Days, weeks, months and years all pass us by with such an intolerable flurry of speed. We are then left with no alternative but to sit back and wonder how it all could have ever unraveled so unexpectedly. Some periods affect us, far more deeply than others and require our utmost attention and contemplation.
Without a doubt, this year, the cumbersome 2016 was one such period. Let us begin with some of the most extraordinary local events that made our news radar in Ethiopia.
The frequent and sometimes violent civil unrests were the most dominant news. This was especially true during the summer where most of the youth population takes a break from school. The mass protests mainly broke out in the Oromia and Amhara regions, where massive sums of public and private properties were damaged.
Far more poignant was the number of innocent civilian lives that perished. Based on rumors of the National College Entrance exams being stolen, most mobile data were blocked. I wonder if the Ministry of Education was hacked or the exams were stolen.
Where the perpetrators brought to justice?
Nonetheless, the most unexpected local event of the year was probably the “launch” of the infamous Kana TV channel. Never before had any commodity taken the country by such storm. In due time, everyone was rephrasing borrowed words from the slogan of the new channel “Kana Wiste New!” translated to mean, “I am nuts for Kana.” Never before has blissful ignorance found such an indulgent platform.
In the world, the news was bleaker. The year was a bad year for music, in which the art form lost some of its most artful and dynamic creators. David Bowie, Prince, George Michael and a slew of artists, we bid farewell to. Thankfully, some of the artists left us a farewell album, a legacy to behold. Imagine, Prince was only 58 while George Michael was 53. Their best was ahead of them. What a loss! We also said bye to Montreal’s Leonard Cohen, a poet, a musician, a rare artist, a Canadian.
Then there was Muhammad Ali, a boxer, an activist and our own Olympic hero, Miruts Yifter.
Cinema too was hit pretty hard. First, it was the Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, known for such great movies that espoused love and admiration for the human drive to love and understand. The 90-year old acclaimed Polish filmmaker, Andrzej Wajda, succumbed to old age and illness. He was a constant thorn to the then Poland’s undemocratic socialist government. Of course, celebrity deaths were a drop in the ocean, compared to the Syrian tragedy.
The five-year civil war climaxed in 2016, in a series of showdowns between rebel forces and the Syrian regime and its allies (Russia and Iran) in the region of Eastern Aleppo. Oh, there were various solutions proposed, but as the relationship between Western powers and Russia deteriorated, all failed miserably. So, Aleppo became, in the words of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, “synonyms with hell.”
By the end of the year, after all those lives lost, all those migrants displaced, all those children maimed and traumatized, Bashir al-Assad remained in power in defience. But where Assad, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin had a great year, were their fortunes increased, other leaders such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Matteo Renzi and François Hollande, all moderates, were dealt severe blows to their political careers, some by choice, others by circumstances. All of these leaders could do nothing as the wave of populism and fake news drove the geo-political snowstorm to the extreme.
It was Cameron who, very bravely I might add, instigated the first major political event of the year – the Brexit referendum. So sure of a Remain vote in his favour, he took a seemingly infallible gamble, betting his entire career on the outcome. He and the European Union were in for a very rude awakening; as Britain wanted to leave, against all odds, all the polls, all the arguments for globalization and warnings against isolationist policies, serving as the first sign that the 21st Century may not be a century of reason.
Finally, I started to ask myself, how cruel could 2016 possibly get?
Terrorist attacks inspired by extremist Islamic State (IS) ideology in every city that was previously thought to be safe (Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Berlin) and in a lot of Middle Eastern cities. The rise of authoritarianism, especially in places like Turkey and the Philippines, where we all thought a sense of democracy was deeply entrenched. Droughts in Ethiopia, which coupled with the political instability and the announcement of the state of emergency, will deeply affect the economy in the coming months and years.
The alarming rise of White Nationalism in developed countries and religious extremism from both Muslim and Christian groups, dealing a serious blow to secularism. After all of this, how bad could the year really get?
On November 8, I got my answer. Donald J. Trump became the President of the United States of America, turning conventional wisdom upside down.
Americans, it is said, wanted change, any type of change. The entire “we-cannot-trust-this-man-with-the-nuclear-codes” clamour hit an impasse. As one commentator said, Americans wanted change, but not the change that became President Donald Trump. Now the fate of the Western world is in free fall, liable to land anywhere, in whatever form. At the end of this century, in a post-apocalyptical future, survivors will ask, what went wrong, when did we drop the ball, humanity was doing so well.
A sage will answer, look no further than 2016.
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