Big news stories of 2011
What a whirlwind year it has been in politics and news! I’m going to go ahead and admit that I have been less engaged with current events in 2011 than in previous years (due to personal stuff), outside of a few ongoing issues I’ve been following in the news pertaining to domestic policy. Despite this, there were a number of global news stories that captured my – and everyone else’s – attention this year. Even the most oblivious people would have found it difficult not to notice the political tornadoes and natural disasters. These were the global headline making events that I followed more closely, in no particular order:
1. “We, the democratically elected representatives of the people, hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state”
– The South Sudanese parliament speaker James Wani Igga, harking the division of Sudan, Africa’s largest and troubled nation, in two. After half a century of conflict, and the deaths of 2 million people, South Sudan attained independence from the north in July this year.
South Sudan faced – and faces – truly desperate realities. United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, wrote in an article after its independence: “It has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate. Estimates of illiteracy among the female population exceed 80 per cent. More than half of its people must feed, clothe and shelter themselves on less than a dollar a day.”
Sadly, instead of addressing those and many other issues afflicting the nation, the new government is occupied with the trouble brewing again between South Sudan and Sudan. The two nations have been involved in confrontations that have at times required mediation by organisations like the African Union, to prevent an outbreak of war. South Sudan is also still struggling to quell tensions between its different tribal groups.
Politics, tribalism and ego ruin everything. South Sudan is rich in resources – it has enough to take care of itself. The country has substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land, and the Nile flowing through its centre.
2. “It’s very overwhelming. The scenes are very shocking”
– the then new President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, after visiting the area most affected by the devastating flood and mudslide that hit the country in early January.
903 people were killed. To put things in perspective, the Queensland floods during the same month killed 35 people. And the floods in southern Pakistan resulted in over 370 deaths, 700,000 forced to live in refugee camps, and approximately 8.2 million people affected. On a personal level, any loss is devastating for those touched by a disaster. From a global perspective, we were lucky our natural disaster wasn’t worse.
3. “Get on, imbecile. All my life I’ve had to put up with your screw-ups.”
– reportedly what Lisa Trabelsi said to husband, deposed Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, as he hesitated to board a plane to exile.
His departure from office and the country was the first victory of the ARAB SPRING – the name given to the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world. One of the most inspiring, heart wrenching, infuriating (and ongoing) news stories of the year.
Change began in Tunisia with the ousting of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. This followed the protest/suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a humble street seller, which ignited a series of tumultuous anti-government demonstrations on the streets. Tunisians had much to complain about: corruption, lack of freedom of speech and other political rights, high unemployment, food inflation and poor living conditions.
A few days later, it was Egypt’s turn. The people were fed up with 30 years of poverty and repression under one of the greediest a**holes on the planet, Hosni Mubarak. In various towns, massive crowds gathered, and 18 days later Mubarak was out too, replaced by an interim military regime… who have arguably been running the country all along.
Uprisings then spread to Libya, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain and Syria. Despite the awe-inspiring bravery of the protesters, and against enormous odds, the achievements of the uprisings have varied.
In Bahrain, people are still protesting against the Sunni-led monarchy, which reshuffled the government this year under pressure from activists.
I can’t make heads or tales of what is happening in Oman, other than the Sultanate has avoided large scale political disruptions by quickly responding to protests with the firing of12 cabinet ministers, raising of government salaries, and boosting unemployment benefits. Upping the minimum wage helped dissipate unrest too.
Libya was unfortunately but inevitably plunged into civil war as it’s rubbery faced late dictator Moamar Gaddafi violently clung to power. Tens of thousands are dead, as is Gaddafi, who met his undiginified end in October. There is now concern from some corners that the new Libyan government has broken international standards of justice by holding Saif Gaddafi, the son of the former dictator, without access to a lawyer on charges that could result in the death penalty. Meanwhile, former rebels have been offered military jobs.
In Yemen, the pro-democracy uprising continues. Tens of thousands of Yemenis held demonstrations around the country on Friday to demand their president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, face trial for the killings of hundreds of unarmed protesters. Unfortunately, the president signed a deal, brokered by Gulf Arab nations and supported by the United States, that granted him immunity from prosecution in return for stepping down.
And Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s unwanted president, is refusing to step down or take responsibility for his government’s brutal crackdown of the nation’s 10 month uprising. Perhaps the most honest thing he has said to date has been his description of Syria’s membership of the UN as “a game we play”. One of the reasons I find politics increasingly repugnant. To so many attracted to it, it is merely a power game.
5. “The current situation of the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear plants is in a way the most severe crisis in the 65 years since World War II.”
– said by Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan, after the country sustained its largest earthquake on record in March, which resulted in a massive tsunami and nuclear crisis near the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
20,000 people were left dead or missing after the 9.0-magnitude underwater earthquake and tsunami hit. Infrastructure damage was enormous – whole towns were wiped off the map. The tsunami knocked out essential cooling systems for reactors at the Fukushima plant (a site that was found to already be ill prepared for a tsunami event). This led to suspected partial meltdowns, hydrogen explosions and fires on site, and radiation leaks that forced the evacuation of thousands of people. The Prime Minister announced this month, however, that the nuclear site had finally stabilized.
To put things in perspective again, seismologists said the quake was 160 times more powerful than the one that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand in February. That disaster, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, officially claimed 182 lives. It was the second time in a five-month period that the city had been struck by a major earthquake, and Christchurch, still recovering from February event, was again rocked by earthquakes this month.
NASA recently said that the Japan March earthquake actually caused a “merging tsunami” in which two waves combined to amplify the destruction after landfall.
Mankind will never be any match for nature. Never. It’s about time we started respecting it.
6. “There is no doubt we have killed Osama bin Laden. The fact of the matter is you will not see bin Laden walking on this earth again.”
– so cut it, conspiracy theorists, said US President Barack Obama, after Osama Bin Laden, late AL-Qa’ida leader and mastermind of the largest terrorist attack on US soil, was hunted and killed by a US strike team – not in a cave, but in a comfortable high security compound in Pakistan. The event sparked street celebrations in the United States.
The US also faced scrutiny and criticism for the nature of the operation: Australian QC and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, for example, said the killing of Osama bin Laden was a perversion of justice that effectively gave bin Laden martyr status.
Interestingly, the first “report” of the raid that ended the life of the United State’s arch nemesis came from a tweet by an unwitting Abbottabad neighbour, complaining about the unusual sound of a US helicopter that had suddenly disturbed his peace. The role of social media in breaking stories seems to be given, these days.
7. “We were working class, and we were the lowest. There’s a level underneath that now: the can’t-be-bothered working class.”
– Noel Gallagher. This quote really has nothing to do with the London Riots. This one, though, is related:
“These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.”
That was comedian Russell Brand writing on The Guardian online. I’m quoting a comedian here, rather than a politician, as I already quoted PM David Cameron’s thoughts on this event in my London Riots post HERE.
8. “One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities used to make biological agents”
– that was what then US Secretary Colin Powell told the U.N. Security Council in February, 2003. George Bush announced the Iraq war/invasion on March 19, 2003, with first operation ‘Shock and Awe’. This month, almost 9 years later, the last convoy of US troops withdrew from Iraq. No biological weapons or mobile production facilities were ever found.
Over 4,400 U.S. Soldiers were killed, and over 32,000 were seriously wounded. The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) states there have been between 103,536 — 113,125 civilian deaths, and over 150,726 civilian and combatant deaths.
Iraq’s fragile power-sharing deal for Sunni and Kurdish factions was already under pressure as U.S. troops pulled out.
9. “This is one of the most humble days of my life.”
– that was Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp, at a parliamentary committee hearing on the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal.
Employees of the newspaper News of the World published by News International, a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News Corporation, were accused of engaging in widespread and almost indiscriminate phone hacking, police bribery, and exercising unethical influence in the pursuit of getting and publishing stories.
In damage control, Murdoch appointed News Corp executive Joel Klein to oversee an investigation into the hacking allegations on July 6, and described the phone hacking allegations as ”deplorable and unacceptable”, yet continued to back ice queen Rebekah Brooks to remain chief executive.
News Corporation announced it would close down the News of the World the following day. The July 10 edition was the last for the disgraced paper. On July 8, Prime Minister David Cameron announced two inquiries into the scandal, to investigate the hacking scandal and examine new regulations for the British press.
On July 19, at the inquiry, MPs questioned James and Rupert Murdoch for more than two and a half hours. Rupert pinned responsibility squarely on the shoulders of News of the World staff, not himself. His wife, Wendi Deng, successfully fended off a protester’s attempt to attack Rupert Murdoch with a custard pie. This was an undeniably entertaining spectacle.
On August 11, Murdoch endorsed top lieutenant Chase Carey as the preferred choice to succeed him as News Corp CEO, over his son James. On October 21, at News Corps AGM, he deflected attempts by investors to oust him as chairman. He also retained his sons James and Lachlan as directors.
The fallout of the hacking scandal has been too extensive to list here. The last arrest related to this occurred on the 7 December – of private investigator Glen Mulcaire, a former employee of News of the World. Suffice to say, this was one of the biggest stories all year. And it continues.
10. “It means we are able to be called human beings with all the rights of everyone else.”
– Debbie Strom, New York resident, celebrating the U.S. state’s legalization of same-sex marriage. She and her partner plan to marry.
2011 also saw the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy, and some awesome political posters:
Other events and movements that made headlines: Wikileaks and the *arrest of Julian Assange, the Occupy Wall Street movement (and subsequent copycat movements), the financial crisis in the Eurozone, the death of Steve Jobs and the ongoing side show that is the obstructionist U.S. Republican Party (with its seemingly endless supply of clown candidates). Closer to home, the miraculous passing of the Carbon Tax, despite the recent finding that only 15% of the articles published in Australia showed the carbon tax in a positive light. And the country of my birth, PNG, is finishing 2011 in political ambiguity. 43 year parliamentary veteran and former PM Sir Michael Somare continues to challenge August elected PM Peter O’Neil, who has the support of the Speaker of the House to continue as Prime Minister despite the Supreme Courts ruling that Somare be reinstated to the position.
This year was very much about the old order versus the new.
Which side will win?
*Erroneous statement here – Assange was arrested in December 2010! This is what happens when you don’t proofread a post.