Chinese New Year: How far China have come and how far they still have to go

Chinese-New-YearChina has come a long way in 101 years.

Back in 1911 (during the year of the pig), China’s final dynasty, Qing collapsed after nearly a  150 years of gasping for breath. The encroachment of the Western powers (and later Japan) with their unequal treaties, opium wars and favourite nation clauses had been met by ‘head in the sand, fingers in the eyes’ approach by the de facto ruler Empress Dowager Cixi for over fifty years before her death in 1908.

Although yesterday marked the start of a new lunar year and a new chapter of China’s history, tomorrow marks the 101th anniversary of the edict forcing child Emperor Puyi from the throne in 1912.

This measure led to the brief dictatorship of General Yuan Shikai and the beginning of the Republican era.

It is remarkable to think that after the traumas the country faced over the past century with seemingly endless civil war, the rise of communism and the brutal of life under Chairman Mao that the country is on the verge of being the most strongest economic power on earth in the next 10 years.

But we should not be too quick to sit back and watch. Despite America’s recent ‘Asian Pivot’ and the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership potentially being formed as a more powerful trading bloc than the EU with China at its centre, China’s future could still be rocky.

The Chinese economy, whilst still the strongest in the world, is starting to slow down with the effect of the Eurozone crisis and the continued financial turmoil across the world. So they are unlikely to see the same double digit growth figures they’ve enjoyed over the past few years.

That is not to say the country doesn’t have anything to look forward to. Construction is now under way to build the world’s largest skyscraper, Sky City One in Changsha, Hunan province in south west China.

Similarly, China will be taking further steps into the space race with their lunar probe Chang’e 3 being launched later in the year.

However with the continuing  Bo Xilai scandal’s twists and turns remaining in the news and Xi still not fully cementing his authority over the biggest population on earth 2013 could still be a bumpy ride.

The Chinese authorities are still trying in vain to control the tide of information leaks but new innovations in telecommunications continue to outpace them. The power of microblogging sites has persisted despite manifold attempts to shut them down and it looks like nothing will change as we head into the new year.

So the dissident in China is likely to only build in the next few years. The examples of Ai WeiWei and Chen Guangcheng are international embarrassments to the nation which tries so hard to maintain control. While most foreign powers are too awestruck by China’s economic might to pay much attention to internal human rights abuses, these controversies are getting harder and harder to hide from the internet savvy Chinese population.

So as Xi tries to assert his authority over the next few years he will have several different challenges.

One way he could assert his authority is to go down the Cristina De Kirchner Fernandez route and continue to claim Japanese territory .

The ongoing dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands (know as the Diaoyu islands in Chinese and the Pinnacle Islands in English) has historical roots but has only really come to the fore in the past year. Although the islands are closer geographically to mainland Japan they are on the edge of China’s tectonic plate which is traditionally viewed as the extent of Chinese maritime influence.

The dispute goes back to the days when what is now the Okinawa prefecture of Japan was an independent kingdom. It survived by offering tributes to both China and Japan but adopting Chinese fashion, style and way of life. When Japan and China were forced to trade by the Western powers, instead of sticking their heads in the sand like China, Japan embraced change and the Meji Restoration cement a central government across the country instead of the Shogunate that had ruled for hundreds of years.

This included Okinawa which remained under Japanese rule from 1895 until America annexed it at the end of the Second World War.They gave it back in 1972 under the Okinawa Reversion Treaty and the Senkaku Islands were part of the deal.

Ever since China has not given up its territorial claim to them but has done very little to demand them back. They argue that as the islands were administered along with Taiwan after Japan annexed it in 1895, the islands should have been returned to China in 1945 as well. They claim that the then Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai Shek was too busy fighting the civil war against the Communists and too dependent on US support to fight his case properly.

The new conflict was sparked by a comment from the Toyko Governor in April 2012 Shintaro Ishihara saying he would use public money to buy them back from their private Japanese owner. In August several Hong Kong activists sailed to the uninhabited islands but were sent back, 10 days later Japanese activists did the same. In December 2012 a Chinese aeroplane was said to have violated their air space and in January of this year, Beijing said they were conducting a geological survey of the area.

Neither side seems to want to go to war over the islands but the tensions could be the perfect opportunity for Xi to distract from problems at home like De Kirchener is trying unsuccessfully to do in Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

Despite its new found status and power China is slightly licking the wounds of its past. A war with Japan could go a long way to healing the humiliation of losing a war with them, a smaller nation that had previously looked up to them, in 1895 which overtaking them economically hasn’t achieved.

China is the oldest and biggest continuous civilisation in the world. It has a delicate future ahead of it which could cement its rule as the most powerful nation on earth or it could crumb back into chaos. History is still crucial to China, and they will try to right wrongs in the twentieth century alongside power building in the twentieth first.

Why Its Still Not ‘OK’ To Be A Girl

New Frontier, Old Problems: An Uncertain Future For Women's Rights in Afghanistan, Courtesy of National Geographic

Whenever Britain reaches a morbid anniversary of our time in Afghanistan or a new death milestone as more and more troops are thrown on the battlefield with armour little more advanced than the average London riot shield, politicians and commentators emphatically insist we are there ‘for the women’.

Despite the rather dubious provenance of this justification, as at the time is was supposedly an attempt to rout out Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, the rhetoric states it has brought about nothing but improvement in the lives of Afghan women as Westernised values seep into the country.

However, whatever American and British propaganda may tell you, Afghanistan is still not the best place to be a girl.

The continuing guerilla presence of the Taliban is normally what captures international focus on women’s rights as their frequent attacks on girl students and their schools capture the world’s attention. The negotiations between NATO forces and the Taliban received intense scrutiny from human rights organisation Amnesty International at the end of 2011 with their campaign to ensure women’s rights were not used as a bargaining chip in the peace talks. The Taliban have now suspend negotiations with the USA because of their ‘ever changing position’ but the continuing focus on the seemingly unending struggle with the Taliban neglects the serious challenges women face in mainstream Afghan society.

Over the past eleven years there have been huge strides in not just women’s, but human rights generally in Afghanistan. With discrimination legislation, access to education and healthcare and the beginnings of a (sort of) democratic system it appears to Western observers that on the surface their mission has been successful in creating a lasting legacy of freedom in the country. Men and women are declared equal under the Afghan constitution and there is a quota of a quarter of all seats in government reserved for women which was exceeded in the elections of 2005 and 2010.

Nevertheless, the cultural war is still far from over. Afghanistan still remains divided along tribal lines, rife with corruption and before the arrival of the Taliban in the late nineties; suffered years of civil war, invasion by Russia and the rule of tribal kings. Its currently ranked 150th in the world for press freedom , 1.4 on the report published by Transparency International in 2010 where 10 is most clean and 0 is most corrupt and 181th for maternal mortality(out of 181).

What people often forget is that although the extremes of the Taliban were rejected by mainstream Afghan society a large part of its attitudes to women were almost as repressive as the group’s and some have even become more radicalised by the speed of Western attempts at change.
Continue reading Why Its Still Not ‘OK’ To Be A Girl

A Review of the Year: Oceania and the Pacific in 2011

Contrary to popular belief, stuff happens in this part of the world and not just in Australia. With population change, climate change and regime change Oceania in 2011 moved just as fast as the rest of the world; so fast some of it even jumped over the international dateline.

Australia’s ‘Stop The Boats’ Campaign: Every country in the world has its problems with immigration. However, the conflict between the perceived threat the original inhabitants feel, the need of refugees escaping war or suffering and the realities of labour shortage is most keenly felt in Australia. The conservative opposition has ramped up popular pressure on Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard to end the acceptance of asylum seekers into Australia who are currently being detained on Christmas Island. Although they currently make up only 2 per cent of immigrants in Australia every year, there is a perception of these people as ‘freeloaders’ who are coming to Australia purely to live on more generous welfare provision. The anti-immigration lobby seemed to have won a major battle when an agreement was reached with Malaysia to keep asylum seekers in detention centres in Asia whilst their applications are reviewed. However a a High Court ruling in September overturned the decision as Malaysia hadn’t signed up to a crucial human rights declaration which Australia had pledged to honour in its dealings with other countries. Thus, the lobby were back to square one.

Samoa Jumps Over the Dateline: Samoa and Tokelau choose a very unconventional way of celebrating New Year’s Eve this year, they did it a day early. On 29th December they went straight to 31st and forgot all about the 30th. This is because Samoa lies along the international dateline that marks the very edge of the timezone map; an invisible line in the heart of the Pacific with Australia on one side and America on the other. Although they originally moved to be closer to America, in recent years as Australia and New Zealand became their main trading partners they have chosen to bring their business hours more in line with their neighbours. It is also a way of making travel for native Samoans living abroad, New Zealand in particular has a massive Samoan immigrant population, easier.

New Zealand Earthquake: New Zealand suffered its ‘deadliest disaster in 80 years’ this February as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck its second city, Christchurch in February killing at least 180 people. The earthquake struck at midday on a Monday when the city was at its busier, 120 people were rescued alive from the wreckage. The damage was supposed to be worse than the 7.1 earthquake that struck the same city in September 2010 that left no fatalities. Eyewitnesses said they saw people wandering around the city in shock and most of the deaths have attributed to two buses hit by falling debris. The Australian government, the UN and the European Union pledged financial support for New Zealand’s recovery and it was reported that NZ$12 billion, this was the third most costliest earthquake in human history. The tremors even caused the iconic spire of Canterbury Cathedral in Christchurch to be toppled. There was further devastation when Christchurch was struck for a third time in June by another earthquake that killed one more person.

Papua New Guinea’s Political Crisis: Papua New Guinea reached a political stalemate that not even Belgium, the land of no government, could have imagined; it was torn between two. Sir Michael Somare, who had run the country as Prime Minister since its independence from Australia in 1975, left the country to seek medical treatment in Singapore in August and Parliament sworn in Peter O’Neill as Prime Minister in his place. The Supreme Court then voted by three to two that O’Neil’s appointment was not legitimate but Parliament ignored this and continued to recognise O’Neil as Prime Minister despite Somare having not stood down. This has led to a bizarre political impasse where the country has two Prime Ministers, two police chiefs and two governor generals. There have been no reports of violence between rival groups yet but state police are out in force to warn against any protest groups taking to the streets. So far, the police force and the army insist they will remain neutral but tensions could spill over if they are forced to pick sides. If this were to happen, essential services would shut down over insecurity fears. On 15 December, 500 supporters of O’Neill and more than 150,000 union workers gave the rival leaders 48 hours to negotiate, threatening to shut down public services. rallied outside parliament.UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon has called for political reconciliation and for the leaders to ‘to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid an escalation of the situation’. Papua New Guinea is no stranger to bloodshed, in 2002 a disputed election was one of the bloodiest in recent memory.

Tuvalu Drought: The small island chain in the South Pacific, Tuvalu is suffering a severe drought after months of low rainfall. Although Tuvalu is a tiny group of eight islands that is not home to more than 10,000 people, it has failed to see substantial rainfall since November 2010 and is suffering the adverse effects of the La Nina weather pattern that sees a year of enhanced rainfall than a year of drought.The government has issued a state of emergency and said it is unlikely to see rainfall until January. There have also been concerns raised over whether this is to do with man-made climate change, the science of climate is mandatory in all primary school syllabus on the island. Tuvalu is only five feet above sea level and the rise in sea water is threatening their fresh water lagoons. Saufatu Sapo’aga, a former Tuvaluan prime minister, called climate change ‘no different to a slow and insidious form of terrorism’ against Tuvalu.

Fake Bomb Attack in Sydney: Finally, a teenage girl in a wealthy suburb of Sydney was given the fright of her life this August as a Balaclava wearing strangers burst into her home and strapped what she thought was a bomb to her. 18-year-old Madeleine Pulver was studying for her exams at home when the stranger burst in and was forced to hold the bomb to prevent it detonating for 10 hours before police determined it was a fake. The daughter of a wealthy businessman,reportedly one of the wealthiest in Sydney was said to have ‘interacted’ with the hoaxer and a 50-year-old man, Paul “Doug” Peters was later arrested in Kentucky over an alleged extortion attempt.

A Review of the Year: Latin America in 2011

Latin America

Latin America’s 2011 is dominated by drug abuse, conspiracy and power politics as the drug cartels increase their stranglehold on the Central American supply routes in North America leaving a trail of blood and destruction in their wake, cultural clashes between the rich and the poor, the majority and the minority and politics gets a shake up from democratic and non-democratic sources shaking up the received wisdom about Latin American political elites.

The War on Drugs: The US government’s funding of the ‘Merida Initiative’ launched in 2007 to provide financial backing to police forces in Central America to crush the drug cartels operating in the area, drew fresh criticism in a peaceful march from the border city of Ciudad Juarez to a rally in El Paso, Texas to highlight the thousands of Latin America lives already lost. Javier Sicilia, a Mexican poet who led the march said ‘Americans have to realise that behind every puff of pot, every line of coke, there is death, there are shattered families’ and the UN published a report in the same month concluding that the ‘war on drugs’ had failed as battling dug cartels in one area simply means they move to another. Whilst the USA continues its ‘Just Say No’ policies, Central America is increasingly being overrun by criminal gangs who infiltrate politics, the police force and the judiciary. They also silence journalists through fear and intimidation, Reporters Without Borders calls Central America one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.

Political Shake-up In Peru: Every now and then, power politics in Latin America will surprise you. Normally when the son or daughter of a previous president runs for office, they will get it no matter whether or not their father was indicted for corruption. Sucession is seemingly just the done thing a lot of the time. However this year that theory backfired for Keiko Fujimori after she narrowly lost the Peruvian presidential election to Ollanta Humala, the former army office who attempted a coup to throw her father Alberto out of office in the first place. What was not so new was Humala’s position as a populist, left-wing firebrand who promised the usual redistribution of wealth, an end to corruption and cronyism and an end to drug cartel influence in Peru. After he was sworn in this summer he began to his campaign to rid the police force of corrupt officers, forcing 30 out of 45 police generals in retirement in October. However critics say this was a tactical move to get rid of his enemies and stuff the force with his allies. Peru retains the highest perception of crime against its actual crime rate than in any other Latin American country, it is also the world’s second largest producer of cocaine after Colombia but its detection and eradication rates are much lower. Humala also invested in another 5000 troops to create what he claims will be a stable and reliable police force. However, he now faces a new challenge as he tries to meet the mining and gas interests in his country while still placating the thousands of protests against the projects which are swarming around Peru. He pushed through a law meaning companies have to consult local communities before developing and imposed a $3 billion mining tax but he is currently walking a tightrope between his countries interests and their finances.

Chavez’ Cancer Plot: Despite strenuous denials, Venezula’s Hugo Chavez finally announced what the world already guessed back in July; that the reason he was going to Cuba was to seek medical treatment for an unspecified form of cancer. This comes a huge setback to the leader who needs to be filled with his usual amount of energy to get through the upcoming election in 2012. Instead of putting this done to misfortune, Chavez publicly speculated whether it could have anything to do with US dislike for his socialist self-styled ‘revolutionary’ politics that are at odds with American foreign policy in the region. He claimed in December, whilst at pains to stress that it was not an accusation, that the USA may have engineered a plot to infect Latin America leaders with cancer in light of the news that Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will undergo treatment for thyroid cancer in January. He said he was not making an accusation but noted that the evidence that the USA infected over 2500 Guatemalans with STDs during medical experiments in the 1940s and warned Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, to ‘be careful’.

Haiti’s Reconstruction: After the devastation of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 there was an outpouring of aid and sympathy from the Western world as money and help was pledged to get Haiti back on its feet again. Already one of the world’s poorest countries, the small Caribbean island struggled to get back on its feet and the world’s news cameras drifted away to other disasters such as the Pakistan floods. A year later the cameras return to document what progress had been made and then promptly left again. The Haiti Reconstruction Fund has been set up by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank and other donors to provide aid indefinitely to finance Haiti’s reconstruction. There has been some progress but there are still 600,000 people living in tents in the capital, Port-Au-Prince. In September 2011, the UN announced they were scaling back the number of peacekeepers in the country. Reconstruction has been hampered by the lack of authentic land ownership documentation and it is proving impossible to determine who owns what. The new President, Michel Martelly, a popular singer, was sworn in March 2011 and he has vowed to reform agriculture, streamlining the delivery of humanitarian aid and restoring law and order by bringing back the military disbanded a decade ago over human rights abuses.

Brazil’s ‘pacification’ of its slums: The residents of a sprawling slum, Rocinha, in Rio de Janiero woke up to the sounds of seven helicopters, 24 armoured vehicles and at least 3000 police officers in the early hours of a Sunday morning in November as Brazilian authorities started clearing the city of drug lords in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics being held in the city. Police Special Operations Unit (BOPE) carried out the removal of approximately 10,000 people from the hillside slum home to some of the city’s poorest inhabitants but situated next to one of the country’s most luxurious beach resorts. The slum, Rio’s largest, is said to be its largest drug provider and the aim of the operation was to root out drug gangs as part of the wider operation that has already hunted down 18 drug gangs.

Chile Protests: Much like in the rest of the world, for Chile 2011 was a year of protest. The biggest movement of the year as been the ongoing Education Protest with its supposed leader, Camilla Vallejo, becoming an internationally lauded figure in a way a British student protester could only dream of. There has been little investment in public education since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship in the early nineties, although university student numbers have swelled, private universities take most students. Due to public support for the movement, 72 to 81 per cent of Chileans polled in August said they supported their demands down to a still impressive two-thirds in November contrasted with failing approval ratings for President Sebastián Piñera down to 26-30 per cent, the government has been forced to make concessions by sacking their Education Minister (twice) and passing a bill that would end ‘for-profit’ education. So far one protester has been killed in violent clashes with hundreds of students being injured or arrested. The movement has inspired another, more peaceful protests from other disenfranchised groups in Chilean society.

A Review of the Year: United States and Canada in 2011

United States and Canada
Much like Europe in 2011 there seemed to be a non-stop conveyor belt of news in North America this year as political forces of all shapes and sizes in both countries went head to head over the hearts and minds of their people. The Tea Party gathered momentum in America as the Republican primaries for their 2012 presidential candidate kicked off, the debate about gun crime reached a tragic new low and much like the rest of Europe, America’s economy was again almost brought to its knees by bickering politicians.

Tucson, Arizona: Way back at the start of 2011, on 8th January when Southern Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with 18 others by a lone gunman outside a supermarket where she was meeting her constituents. Despite being shot in the head, Giffords survived the attack and after five months recuperation has made a limited return to the public eye however six others died including a nine-year old girl. The gunman, Jared Lee Loughner is said to have had ‘increasingly erratic’ behaviour over the few months leading up to the attack and had previously expressed misogynistic views about women in power and was apparently unsatisfied by her response to his attempts to contact her in 2007. However, in the days, weeks and months that followed the focus was once again to shifted to gun totting madwoman in chief, Sarah Palin as Giffords had already criticised her for having a map with gun crosses over her office and the offices of other Democrats prompting another debate about gun control.

Republican Party Primaries: The race for the Republican presidential nomination got into full swing this year with all candidates doing their level best to one up each other during the live debates before each being picked of by increasingly lurid scandals. First, was Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party’s favourite when Palin isn’t available, who was ousted from the debate when tapes emerged of her husband operating a clinic offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. She is still limping behind frontrunner Mitt Romney who it is said will ‘crush’ competition at the New Hampshire primary. Then there was Hermain Cain, a peculiar figure who was riding surprisingly high despite being a relative unknown, who was accused of sexually assaulting two women whilst head of the National Restaurant Association and mounted an even more peculiar defence. The race continues with a still rather eccentric cast of characters.

Canada Leaves The Kyoto Protocol: Canada is often seen as America’s calmer, saner and more rational cousin. Living on top it is seen as the hand on the shoulder of America that is sometimes needed to go ‘dude, just chill’. However all this changed in December when Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol during the climate change conference in Durban after they said the updated agreement would no longer be in Canada’s interests. Although Canada signed up to the agreement in 1997 under a liberal government, it has done little since then to act on it and after the Conservative government has come to power they seem reluctant to do anything at all. Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent, ‘The Kyoto protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, the United States and China, and therefore cannot work. It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.’ Canada is highly at risk from climate change due to deforestation and the polar ice caps melting and the North of the country’s wildlife is under threat by the ongoing exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands. This is one of several measures the Conservative government, which won its first majority in 2011 after running as a minority government since 2006, have enacted this year which has led to one Guardian commentator asking if Canada was being run by the Daily Mail including the abolition of the gun registry and banning full face veils.

DSK: The case of the hotel maid that accused former IMF leader, Dominique Strauss Kahn of attempted rape in New York this summer soon showed the ongoing gulf between the ‘accuser’ and the ‘accused’ when it comes to the rich and powerful. Nafissatou Diallo’s suit against Mr Kahn, who has been accused previously inappropriate behaviour with his female staff, was dropped due to a ‘lack of credibility’. The forensic evidence aside, this was yet another example of the accuser being forced to prove their innocence rather than prove the accused’s guilt. As she had lied on her visa application about being raped she was assumed to be attempting to extort money from Kahn and denied her day in court. Therefore DSK may not have been proven guilty but he hasn’t been proven innocent either.

Casey Murder Trial: What Time magazine called the ‘social media trial’ of the century was oddly forgotten by the British media this summer as it was embroiled in crucifying the likes of Rupert Murdoch and hundreds of young rioters in its court of public opinion to notice arguably the most hated woman in America stand trial for the alleged murder of her two-year old child. And be found not guilty. Casey Anthony was accused of murdering her two-year old child, Caylee in 2008 after the child’s body was found taped up and decaying near her grandparents’ house six months after going missing. It was later revealed that Casey’s mother, Cindy reported the child missing four days after she disappeared whilst Casey was spotted out partying with friends. She has been described by her own defence lawyers as an exceptional liar and it was almost certain that she had some involvement in the child’s death. She first tried to accuse her nanny of stealing the child, then claimed that the child had drowned in the grandparents’ pool and she had been sexually molested by her own father since the age of eight. Because of her callous reaction and her status as a single mother the case went from a local child death story to a nationwide tabloid sensation the trial of a so-called monster. The prosecution accused Anthony, of first degree murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated manslaughter and sought the death penalty. However she was eventually found not guilty and instead convicted of misdemeanours such as lying to police officers. With credit for time already served, she was released the following week.

The Debt Ceiling Fiasco: There is a lot of two and froing and ‘will they, won’t they’ in American politics but this year it almost brought America, and arguably the world, to its knees as another fiscal crisis lead to a seemingly endless debate between Democrats and Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. The Republicans weren’t willing to back down easily and Obama was not going to give into their demands to end some of the welfare spending so it looked for a while like America was about to default on its loans. At the eleventh hour an agreement was reached on 31st July and was ratified by Congress on 1st August, dramatically Gabrielle Giffords’, in her first return to Congress since the assassination attempt, signature on the bill was one of the few that tipped it in the majority and allowed to be passed on 2nd August.

Apple Loses Its Core: The tech industry suffered a massive blow this year as Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, died of pancreatic cancer aged 56 in October. He was primarily known for overseeing Apple’s explosion in popularity over the past fifteen years and the creation of Ipod, Iphone and Ipad ranges which have revolutionised modern technology. He had stepped down as CEO in August 2011 prompting questions over whether the Apple brand could survive without its leader and the share price did drop on news of his death but has since recovered.

A Review of the Year: Europe in 2011

Unlike Africa, which often seems to be forgotten about, Europe and its many, many crises never seem to be far from the headlines. 2011 was no exception with the trials and tribulations never far from the headlines. From electoral crises in Russia to media crises in Britain to financial crises everywhere, European affairs never seemed to slow down. Here is a rundown of the most important in case you miss anything:

Eurozone: If you were to explain the European debt crisis to an idoit you’re best bet would probably be along the lines of ‘Euro go BOOM’. Truth is there are probably few people who really understand the ins and outs of it. Regardless, the EU is up shit creek with its only paddle being an extremely reluctant Angela Merkel. First Greece realised that it was unable to pay the interest on its domestic debts and was about to default and take every economy in the Eurozone with it. Then Ireland and Portugal jumped in on the action with Spain and Italy teetering on the edge eventually cost the heads of the Socialist Party of Spain, which lost an election in November and the Carry On Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi who was forced to resign in December. This lead to frantic discussions between Merkozy- or Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Europe’s second weirdest power couple after Cameron and Clegg- over ‘what to do about the debt’ that Cameron dipped in and out of before causing another crisis by dropping out of the treaty they eventually drew up. The soap opera continues.

Greece: Poor Greece. You make the tiniest alteration to your fiscal health reports to get you into an exclusive fiscal club and then find yourself dealing with dire consequences eight years later and all the doctors helping you can say is ‘its your own fault’ and ‘you should have known better’. A series of economic reforms in Greece in the early part of last decade that meant they were able to borrow more easily and as a result they were forced to go to the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to borrow a ‘international rescue package’ to the tune of £111bn. In order to ensure there would be no further bailouts the Greek parliament introduced a number of austerity measures that led to rioting on the streets and the resignation of the Greek Prime Minister over giving the people a referendum on the measures.

Italy: Next up to have their own meltdown was Italy who were suffering from the onset of ‘a liquidty’ crisis as there were no bankers to buy the fancy cars and other luxury items the Italian economy rests on. Furthermore the ongoing structural problems such as corruption continued to rackle. Italy is a country were approximately 0.17 per cent of the population pay tax and most young people go abroad to find work as there are few jobs avaliable to those without connections in any particualr industry. Silvio Berlusconi provided light relief for the most of the year before the sex scandals, the gaffes and the cronyism got too much and Berlusconi was booted out to stand trial for sex with an underage prostitute.

Britain: The British economy did not default in 2011 but judging by the behaviour of its citizens you would not be surprised. There were protests about public sector pensions, tuition fee rises, cuts to public services, closing libraries. It would seem anything and everything made people take to the streets in protest. In August, they even took to the streets to loot their local Adidas. Then from October onwards they took up residence in St Paul’s Cathedral to protest against the entire financial and social system of Britain. The government’s plans to counter this was to stick their fingers in their ears, lock them up and wave a shiny, expensive distraction in their face. An outside observer commenting on Britain would say the country seemed to be in chaos and there was little organised or harmonious political process to be had this year as the British public no longer trusted their government, their media or even each other. Oooh, but wasn’t the wedding lovely?

Russia: Another country, another protest. The Economist review of the year confidently predicted that Vladmir Putin would win the Presidental election planned for 2012. However, recent protests across Russia have made the previously rock solid Putin regime seem rocky for the first time. Russia has never had a long and illustrious track record when it comes to democracy but the continued efforts of thousands of people in Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities in Russia show signs that Putin made not be able to make these allegations of election fraud ‘disappear’.

Norway: The world was reminded that terroism doesn’t just come in Muslim shaped packages this summer as Anders Behring Breivik went on a shooting spree killing 37 teenagers at a political camp on the island of Uteya this July, hours after detonating a bomb that killed seven in the national capital, Oslo. Breivik has subsequently been declared criminally insane and will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution. The shocking nature of his crime however, exposed the hitherto unremarked but sizable presence of a Neo-Nazi movement in Scandinavina and the national- and international- tragedy has reminded people not to become to complacent and there are evil people do unimaginably evil deeds all the time and they do not fit into easily recognisable boxes.

A Review of the Year: Africa in 2011

Africa often calls itself the ‘ignored continent’ because whatever is happening there is often pushed down the news queue in favour events in wealthier nations. However this year, African soil was the birthplace of the Arab Spring and this year’s UN intervention which was covered yesterday in the review of the Middle East. Not only that sub-saharan Africa, the subject of this article, saw quite a lot of action not go unnoticed by the world’s media such as:

South Sudan: After decades of civil war and bloodshed spilt between its two halves, Sudan’s southern Christian areas voted to secede to form the world’s newest country, South Sudan in an overwhelming majority at a referendum in January. Since their official independence day in July, they have declared their official language as English over Arabic, controversial as few in the country speak it fluently and suffered the teething problems of a new state with a hostile neighbour to their north. In the past few days there have been reports of air attacks by the (northern) Sudanese military and cattle herders in the far west of the country are reported to have been killed. Although the division, instigated by the UN in 2005, was supposed to put an end to war but it seems like the old factions are still not prepared to go down without a fight.

Ivory Coast:Although it was once a paragon of virtue for good African government, the Cote d’Ivoire has been torn between sectarian disputes for around ten years and the election in November 2010 was supposed to bring the country back into the democratic fold. However, instead of bowing out gracefully after losing the election, incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down from power and instigated a civil war for four months until he was captured in his compound by opposition forces loyal to internationally recognised successor, Alassane Ouattara in February. The dry run for the Arab Spring has left the country struggling to get back on its feet as many are many have fled into neighbouring states and are still living as refugees after the rebels terrorized civilians. There is hope for restored stability however as Gbagbo was taken to the Hague in November to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Cape Verde: In the wake of Gbagbo’s ungracious exit from power, former President of the nearby island of Cape Verde, Pedro Verona Pires, was awarded the $5 million Mo Ibrahim Prize in October for leaving office peacefully. Pires was instrumental in the tiny island’s independence from Portugal in 1975 and transitioned the country from autocracy to democracy even when it met he lost the election that he instigated. The award was set up by Sudanese Telecoms giant Mo Ibrahim to encourage better government across Africa but tellingly was not awarded in 2009 and 2010 due the lack of a credible candidate.

Nigeria: It is far too early to say but another potential contender for a future Mo Ibrahim prize may be the new President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan. After many years of rigging at the polls, the election Jonathan presided over in June this year was regarded as the fairest in recent memory according to international watchdogs. Jonathan hopes to bring an end to political tribalism and sectarian or religious violence but ushering Nigeria into a proper democracy. However, the ratification of an anti-gay rights bill and the raiding of a newspaper office after they published an alleged letter by the former President criticising the new government. Additionally, Islamist terroist group, Boko Haram have done everything to derail this process with an ampted up campaign of violence culminating in the attack on a Church in the capital Abuja on Christmas Day were 37 people were killed. Jonathan vows to ‘crush’ the group and has called for a state of emergency in parts of the country. Where this will end up and to what ends he goes to do fight Boko Haram remains to be seen.

Gay Rights: For the African LGBT movement, 2011 did not get off to a good start. Uganda, whose HIV laws have effectively made it illegal to be homosexual, lost one of its major gay rights activists in January as David Kato was beaten to death after Uganda’s Rolling Stone magazine published pictures of men they claimed were homosexuals under the headline ‘Hang Them’. Human Rights Watch urged immediate investigation into Kato’s death. Meanwhile in Cameroon, gay rights lawyer, Alice Nkom said in November that she was receiving death threats from other lawyers and the situation was detoriating with illegal imprisonment and torture. Under Cameroon’s law, which also ratifies human rights leglislation, to be convicted of homosexuality you must be caught n delecto flagrante and cares a sentence of six months to five years. However, Nkom says that men are being arrested and locked up immediately for ‘looking effeminate’ or wearing makeup. Meanwhile in South Africa, lesbian women are still living in fear of social ostracisation and ‘corrective rape’ according to a report by Human Rights’ Watch entitled ‘We’ll Show You You’re A Women’.

South Africa: Speaking of Sub-Saharan Africa’s richest country, the ruling party the ANC, ruled to ban popular and youthful firebrand, Julius Malema from the party for five years. Despite being elected unopposed as the President of African National Congress Youth League back in June, Malema was facing expulsion for ‘sowing divisions with the ranks of the ANC’ and ‘bringing the party into disrepute’. An outspoken critic of President Jacob Zuma and said he was ready to kill him in 2008. He had already broken ranks with his support of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and support for regime change in Botswana which the party regarded as working with imperialists. This signifies ongoing divisions and weaknesses within the party that has been ruling South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Liberia: Finally some good news. Liberia is normally associated with Charles Taylor, its brutal President up until 2003, especially after his war crimes trial last year which sensationally involved British supermodel Naomi Campbell. However this year saw it recognised for its good government with its’ President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sharing the award with fellow Liberian, peace activist Leymah Gbowee and a Yemeni pro-democracy campaigner Tawakkol Karman for their ‘non-violent’ work for women’s rights. Mrs Sirleaf is Africa’s first female elected head of state and its credited with ending 14 years of civil war and Ms Gbowee lead a peaceful campaign to oust Mr Taylor.