By Jane Wachira
The effects of the 1945 Hiroshima-Nagasaki atomic bombings are felt to date. Studies show that incidences of Leukaemia among survivors increased noticeably five to six years after the bombs were dropped. About a decade later, survivors began suffering from thyroid, breast, lung and other cancers at higher-than-normal rates. Indeed the rise in cancer patients and types of cancer has become alarming over the years, not only in Asia where the bomb was dropped, but in Africa as well. Could this be attributed to the 1945 bombings? Present life is always reflecting outcomes of historical happenings; a political event today may change the world tomorrow and for eternity.
See, for instance the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand Franz, which instigated World War One, or the attack on Pearl Harbour by Japan where America retaliated with atomic proportions, forcing Japan to surrender, and bringing World War Two to an end. Decisions citizens of the world make today affect the outcome of their lives our tomorrow and forever. 2016 could be highlighted as a year where the world decided to make history through political decisions whose outcomes are unknown. What we can be sure of is that they will influence the years to come.
Consider Britain’s referendum to exit the EU (Brexit); America’s election of Donald Trump, a man described as arrogant, misogynistic, sexist and a racist; the death of Fidel Castro of Cuba (well, this one was an act of nature); Gambia’s decision to end the oppressive 22-year reign of Yahya Jammeh and; the significant tanked constitutional referendum of Italy. What do they all portend for 2017?
Venturing into the unknown
“Suppose the UK votes to leave the EU, what happens next? No one knows for sure”, was one scholar’s commentary before the UK voted to leave the EU. This was not the first time the UK was expressing its desire to leave the EU. In 1957, it opted out of joining the European Economic Community (EEC) and instead founded the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), which covered free trade in all non-agricultural goods. It appears the country is headed back this way – if it does not adopt the Swiss or the Norwegian model to maintain an economic base in the EU.
The referendum saw then Prime Minister David Cameron resign from office because the decision to leave the EU went against his political views. The pound also fell to a 31-one year low against the dollar. The after-effects of Brexit got the UK citizens questioning their decision to opt out. Yes, there were strong and succinct reasons to opt out – such as ceding power to Brussels, the menace of immigrants among others – but then what? It was not clear what relationship would continue to exist between the EU and the United Kingdom.
The chronology of the referendum indicated that the Referendum Bill was to be passed in 2015 and the vote was to be taken either in 2016 or 2017. In case a vote to exit was cast (as was), the UK government would have two years to negotiate the terms of withdrawal according to Article 50 of the EU Treaty. Assuming there are no further obstacles, in 2019, the country will formally exit the EU. But this won’t be the end of the process; 2025 will see the UK and EU engage in further negotiations to define its relationship with the bloc, particularly relating to economic models – will it take the Swiss model of bilateral accords, the Norwegian ideal of joining the European Economic Area, the FTA model of establishing a free trade area, or the Turkish model of a Customs Union? If it picks none of these models, it will then take the fallback option of the Most Favourable Nation, where its trade is to be governed by WTO policies.
All the options “after Brexit” have their not-so-favourable pros as well as cons, some of which will probably make Britons wish they hadn’t left the EU in the first place. The trillion-dollar question however is, will the UK opt for a soft or hard Brexit? What kind of negotiable options will they table before the EU? Theirs is a case of treading on shaky ground and wading through murky waters. It is a classic case of venturing in the unknown.
The first 100 acts in office
America did the unthinkable. November 9, 2016, will go down in history as a day when America decided to shock the world by electing Donald Trump – described by virtually every media house as “racist, sexist, misogynistic and arrogant” – a man who has never worked in the public service. It was a day when the power of democracy was asserted. The world was stunned. One tweet summarised the general global mood: “America, please never lecture us about anything ever again”.
This was the “West”, the world’s super power, the country seen as the advocate of human rights, affirmative action, democracy, women empowerment, and so on. Trump said that among his first actions as President would be to have the US quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade deal – it was entered into and ratified by 12 countries, which control cover 40 per cent of the world’s economy. It took seven years to negotiate the deal. He also promised to cancel restrictions on US energy production, which was an anti-climate change measure aimed to reduce carbon emissions from the power sector by President Obama. He also swore to replace and repeal the Obamacare, end illegal immigration fully, and construct a wall at the Mexican border, which would be funded by Mexico, among others. He has since beat a retreat on some of these pledges.
America now joins the long list of countries that have elected controversial leaders such as Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who was elected while still facing criminal charges at the International Criminal Court. The world is witnessing an age of free-felon democracies, I shall reiterate the words used by the West to Kenya in 2013 when they elected President Kenyatta: choices have consequences.
To the Americans and Britons, if Vladimir Putin wants you to do something it is wise to find the opposite of that something and do that instead.
What happens to Cuba after Fidel Castro? The truth is, Cubans will still continue to face an era marked by forces and constraints similar to those they have faced in the past. The revolutionary system of government, el sistema, characterised by absence of polling, a free press and the right to form organised opposition forces and unique neighbourhood-based citizen-surveillance groups known as Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, or CDRs. Fidel explained that political education through these organisations, together with hard, free manual labour for the State, would strip citizens of their “selflessness” and “greed,” preparing them for the prosperous, egalitarian and materially developed paradise, a paradise that never came.
Although The US embargo hit Cubans hard, the misguided policies of Fidel’s capricious economic planners, such as laws restricting the rights of small farmers to grow and market crops of their own choosing, hit them even harder. In 2016, after Raúl Castro and Barack Obama’s announcements of a normalisation of diplomatic relations, it was expected that the economic situation would change. However, this was not the case; the wealth and power of Cuba’s already wealthy and powerful political elite continued to increase.
Raúl Castro and Barack Obama’s decision to renew diplomatic relations may not change Cuba in ways politically or economically beneficial to the majority of citizens. Fidel Castro’s death will make little or no difference to Cuba’s future, if el sistema does not change or if Cubans feel that they cannot change it themselves.
The Gambia, in a historic election, halted a 22-year-old reign of terror. Its autocratic president, Yahya Jammeh who once claimed a “billion-year” mandate to rule, conceded defeat to (to the utter shock of many) a real estate developer, Adama Barrow. Jammeh had kept his country under an iron grip for two decades. His brutal regime locked up and tortured countless journalists and opposition figures.
Barrow has so far promised that a truth and reconciliation commission would be established to look at human rights abuses committed during Jammeh’s rule, after which the government will file a case at the International Criminal Court. The relief after a reign of terror could be likened to Kenya’s 2002 elections where all tribes united to oust dictatorial president Moi who had ruled for 24 years. Gambia’s future looked bright, until Jammeh decided he had made a mistake conceding and instead called for fresh elections owing to “election malpractices”.
In December last year, Italy rejected a constitutional referendum that had been described as “deeply flawed”. The referendum asked voters to approve a constitutional law that sought to amend the Italian Constitution to reform the composition and powers of the parliament as well as the division of powers between the State, the regions, and administrative entities. If it had passed, the result would have been the emasculation of the powerful Senate with a lopsided electoral law for the chamber of deputies, and concentrate power in the prime minister. It flopped.
Fronted by outgoing Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, dubbed “demolition man”, who has since resigned, it was described as an “eruption of populism after the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump”.
Such is state of our nations, where when fronted policies are rejected, they are followed by resignations; where oppressive regimes are allowed to reign on long after their rulers have exited the system. Looking at the state of anarchy in Turkey, or the extensive system of corruption that has brought Kenya’s economy to its knees, one can only question the kind of nation states that we are now breeding. What outcomes do we hope for from our political decisions? And for how long do we expect them to stand and live on? ^