Reflecting 2016, A Remarkable Year of Women.
Updated: Jan 21, 2020
So much happened in 2016. History was made, and history was changed. We glued our eyes to the screens, to the papers, and our ears to radios more than we ever did. Our emotions were left vulnerable to chance. The young village trader from Ngoma in Rwanda, the elderly farmer in Naryn in Kyrgyzstan, or the SACCO member in Adami Tullu in Ethiopia, came to know Donald Trump, or simply, The Donald. Big and small media made bucks.
Speaking of big money, OPEC made a one-eighty at the end of November, announcing oil cuts that would to end years of low revenues. Restricted supply is expected to stimulate prices, which suffered greatly from slower global demand and the increase of production of oil and gas in key markets. As the year closes, prices are slowly rising, although the promise of recovery in OPEC countries remains another story.
Natural disasters rocked the planet at the hand of climate change, nature and human action. Deadly earthquakes in Haiti, Italy and Indonesia have affected millions of people. Droughts in East and Southern Africa continue to rid tables of food for mainly the poor. Although it was a relatively better year for aviation, the November crash that wiped out almost an entire Brazilian soccer team in Colombia gripped the world with sadness, as was the Pakistani International Airlines flight that killed 47. Syria’s domestic woes have reached new heights, leaving Syrians relishing every breath, every second. The lucky have left, opting to take a blind chance at life elsewhere. Not a year to proudly call oneself Syrian.
The political scene has had its stories too. Starting on a lighter note, following the 2015 lifting of the Cuban trade embargo, President Barak Obama stepped onto Cuban soil, the first time for a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. It was a symbol of reconciliation and thawing of international politics that many never hoped to see in this lifetime. Mr. Obama’s historic stroll alongside Raul Castro on 21 March in Havana was potentially the present-day political equivalent of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing. In May 2016, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte was born into Asia’s political history. Mr. Duterte, a self-proclaimed killer, vowed to deliver Filipinos from the country’s largest plague called drug dealing. His resolve, kill every suspect!
Closer to home, Jacob Zuma mastered the evasion of impeachments like no other president has done, while John Mahama of Ghana gracefully conceded defeat to New Patriotic Party’s Nana Akufo-Addo. Mr. Mahama, admittedly, blamed the loss to himself and his cronies. But Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia was not going to have any of it. He made news for losing grip on a 22-year dictatorship, then for conceding, and then for throwing out his concession a week later. Welcome news, however, came from Angola on 2 December, when José Eduardo Dos Santos announced he’s bidding farewell to power in 2017. Our eyes will turn to Angola for much of 2017, to watch this historic transition, cautiously since Mr. Dos Santos has made such promises before.
In October, there was a funeral in Malawi, and we buried our version of Gestapo figure in one Gwandanguluwe Chakuamba. This was eventually expected, after Malawians had sent the man to his maker and back several times over. But more bewildering remains that our beloved Amayi, Joyce Banda, spent another full year missing from home.
2016 was not a very good year for international migrants. Neither has it been for liberal left-wing politics. And the two issues have been quite intertwined in international politics. Nationalism firmed up in Europe and the United States, where bottom-line politics have been reduced to immigration, in light of unprecedented movements of refugees and asylum seekers. Consequently, the unexpected happened when the United Kingdom voted itself out of the European Union in June, followed by a historic Donald Trump win in November, the fall of Italy's Matteo Renzi on 12 December, along with the rise of rightist populism in Austria, France and Germany, just to mention a few examples. The world keenly watches as French Nationalist Marine le Pen rises to popularity ahead of the 2017 French elections. Canada and Austria became notable exceptions, in their own ways.
In general, it was the political year of madmen. And women. But no story underlined the events of 2016 like the rise and fall of women.
We recall that feat of nationalistic rage that made Petra Laszlo, a Hungarian camerawoman, infamous in September 2015 when she was filmed kicking Syrian asylum seekers trying to enter Hungarian borders. Her employers bid her goodbye. This year, she was charged for breach of peace, although the other side of her slice was buttered with an award for doing a state-funded documentary depicting Hungary’s fight against Russian domination during the Soviet days. Ms. Laszlo’s unfortunate act was only going to be the affirmation of an overt expression of growing nationalism across the world.
Probably one of the brightest moments in gendered politics was the presidency of Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic (CAR). As interim leader, Ms. Samba-Panza did what most men in the CAR sucked at: halting the country’s worst civil atrocities and paving way to civilian rule. In March, Ms. Samba-Panza upheld the constitution by handing the reigns to Mr. Faustin-Archange Touadera, an election victor who is already struggling to keep the CAR together.
Not all women leaders are exiting the year with a grin on their faces. On 31 August 2016, the Brazilian Senate said “you’re fired!” to Dilma Rousself, with an upsetting 61-20 vote. Mrs. Rousself relayed power to her vice president, 75-year old Michel Temer, a human not far from graft himself. More may follow, since the impeachment was symbolic of some pretty serious crimes. But, it is also credible to think there may be no repercussions if the hysteria was all about handing the presidency back to a male. Further up North, in early November, the political ground was shaking harder for another woman. Hilary Clinton lost an election the world thought was a done deal, to a political virgin and nationalist. The reasons behind this…well, complicated.
Later in November, Angela Merkel started remaking history as potentially the longest serving leader to have ruled the post-World War II Germany. Mrs. Merkel got the nod of her Christian Democratic Union to run for a fourth term in 2017. Mrs. Merkel’s smile was visible, yet her inside was filled with deep despair for the future. Germany, like its European neighbors, would not be spared from mounting nationalist populism. This time, Mrs. Merkel will have to traverse the next election with lukewarm liberalism, treading her words carefully every time she hears “Syria,” “refugee,” “Islam,” or “migration” mentioned in front of her voters.
In the meantime, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was wishing she could be in Mrs. Merkel’s bitter-sweet shoes, as she was nursing the nasty side of being too friendly while in office. After weeks of millions of Koreans on Seoul’s streets, on 9 December, parliament voted for her impeachment. And, like Mrs. Rousself, she may face criminal proceedings for letting a close friend in on matters of governance a bit too deeply. Ms. Choi Soon-sil, the now famous confidante of Ms. Park who unofficially influenced South Korea’s public policy-making, is herself answering some tough questions.
The seal on the cap was 12 December. The United Nations swore in Antonio Guterres, a seasoned Portuguese diplomat who banished the hopes for a female in the UN’s top job, at least for the next five years. The pressure from lobbyists and advocates was not persuasive enough as the UN Security Council drew straws, making it clearer with every successive draw. Even the most likely female candidates such as New Zealand’s Helen Clark, Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova and Argentina’s Susana Malcorra steadily disappeared from the pivotal symbolism the intergovernmental development body would have displayed if a woman were to emerge victorious.
Although many of our 2016 stories mainly denote huge failures, we cannot overlook the rise of gender equality and women’s empowerment to prominence in the public spheres. For the United Nations, it will no longer be strange in subsequent selections to see prominent women continue the fight, as it will not be so strange to see a woman eventually triumph. In actual fact, Mr. Guterres has already appointed three women to high UN offices, including the Office of the Deputy Secretary General.
However, our worry is vested in the domestic politics in countries where ousting of female presidents and aspirants may exemplify a vote of no confidence, including in the U.S. In many countries where women have to lead in these first decades of the third millennium, the socio-economic challenges they have to overcome surpass the shift of mentality on gender equality.
However, if women can keep the spirit and succeed in the coming years, their impact will have changed the world…and life as we know it.
To all our readers, You were great in 2016...See you in 2017!