The year of people on the ground

2011-12-23 08:24

The year 2011 will undoubtedly go down as the year of the protester.

Protesters have this year been responsible for the downfall of a number of dictatorships, highlighting the need for ­political reform and the social and economic plight of millions of ­people across the globe.

Time ­Magazine has honoured the global protester as its person of the year.

A tsunami of protests spread from North Africa to the Middle East. Ongoing civil ­uprising saw Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for 30 years, step down and the country usher in a new era of democratic elections.

A six-month revolt in Libya pushed Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who led the nation for more than 40 years, from power. On October 20 he was killed by rebels in Sirte.

Protests continue in many of these regions, as people demand change.

On March 11, Japan was hit by a tsunami of a different kind – a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that triggered a deadly seven-metre tsunami in the country’s north.

The earthquake – the largest in Japan’s history – struck about 370 kilometres northeast of Tokyo. The official toll lists 15 839 dead and 3 647 missing.

Japan’s prime minister announced recently that the country’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plant has achieved a stable state of “cold shutdown”.

But experts say the plant remains vulnerable to problems, its surroundings are contaminated by radiation and closing the plant safely will take 30 or more years.

There were a number of other natural disasters, but the continuing crisis in the Horn of Africa rates as one of the worst this year.

Tens of thousands of people have died since April and deaths are likely to continue over the coming months.

Aid agencies said the food situation in Somalia remained the worst in the world, and the worst in the Horn of Africa country since the region’s 1991/92 famine.

The media industry has also seen its share of casualties.

In July, after 168 years in print, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World closed following damaging allegations against the paper.

The paper was accused of hacking into the cellphones of crime victims, celebrities and politicians.

On March 20, after weeks of unconfirmed reports that he was still alive, officials finally announced that South African photographer Anton Hammerl was shot in the Libyan desert.

His remains have yet to be released to his family.

On Friday February 11, the day Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent, Durban-born Lara ­Logan, was surrounded in Tahrir Square and suffered a brutal sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers.

2011 also said goodbye to a number of notables including, on September 25, Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize. She died of ­cancer aged 71.

Sathya Sai Baba, one of India’s most influential spiritual leaders, died at a hospital funded by his ­organisation in his home town of Puttaparthi on April 24. He founded more than 1 500 Sathya Sai Centres in 114 countries across the globe.

On December 19, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart ­attack. Immediately Pyongyang’s neighbours went on alert amid fears of instability in the poor and isolated nuclear-armed nation.

Jong-il’s death has, however, raised cautious hopes that the country’s third-generation dynastic succession could usher in a period of more benevolent and pragmatic leadership under his youngest son Kim Jong-un.

The year has also seen a number of highs and lows across the political arena.

On November 12, Silvio Berlusconi handed in his letter of resignation as Italian prime minister, ending the 17-year political career of Italy’s longest-serving post-war prime minister.

He also went on trial on charges of paying for sex with an ­under-age prostitute.

US Secretary of State Hillary ­Clinton began landmark talks on December 1 with Myanmar’s new leadership on the first top-level US visit to the military-dominated ­nation in half a century.

On ­December 13 Myanmar authorities allowed Aung San Suu Kyi’s ­opposition to ­legally register, clearing the way for the democracy champion’s party to rejoin mainstream politics.

Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo ­become the first former head of state to appear at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He was flown into The Hague on ­November 29 to face four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, in the wake of ­Ivory Coast’s disputed presidential elections a year ago.

Some 3?000 people were killed in violence after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the 2010 polls.

Last week it was announced that Alassane Ouattara’s RDR party had won most of the seats in Ivory Coast’s parliamentary elections.

Facing an election next year, US President Barack Obama ­announced the end of the almost nine year-long Iraq war on December 15.

The last US soldiers rolled out of Iraq across the border into neighbouring Kuwait at daybreak last Sunday, whooping, fist-bumping and hugging each other in a burst of joy and relief.

Their convoy’s exit marked the end of a bitterly divisive war that raged for nearly nine years and left Iraq shattered, with troubling ­questions lingering over whether the Arab nation will remain a steadfast US ally.

The mission cost nearly 4 500 American and significantly more than 100 000 Iraqi lives and $800 billion (more than R6.5 trillion) from the US Treasury.

The question of whether it was worth it all is still unanswered.

Sky News, BBC, Sapa-AFP, Reuters, CNN, Times Magazine

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