Winds of change – 2017

| Updated: December 19, 2017 22:06:31

Winds of change – 2017

Every year carries its own uniqueness claims, some that descent with a roar, others pass by silently yet still making an assertive presence. Yet others persist softly but promise a noisier ending. Motivated by this last category, at least four issues predict a future bang: Prince Charles ascending the English throne; Robert Mugabe's sayonara in Zimbabwe; the 'me-too' movement promising flushes and unknown blushes; and finding national leaders from minority groups.

Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, the seemingly frustrated Prince of Wales, may not have to wait much longer to sit on that coveted English throne. One of the first signals of that happening sooner rather than later was at the November 11 Armistice Day, when the heir placed the royal wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of his mother, Queen Elizabeth I. This was not Her Majesty's 'lucky seventh' absence from the ceremony: on two occasions she was pregnant, on four she was abroad, thus leaving the seventh for her duly-trained yet aberrational eldest son's duty-baptism as monarch. She looked on from the Whitehall balcony, seated next to her husband, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had himself retired officially less than a hundred days previously. As the longest serving British monarch, the Queen leaves more nostalgia than her scandal-scarred son may even have time to build.

Frail as she looked, the Queen leaves behind a tenure of remarkable grace, having restored self-confidence in the war-ravaged country she inherited. During that tenure, England went on to slide in and out of Europe, win an occasional Wimbledon singles trophy, snatch back the Ashes from Australia, capture the Tour de France title, briefly dominate world racing championship, and actually not worry at all about not ruling the waves anymore. Britain, where the diminishing public passion for the royalty has been delayed only by a love for Queen Elizabeth, is set to spike under a compromised Crown Prince. To have her absence create a massive vacuum in the British psyche, then to have her replaced by a flippant prince, especially when the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, seems to be generating as much public acclaim as his grandmother, already clouds Prince Charles's unfolding royal succession.

Zimbabwe's massive turning point began when the 93-year liberation war hero, Robert Mugabe, ended his 37-year rule. Governing as if he owned the country, Mugabe clashed with post-independence generational aspirations, but it was his substitution of another independence-war hero from office, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, for Grace, his own 52-year old wife, that blew the whistle for him. Her ostentatious and arrogant lifestyles incensed the public and angered the military, while Mugabe's habit of making such arbitrary decisions was compounded by his senility. Remarkably the military first showed considerable restraint, for example, placing an 'out of order' signboard upon him and his legacy as opposed to putting him behind bars or eliminating him, letting negotiations find a respectable exit route. With the parliament set to impeach him after his own party booted him, Mugabe's resistance implied a worse outcome. This, the military pre-empted.

Without him, euphoria must one day soon confront stark realities. Zimbabwe does not, for instance, have the kind of functional institutions that can be tested in transitional circumstances; but even more problematic is undergoing its first free and fair election. With a bulging population, ever-escalating hopes and dreams, and simply cultivating the right kind of leaders, Zimbabwe's future may generate more uncertainty than current jubilation might convey.

If 2017 began England's orderly albeit reluctant transition from the queen and a disorderly start to Zimbabwe's much-needed transition, it more brusquely alerted us to a possible future curse: the celebrity naming-shaming game ushered by the Harvey Weinstein's scandalously-driven 'me-too' movement. This is a strictly and aggressively postulated women crusade, ventilating years of suppressed frustration that may pull off more for women than many legislations and publicly formalised courtesies did over their emancipation years. Unlike the proverbial rolling stone gathering no moss, this one could net plenty, and then some. Already many prominent men have had to come out of their hitherto-inviolable bastions, while many others have either been put to shame or live with the fear that past misdeeds, to put it mildly, may now surface awkwardly: Fidelty Investment's Gavin Baker, Journalist Mark Halperin, Comedian Louis O.K., Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, National Public Radio's Vice President Michael Oresley, GQ correspondent Rupert Myers, Amazon's Roy Price, Director Brett Ratner, Nickelodeon's Chris Savino, Silicon Valeey VC Robert Scoble, Actor Kevin Spacey, Vox Media's Lockhart Steele, New Republic's editor Leon Wieselter, and so forth.

Many previous victims came out with their suppressed cases, while many others may now find the strength to follow suit, opening a Pandora's box. Of course, this could only happen in countries where the law prevails over all else. One cannot think of women in authoritarian, masculine-dominant, or religiously stooped societies faring nearly as well as in libertarian societies: with the foul usage of male privilege at stake, women may be stung by male reactions. Elsewhere, in western or developed countries, a fasten-your-seat-belt early-warning signal might have to be issued against an avalanche of women complaints: simply judging from the tide of 'me-too' cases to erupt after Weinstein's, we may be up to a rude 2018 awakening, though.

How Barrack Obama's presidency emboldened the Afro-American community particularly, but minority groups in general, also got a not too insignificant facelift during 2017, enormously helping normalise people who hitherto held back for not being socially representative enough. Bred as a Mormon, New Zealand's newly elected prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is not only a champion of women's rights, but she also left her church because of its strident anti-homosexual posture. As the third woman prime minister of her country (after Jenny Shipley in 1997, then Helen Clark from 1999), Ardern's youth and outspoken support for hitherto unconventional issues exposes how the world is changing even as it is becoming selectively more populist, a divide that might grow from concurrent trickles into future gushes, and with them, clashes. For example, in 2017, the small population of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) chief executives climbed by 66 per cent, from 3 to 5: Iceland's Jóhanna Sigur?ardóttir as prime minister from 2009, Belgium's Elio Di Rupo as prime minister  from 2011, and Luxembourg's prime minister Xavier Bettel from 2013; to which was added this year Ireland's Taoiseach (head of state and chief executive combined), Leo Varadkar, who, with his Indian heritage, also champions immigrant rights, and Serbia's prime minister, Ana Brnabic.

Future blushes and gushes, as well as hopes and headlong collisions, dominate the 2017 handover repertoire. Populism and conflict were not brought into the picture, since they all seem to be well rooted to demand attention in 2018, even beyond. They may make all the headlines; yet, somewhere in the back-pages what could start as a trickle from any of the issues mentioned here could conceivably work its way into the front-page, even to the headlines there. We are far too sophisticated a civilisation to not let the minutiae make noise as well.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the newly-built Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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