The world is crying out for real, inspired leadership
BARELY a day old and you get the sense 2017 is going to be quite something. Istanbul suffered yet another attack, the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh warned West African troops deployed to his country that their move was “an act of war” and, in a historic move, the DRC’s Joseph Kabila agreed to leave the presidential palace by the end of 2017.
All this within 24 hours into the new year.
And it’s likely to be that type of year. A disruptive one, a continuation of a world that continues to fracture, despite our leaps in knowledge, technology and philosophy.
If anything, 2016 was a year of deepening fear. We saw it in the Brexit vote, and in the rise of Donald Trump. We saw it in the treatment of refugees in Europe. And yet they continue to go.
More than 5000 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016. Globally, more than 7000 migrants and asylum seekers died trying to make their way to a better life. But we don’t need to look to Europe to catch a glimpse of the hysteria around “the other”.
In Malawi, people with albinism were persecuted throughout 2016. The desperation is so dense that people were willing to believe the bodies and bones of people with a melanin disorder were a quick trick to wealth and riches. The same goes for the attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa.
They might not have made the news in quite the same way as it did in 2014 or 2015, but this doesn’t mean the intimidation or fear-mongering have dissipated. Neither have these matters been addressed adequately.
Part of the reason is that we are living in a world of hollow, feeble and insecure leadership.
I can’t think of any international leader that inspires confidence, or hope of a brighter, sustainable, equitable future.
Instead, we are surrounded by cheap and meaningless populism. And where some decency might exist, for instance with the UN’s new secretary-general Antonio Guterres, it is for a mostly hopeless cause.
The UN has long needed reform, and until then, it will remain a tool of the powerful, inconsequential at a time of need. You need not look further than the pillage of Syria. The quest for an honest broker has never been harder.
When Trump assumes the presidency later this month the US will be ever so closer to the rest of us – forced to rely on the strength of the media, civil society and institutions to keep the insanity at bay.
I wouldn’t put too much faith in “the media”.
Be prepared to be subjected to useless sound bites as journalists resort to mocking Trump rather than holding him to account. Journalists offering shallow analysis on social media are certainly part of the problem.
On the continent, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame will be looking for a third term in office and won’t be stopped.
Uhuru Kenyatta will be running too, in Kenya’s poll. Any violence or trouble in Kenya impacts all the landlocked countries in East Africa.
And there are continent-wide disruptions coming too.
In March or so, the first Israel-Africa summit is likely to take place in Togo. It is an important development because it signals, again, the deepening of relations between West Africa and Israel. In 2016, Israel and a collection of African countries formalised relations after decades of covert co-operation. It is part of a wider attempt by Israel to become an observer state at the AU.
The move into Africa is coming hard, and strong. And outside political struggles will soon be ours.
In fact, even the AU is up for grabs. With Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stepping down as chair of the AU Commission, two women from Senegal and Equatorial Guinea and three men from Botswana, Kenya, Chad, will compete for the coveted position.
When that is resolved, Dlamini-Zuma will return to South Africa where a new bidding war for the South African presidency will be in full force.
Democracy certainly has its perks, but in its current form it is built to be little more than a game of musical chairs. But it doesn’t have to be. And it’s mostly up to you. • Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founder of The Daily Vox.