2010 was a tough one overall. Public discontent with governments and economic policy brought people out on the streets to protest. US wars, occupation and threat of war in the Middle East and Asia were never far from the headlines. Elections around the world led to further tensions in most cases. There were few outright winners and many more losers, with most developments a mixed bag. Eric Walberg and Gamal Nkrumah reflect on this year and look ahead
An unlikely coalition of Britain's Conservatives and Social Democrats ended 13 years of Labour rule -- Britain's first coalition government since WWII, when the wartime unity government was led by Winston Churchill with Labour in tow. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is now Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's deputy, replacing Gordon Brown and his New Labour, which would have been a better ideological fit for the Lib Dems. The 43-year-old Cameron calls for a "compassionate Conservatism" but his drastic reductions in social spending have caused students to riot. The Lib Dems are hoping to survive this deadly embrace to achieve their Holy Grail, a referendum on proportional representation after five long years. A new Labour leader David Miliband hinted that Labour will move away from Blair's neoliberalism.
The Greeks, Irish and Europe's Muslims suffered setbacks. The aftershocks of the US financial meltdown of 2008-09 gave a battering to Euro "pompous pride as the centre of human rights, giver of moral lessons to the world" as the northern Europeans turned against their southern PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), with Ireland the latest casualty (making it the PIIGS), a chilling throwback to Orwell's Animal Farm. Greece was portrayed as the Aesopian carefree life of the cricket to the Germans' ant, who grudgingly coughed up billions of euros to satisfy the bankers threatening to bankrupt the Euro- farm and set off a euro-domino.
But bankers' ledgers show the entire Western world is in hock to them, and each country will soon face its own day of reckoning. The only European country that survived the bankers' attack was Iceland, not a member of the EU, and hence able to devalue its krona and tell the bankers to go to hell.
A joint IMF-ILO report warns, "The Great Recession has left gaping wounds. High and long- lasting unemployment represents a risk to the stability of existing democracies." The Independent 's Sean O'Grady predicts such actions "promise to be just the start of the greatest demonstration of public unrest seen on the continent since the revolutionary fervour of 1968."
Political shifts are happening -- the German socialists, Die Linke, vie with the Social Democrats for second place, as Germans rediscover the truths of their 19th century oracle Karl Marx. Even in Latvia, coalition of socialists (the party of the Russian Latvians) and social democrats became the second largest political force in October elections.
Euro-Muslims were humiliated when France and Belgium outlawed the niqab, and Switzerland passed laws forbidding the building of minarets and requiring deportation of any immigrants caught without the proper documents or otherwise incarcerated.
Presidential elections in January-February in Ukraine brought an end to the Orange Revolution. Relations with Russia are on the mend. The two countries are much closer than, say, the US and Canada -- a playful opinion poll showed that a clear majority of Ukrainians would have elected Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president if he had run. Russia was assured use of the Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol till 2042, in exchange for a reduction in gas fees.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed economic deals with Syria and Turkey. Russia will upgrade the former Soviet naval base in Tartus, which along with the Ukrainian naval bases will give Russia a much higher profile in the region. Turkey will get gas and oil pipelines and a nuclear power station. Ukraine, Syria, Turkey -- these rapid developments are a renewal of Soviet foreign policy, albeit in a very different form. But there is much discontent simmering below the surface of United Russian rule, with "A Just Russia" showing new pluck, and racist demonstrations and hooliganism making the headlines.
While pundits talk about Taliban successes (less about US successes), these words ring hollow, as the daily death count continues to surge in AfPak. No one talks about Pakistani successes, though the Pakistan military is raking in billions of dollars worth of deadly arms and has the benefit of hundreds of US advisers on how to kill more rebels more efficiently. 2010 heard lots of words about negotiations with the resurgent Taliban, but the most hoped for breakthrough with a Taliban negotiator turned into a farce when the individual identified as Taliban No 2 Mullah Akhtar Mohamed Mansour was exposed as a simple shopkeeper from Quetta, Pakistan.
The NATO forces numbering 150,000 proceeded with their offensives in Marja and Kandahar. The latest innovation is the hiring of local private armies run by warlords such as Matiullah Khan, an illiterate former highway patrol commander, now the head of a private army that guards NATO supply convoys. Matiullahs are sprouting up "like grass", fertilised by huge cash payments from the Americans, loose cannons undermining the local governments which NATO is supposedly trying to strengthen, spreading violence and chaos when thwarted. These mercenaries kill people who refuse to use their "security services", bribe the Taliban to allow safe passage, enlist them to do their dirty work, and, like the president's brother Ahmed Karzai, are involved in the opium trade. "We're funding both sides of the war," a NATO official said glumly.
China also had a checkered year, with its economy continuing to outperform the rest of the world, but now held hostage to the US financially, with the US demanding that China revalue its yuan to cut off, say $0.5 trillion from its $2 trillion IOU. To press the point, the US held multiple military exercises with China's neighbours in the Yellow and South China seas, insisting that no place in off- bounds for the US military, ratcheting up the level of tensions as it surrounds China geopolitically and financially. A newly belligerent South Korea came close to war with its northern cousins with its provocative military "exercises" in disputed waters off the northern coast. The US responded -- with more military exercises.
Obama claims he is the first US president with an "Asia-Pacific orientation". Watch out when Washington "orients" itself towards you. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Hawaii early this year that the future of America is closely linked to the Asian Pacific. Watch out when you are "linked" to America.
Brazil 's new President-elect Dilma Rousseff and US bête noire Venezuela n President Hugo Chavez confirmed their path of some kind of socialism in elections, and Ecuador 's socialist President Rafael Correa survived a coup attempt which had all the old marks of US-backed security forces discontent (this time by the police, with loyal army troops coming to Correa's rescue). Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia recognised Palestine as a sovereign state with the pre-1967 borders, with Paraguay soon to follow suit.
In the US mid-term elections, Republicans gained a 237-198 majority in the House, and six seats in the Senate, giving them 47 to the Democrats' 53 in the Senate. This was a clear repudiation of Obama's Bush-lite presidency. By failing to find a way to undo Bush's policies, and introducing a healthcare policy that mostly benefits corporate insurance providers, the enthusiasm Obama gave rise to, gave way to an extreme rightwing Tea Party movement reaction which has elected more Bush-like politicians than ever.
But the real problem is more Congress -- Obama has nothing to lose now by sticking to his principles. He can still rally Americans by pushing ahead with arms control (which he did as the year came to a close, nursing START through a reluctant Senate) and climate change measures, carrying through on his vow to end the war in Afghanistan next year, pressuring Israel to abide by international norms, thereby showing the Washington beltway cabal for what it is.
The big story -- downplayed in mainstream media -- is the new journalism. WikiLeaks captivated the world of journalism by exposing 3/4 of a million secrets during the year, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer and ending with 250,000 US diplomatic notes (1966-2009) in November, revealing a US diplomatic world increasingly acting as a branch of the CIA, and the cynicism of both Western and Arab regimes anxious to destroy Iran.
The leaks have been hailed as a blow to US criminal activity by people around the world, including Congressman Ron Paul and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who called for Assange to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Hillary Clinton called them "an attack on America's foreign-policy interests" and "the international community". Cyber guerrillas -- hacktivists -- launched Operation Avenge Assange targeting credit card firms and servers companies which joined the US campaign against Assange, jamming sites by bombarding them with data requests.
The world environment continues to be besieged by human activity. The tragic earthquake and floods of Haiti were compounded by deforestation and overpopulation, making both the poor and mother nature the biggest losers of 2010. The much- heralded UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun was a slight improvement on the disaster at Copenhagen last year. All countries, including the US and China, agreed to voluntary emission limits for the first time, and to abide by international standards to measure their carbon footprint.
Elections in 2010 in Ivory Coast, Sudan, Guinea and Ethiopia were disappointing, and in Ivory Coast, downright dangerous, where the loser refused to step down and is using the army to kill oppositionists.
Setbacks in the nascent democratisation process of several African countries call for a fresh approach. Several key African nations will witness presidential elections in 2011. Perhaps the most critical of these presidential polls was the 9 April presidential ballot in Nigeria. Incumbent Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is having some trouble controlling the ruling People's Democratic Party with powerful northern Nigerian Muslim cliques objecting to the leadership of a southern Christian.
Indeed, religious rhetoric may cause more political troubles in Nigeria in 2011. This crisis of religious zealotry will emerge as a grave concern in several African nations including Nigeria.
The death of former Nigerian president Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim northerner, plus procrastination on dealing squarely with religious questions proved to be a setback for the Nigerian democratic process. Nigerian politicians must come out with a clear-sighted solution to this crisis. A sensible strategy for the coming years will stave off political unrest on religious grounds.
The religious crisis in Nigeria plus social and political unrest in the country's Niger Delta oil- producing region is sure to darken broader investment sentiment in resource-rich Nigeria.
Neighbouring Ghana will learn from the Nigerian experience. In 2010 Ghana became the latest oil- producing African nation with its offshore Jubilee Field. The Ghanaian government must learn how to distribute the oil revenue wisely if it is to avoid the pitfalls of other African oil-producing nations. Oil wealth must be used to accelerate economic and social development.
Another oil-producing West African nation that shares the religious divide of Nigeria is Ivory Coast. In 2011, it will be interesting to see how the country resolves the crisis resulting from the reluctance of the incumbent Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo to bow out gracefully from office and accede the victory at the polls of the democratically-elected President Al-Hassan Ouattara. Gbagbo, a Christian southerner, has the support of the mainly southern Christian army and the country may slide into civil war if the crisis is not resolved in 2011.
In East Africa, all eyes will be on Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, will face once again his rival contender Besigye Besigye. Museveni has ruled Uganda with an iron fist and he easily won the presidency in the last two presidential polls. He is admired in the West for his liberal economic management and pro-Western foreign policies. Uganda strategically straddles the sources of the Nile in the heart of the Great Lakes region. Its political stability is of vital importance to its numerous neighbours as well as to Western powers who regard Museveni as a key ally in the war against terrorism.
In southern Africa the picture is more complex. Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe will step up his campaign to hold a referendum on a new constitution in 2011. His Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, will oppose him. General elections are also on the cards in Zimbabwe next year.
In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will continue to be bedeviled by political infighting. The ANC Youth League, a militant organisation championing the rights of poor and disadvantaged people, will step up its campaign to push for the nationalisation of the mines of the mineral-rich nation. Political observers will be watching how the ANC fares in municipal elections in 2011.
Land rights and land reform will continue to dog the countries of southern Africa as poor African peasants that are pressing harder for the distribution of land in favour of the disadvantaged black farmers and landless farm workers. It is hard to see how this problem can be resolved peacefully in 2011 without causing widespread social upheaval such as that which followed Zimbabwe's President land grab policy.
Deferring the land reform question will, of course, lead to additional political problems for countries such as South Africa and Namibia where white commercial farmers continue to appropriate the choice agricultural land.
The white elite is desperately clinging to some vague assurances given to them by the governments of these countries. But the scale of black discontent is fast rising. Ruling parties such as the ANC in South Africa are finding it increasingly hard to maintain that they have delivered a clean break for the disadvantaged black majority that it originally promised in the aftermath of the apartheid system.
President Hosni Mubarak has identified water security in his recent speeches to parliamentarians of the People's Assembly and Shura Council as well as to the ruling National Democratic Party congress as the primary concern of the Egyptian government. Mubarak stressed the critical importance of securing Egypt's water resources.
Water, as Mohamed Hassanein Heikal in his Al-Jazeera programme recently stressed, is the primary national security concern for Egypt. The Nile Basin countries are part of the strategic depth of Egypt and their political stability and economic prosperity are of pivotal interest to Egypt. The country is dependent on this impoverished region of Africa for its water security. The Nile Basin region intrigues, but it is the most interesting -- and the most controversial topic of contemporary political discussion in the African continent.
The countries of the Nile Basin are currently undergoing groundbreaking political regeneration. The democratisation process is pressing ahead and the development of the region has become a priority for African economic renaissance. The Nile Basin nations are among the continent's most underdeveloped and the poorest. All social and economic indications demonstrate that the region is in turmoil. Sudan, facing a referendum on the future of southern Sudan in less than a fortnight, is in political tatters. Sudanese Omar Hassan Al-Bashir has threatened to promulgate stricter Islamic Sharia law if the southerners secede. In such an eventuality, northern Sudan would become the focus of the wrath of secular states such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and newly independent southern Sudan.
The International Criminal Court has indicted the Sudanese president for genocide and war crimes and the very sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sudan is at stake. Sudan is a country on the precipice. The Sudanese people are at a critical historical juncture and if the country does indeed split into two rival states, the entire question of the distribution of the Nile waters will have to be re- examined. The secession of southern Sudan will have grave implications for the water security concerns of countries like Egypt.
Ethiopia, meanwhile, is a country that is undergoing equally solemn ramifications. Addis Ababa has emerged as a linchpin of the Western anti-terror strategies in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia is at loggerheads with militant Islamists in Somalia and other parts of the region. Ethiopia, a country with some 85 million people, is the main source of Blue Nile waters. Ethiopia provides 85 per cent of Egypt water and the country has strong traditional cultural relations with Egypt. It is therefore of paramount importance for Cairo to cultivate stronger and deeper relations with Addis Ababa. It is in the interest of the two countries to cement closer ties -- political, economic and cultural.
Julian Assange is nothing short of a legend after a year of leaks. The 39-year-old Assange is an Australian citizen, described by colleagues as charismatic, driven and highly intelligent, with an exceptional ability to crack computer codes. He gave himself up on 7 December to Scotland Yard and will face trial and extradition to Sweden, accused of rape in trumped-up cases involving consensual relations, one an obvious "honey trap" by a CIA plant and the other a spurned Lewinsky-like groupie. He began WikiLeaks in 2006 as a "dead-letterbox" for would-be leakers. His collective developed a Robin Hood guerrilla lifestyle, moving communications and people from country to country to make use of laws protecting freedom of speech. Co-founder Daniel Schmitt describes Assange as "one of the few people who really care about positive reform in this world to a level where you're willing to do something radical".
US prosecutors are building a case of espionage against Assange, putting him in league with another exposer of US military secrets, Jonathan Pollard, who unlike Assange did not black out sensitive names and expose the secrets to broad daylight. Instead, he sold the secrets to Israel, and a dozen CIA agents lost their lives in the Soviet Union. In contrast, the legendary Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, like Assange, gave himself up and faced the music. A sympathetic judge dismissed all charges against him in 1973. Sadly, opinion polls today show a majority of Americans captive to the current culture of official secrecy, disapproving of WikiLeaks. Will Assange suffer a fate like Pollard or Ellsberg?
Humam Khalil Al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Jordanian doctor, killed himself, seven CIA agents and a Jordanian intelligence officer in Khost, Afghanistan in what has been described as the biggest operation against the CIA since the 1983 attack on the US Marines base in Beirut. The attack blew the cover of Jordan's clandestine cooperation with the CIA in Afghanistan. Sharif Ali Bin Zaid, a member of the royal Hashemite's extended family, was the Jordanian among the dead, and was given a royal funeral by King Abdullah II as a martyr killed in the line of duty during his "humanitarian service" in Afghanistan.
George W Bush -- The ex-US president unveiled his memoirs Decision Points, a pastiche of Internet quotes and bits and pieces of others' thoughts, an embarrassing cut-and-paste job by a ghost writer, with nothing new, except for a tiny bombshell, when he insisted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gave him the green light to invade Iraq. The real story is the Egyptians warned him against invading, that if indeed Saddam Hussein had WMDs, he wouldn't hesitate to use them on US invaders. One shudders to realise the world actually survived eight years of the hard-of-hearing, scatter-brain Bush at the world's helm.
Richard Holbrooke (24 April 1941-13 December 2010), the empire's fixer in tough spots, surely holds the Guinness Book of Records for the number of hats he wore: diplomat (to Germany and the UN), Peace Corps director (in Morocco), managing director of Lehman Brothers, assistant secretary of state (twice). He led the effort to enlarge NATO and "resolved" the Balkans crisis with the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995 (by lying to both Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic about their fates and the fate of Serbia). Another achievement was to get the UN to slash US membership dues in 2000 despite a booming American economy.
He may actually have done some good at least once in his long, shadowy career, by using his extensive contacts to collect corporate donations for the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, expanding it to include malaria and tuberculosis in 2006. However, he will always be linked with Indonesia and the last of Suharto's many brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in 1977 in which tens of thousands of East Timorese were killed, even as he was visiting Suharto, praising him for his human rights record and facilitating the flow of weapons to Indonesia. His final months were spent as Obama's special envoy to AfPak, where his diplomatic and business skills failed him, ignored and dismissed as an out-of-the-loop has-been.
David Petraeus was 2010's wunderkind, parachuting in to command US troops in Afghanistan after the summary firing of Stanley McChrystal (see "2010 Famous Last Words"). The myth is that he transformed a chaotic Iraq into a stable US ally by quelling the Sunni insurgency against the US-led occupation and ending civil war in Baghdad and central Iraq between Sunni and Shia Arabs. But the reality was to buy off Sunnis for a while and to preside over the ethnic cleansing of the areas of conflict. Afghans now fear he is going to reproduce this recipe for civil war in their country at the head of Obama's surges in Marja, Kandahar and the north. GOPers see him as the Republican's rising star as presidential contender in 2012, though it's hard to imagine that he will have much to his credit by then for all his efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his US counterpart Barack Obama made headlines in 2010 as the bright young things -- respectively 45 and 49 years old -- changing the deteriorating face of Russian-US relations. Barack's reset button was pressed, Dmitri opened the door, gave his new friend START, missile defence, sanctions on Iran and cancellation of its promised (truly) defensive missiles.
But Obama is being forced by events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel to come to terms with reality, returning to what was traditionally known as realpolitik, in Russian, so to speak, détente. His new friend Dmitri is making other realpolitik friends in Europe, courting Sarkozy and Merkel with plans for closer integration, a visa-free regime and a new Euro-Russian security agreement -- minus the US and NATO.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his better half, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, met for the umpteenth time in November to announce ambitious trade and development plans linking China's economic dynamo with Russia's vast spaces and abundant resources in Siberia, all to be conducted without US dollars. Eurasianist Putin and Atlantist Medvedev are putting on their Euro-Sino life jackets as the USS Titanic sinks in Afghanistan. Just as Napoleon and Hitler were destroyed by overstretch, so NATO and the US itself are living on borrowed time (and increasingly meaningless US dollars). Despite the inertia of the Bush legacy, the world is rediscovering traditional balance-of-power international relations. The Putin/Medvedev policy is to patiently push ahead with a European project, restructuring the economy along European lines, all the while maintaining an independent military force, using groupings like BRIC, the SCO and CSTO.