it would release 200 Yemeni rebels as a start to ease the nearly five year long conflict. That actually happened nearly a month later. It appears to be a noteworthy first step in attempts to arrange an end to a civil conflict which the U.N. has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In 2019, there were a number of quiet contacts between several warring factions in Yemen, its hostile neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and U.S. envoys exploring a solution. More than 100,000 civilians and combatants have been killed in the fighting or starved to death because food imports to Yemen were blocked by Houthi rebels fighting the government there. The UAE last summer seemed to fear what appeared to be a never-ending conflict. It sought a dialogue with southern Yemen elements as an early step aimed at a general ceasefire. May other informal contacts between the multiple factions in this costly conflict collectively yield results in 2020?
Dr. Angus Harvey, a globally known political economist, has just published an article entitled “99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2019.” Among them:
1) New research by the London-based Overseas Development Institute showed that the proportion of people in extreme poverty around the world has fallen in the last three decades from 36 percent worldwide to 8.6 percent in 2018. In sheer numbers, from 1.9 billion to 610 million at the beginning of 2019.
2) Save The Children’s 2019 Global Childhood Report reported that since the turn of the century, children’s lives have improved in 173 out of 176 countries surveyed. There are now 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year, 130 million more attend schools, and there are 94 million fewer child laborers.
3) The tiny East African country of Malawi eliminated the world’s most common infectious eye disease, trachoma, the second country in Africa to do so after Ghana. In 2014, more than eight million people were at risk. Today that number is zero.
4) Dr. Harvey says that “democracy is proving far more resilient than the headlines suggest. Since 2000, the number of democratic countries has risen from 90 to 97, including 11 for the first time ever. In 2019, according to Al Jazeera, 2 billion people in 50 countries voted, the largest number in history.
That brings us to the two most significant, intertwined events in the U.S. anticipated for 2020:
a) the outcome of the Presidential impeachment/removal trial in the U. S. Senate, and
b) the U.S. presidential election on Tuesday, November 3.
Other national elections scheduled for next year include those in Taiwan January 11, the Dominican Republic May 17, and Bolivia, at a date to be determined. In a world of uncertainty, it will be also be one of unprecedented opportunity for those making critical choices — whether in polling stations or in peace-building public diplomacy.
A good friend of the Heils at our retirement community, Betty Anne Cox, is an accomplished author and poet. In one of her recent books, The Word-Weaver, McGraw Hill-Open Publishing, 2019, she sums up the mysteries of what lies ahead, politically and culturally, that reflect the challenges millions of earthlings face as 2020 dawns:
“Sometimes I just drive, take a road I don’t know, no plan, no place to be, no deadline.
I call it “skylarking” – not fearing the unexpected, but hoping for it — white lightning…
Fear of the unknown — person, place or thing, shrinks the horizon, limits us to safe myopia.
Take a deep breath, invite chance, stretch boundaries, embrace a skylark moment and soar.”
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More