Review: My 2013 Predictions

Last year I wrote a list of predictions for what I expected to occur across the world stage in 2013.  I’ve been looking through it over the year, pleased with some predictions, while despairing as other world events swept passed my expectations.  Here I’ll review each prediction, one by one, and tally up my score to see whether I should become a professional psychic or not.

UK Predictions

  1. Our next Holy Monarch of Divine Highness to Rule Over Us All Forever blah blah will be born.  Everyone will go nuts and the republican minority will grumble.
    Prince George (‘of Cambridge’) was born on the 22nd July 2013 in good health.  The BBC and other broadcasters had around the clock coverage; he was on virtually every newspaper front page; and we republicans did indeed grumble.
  2. The coalition will continue on its path, though plans to create individual identities for the parties will become clearer in preparation for its end.
    Economically the coalition government has continued to assault the country with austerity upon austerity.  Just this month, chancellor George Osborne announced another billion pound cuts from government departments.  The economy does seem to be improving, at long last, however Labour leader Ed Miliband is rightfully bringing to attention a ‘cost of living crisis’ (perhaps because he has few other policies worth discussing).
    In terms of party politics, there doesn’t seem to be the separation of identities between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats I’d expected.  The Liberal Democrats have been highlighting their key policies of this government, such as raising the income tax threshold for low earners and pushing free school meals.  Yet, if anything, they’ve seemed to me to be moving further to the right.  When Nick Clegg stood in for David Cameron during a recent Prime Minister’s Questions, he sounded more and more like a Tory with each passing question.

 World Predictions

  1. The war in Mali will see some form of conclusion: Northern Mali will return to government control.
    Correct!  In January, following an Islamic rebel advance upon the south of the country, when it looked as though the capital Bamako itself might be under threat, France began a military campaign against the rebels on 11th January.  In one of the more successful Western interventions of recent times, the rebels were driven out of most major settlements in the north by February and had returned to government control.  Violence is persisting but the government remains in control with the help of French and African Union peacekeepers.  Elections came soon afterwards, during which Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, former Prime Minister from 1994-2000, became the President.
  2. The Assad regime will fall.  Failing that, the rebels will increasingly control Syria.  I expect them to receive more support from the West and the government to lose Russia’s backing.
    Uh, no.  No.  And no again.  News stories coming out of Syria during 2013 and have been getting more and more depressing, with no prospect of change coming soon.  The Assad regime did not fall; in fact, it looks stronger than at any other point during the course of the war.  In May, Lebanese Shia armed group Hezbollah entered the war on the regime’s side.  Its fighters flooded across the border and helped the government seize control of the strategic city of al-Qusayr and the surrounding countryside.  The rebels have also made gains, however more and more militias have been swearing allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda linked Islamic fundamentalist organisation which has been making advancements against more moderate rebels in what’s described as a ‘civil war within a civil war’.  The death toll continues to mount: in September France estimated 120,000 people to have died, while the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights currently puts it at 160,000.
    In terms of international support, Western powers have continued to supply non-lethal equipment to the rebels, while in June US President Obama announced military aid would be supplied to the rebels, although it’s unclear how much ever arrived.  Recent developments concerning the rise of Islamists have caused even this aid to be suspended.
    Meanwhile, Russian support of the regime has only strengthened.  This became clear following the increased reports of chemical weapon use across the country.   Both sides blamed each other, of course, but after particularly horrific attacks in the Ghouta area of Damascus the international community seemed to demand action.  It looked as though Western nations – primarily the USA, UK and France – were preparing to launch military strikes against Syria to send a message to Assad.  However, when the UK Parliament voted against action and Obama looked close to defeat in Congress, this never came to be.  At the last minute, Russian President Putin came to the aid of both President Assad and Obama by proposing an operation to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.  Despite difficulties accessing all the chemical weapons depots, some in contested areas of the country, the process of destroying them seems to be going successfully.  This has had the effect of restoring legitimacy to the Syrian regime, which is seen as an equal partner in these negotiations, and the West effectively giving up on Syria.
  3. Obama’s next year as President will not be dramatic.
    In hindsight, it’s probably a bad idea to predict anything won’t be dramatic.  Alongside the aforementioned Syria crisis,  he’s had to put up with threats of war from North Korea, the failure of his proposed gun law reform, the shutdown of the US government after political gridlock in Congress, a botched roll-out of his key ‘Obamacare’ policy and, perhaps worst of all for Obama, massive leaks about the level of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of US and international citizens by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which has brought international condemnation and affected relations with countries including Brazil and Germany.  He’s probably very glad for a new start next year.
  4. A war will not start over Iran.
    Correct!  There’s actual much cause for optimism over out future relations with Iran.  Everything seemed to change with the election of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in June.  Though far from a radical – he’d never have been allowed to run otherwise – the fact that so many Iranian voters opted for the least conservative candidate has sent a clear message to the ruling elites that they want change.  Perhaps this is why Rouhani has been given something of a free reign to pursue his policies.  He held a phone call with President Obama in September, the first time the presidents of either country have spoken directly since the 1979 revolution which brought the current Iranian regime to power.  Then came a historic agreement in which Iran finally agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for the easing of sanctions.  There’s much progress to be made, but also reason to be optimistic.
  5. Angela Merkel will be re-elected in Germany.
    Correct.  Merkel achieved her best ever result in September, gaining 41.5% of the vote and nearly achieving a majority in the Bundestag, ensuring her a third term as chancellor.  After months of difficult talks, her Christian Democratic Union agreed to enter into a ‘grand coalition’ with the opposition Social Democratic Party.  Merkel certainly seems to be bucking the trend of European leaders being brought down by the financial crisis – she’s in a stronger position than ever.
  6. Libya will finish its transition into democracy on paper with success.
    Um.  Not really.  Kind of?  Well, Libya has avoided descending into complete anarchy, but there are still many incidents of armed militias operating outwith the control of the government, the most frightening case being when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was abducted from a hotel, although he was safely returned.  A timetable for national elections still hasn’t been established, but it’s hoped that Libya can have its first post-revolutionary government by the end of next year.  So really, I suppose, it’s too early to say on this one.
  7. Egypt will head down its route of democracy with a very Islamic tint.  Morsi will bring stability to the country – at long last.
    Hahaha, oh, how wrong is it possible to be?  Unfortunately not.  To save me repeating the dramatic events of the 3rd July, you can read the post I wrote about it at the time.  Since the coup, things have only got worse.  Protests have continued from both sides, pulling Egypt down into further instability.  This culminated in a horrific massacre where dozens of protesters were killed by security forces.  The ruling military regime has since strengthened its hold on power, imposing curfews and recently branding the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi’s party, a ‘terrorist organisation’.  The country is appearing more and more to be under the grip of a General new to the scene, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, currently appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.  Elections are expected for next year, which Sisi is widely predicted to run for.  In short, I couldn’t have been more wrong about Egypt.
  8. Berlusconi will not be elected in Italy.
    Well, technically, Berlusconi was elected to the Italian Senate, but if we assume I meant elected as Prime Minister then I got this correct.  Italy’s election this year left no party in a position of power, meaning multiple parties had to come together to form government, including his People of Freedom party.  However, the Prime Minister of this unstable government turned out to be Enrica Letta of the Democratic Party.  Berlusconi himself has been involved in continuing scandal after scandal, being recently convicted of tax-fraud and sentenced to four years in prison (none of which he’ll actually serve due to his age), and barred from political office for six years.  Subsequently, he was expelled from the Italian Senate.  I wouldn’t underestimate Berlusconi, but I can’t imagine his career recovering from this.
  9. The Afghanistan campaign will appear more and more hopeless.  Peace talks with the Taliban will develop.
    Pretty much.  I haven’t been following this in too much detail, but I’m aware of various talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government being on, off, on again, off again, and so on.  Really not much seems to be happening in the run up to NATO’s withdrawal next year.
  10. I expect more crises from North Korea.
    Yup.  There was that strange period last April when North Korea threatened war against South Korea, Japan and the USA which I referred to earlier – I don’t think anyone knows what that was really about.  Needless to say, that came to nothing and North Korea soon quietened down again.  I imagine it was an attempt by Kim Jong-un to create a warlike atmosphere within the country to further entrench his rule – nothing increases loyalty like giving people a common enemy.  Then, even more shockingly, earlier this month Kim had his very own uncle executed as part of a wider purge.  I wrote about it here.  Nothing which has yet threatened to spiral out of control from the perspective of the West, but erratic and worrying behaviour nonetheless.
  11. Iran’s economy will continue to plummet under sanctions.  Possibility of something dramatic happening.
    Pretty much.  I largely covered this earlier.
  12. This is a completely wild one: Robert Mugabe will no longer be in power in Zimbabwe by the year’s end.
    Unfortunately, Mugabe is still President of his long-suffering nation.  My reasons behind this prediction were Mugabe’s age, having turned 89 this year, and the fact an election was due to be held earlier this year.  However his health seems to be as strong as ever, while the election this year re-elected him in very fraudulent conditions indeed.
  13. There will be at least one coup.  And likewise, at least one country considered a dictatorship will become more democratic.
    I’d consider events in Egypt earlier this year to be a coup, so got that one right.  I think Mali could count as having become more democratic, having achieved mostly free and fair elections after a year of chaos.  I can’t think of any other standout examples, which is a shame, but Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2014 report (due to be published fairly soon) might shine a light on this.
  14. Burma will continue down liberalisation and democratisation.
    This is really impossible to say.  Again, I await the Freedom in the World 2014 with great interest.  I’m going to take the lack of any particular evidence to the contrary as evidence that Burma at least isn’t backsliding.  Aung San Suu Kyi did recently announced that her National League for Democracy plans to contest the 2015 general election – widely hoped to be Burma’s first free election – even if the constitution isn’t amended to allow her to run for the Presidency.  Which seems to be a good sign.  Hopefully.  I really don’t know.  I think I’ll give myself this one…
  15. Hugo Chavez: difficult to predict.  I’m gonna throw this out there and say his health improves and he’s able to continue as President.
    Nope – President Chavez of Venezuela died of cancer on the 5th March, later to be succeeded by his Vice-President, Nicolas Maduro, who seems to be carrying on his divisive legacy.
  16. Al Shebab will be almost completely pushed out of Somalia.
    Despite continued advances by Somalian and African Union forces against Al-Shabab, they’re far from having been cleared from the country and still control much territory, particularly in rural areas.  So wrong on that one.
  17. More than two Arab countries will see increased protests and violence.  Potentials: Syria, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Sudan, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Lebanon.
    This was unfortunately a pretty safe bet.  As I wrote earlier the death toll in Syria continues to mount; there have been continued protests and unrest in Sudan, though not coming to much; Egypt has had what were tipped to be the ‘largest protests in history’ which deposed President Morsi; April was the deadliest month in Iraq since 2008; Libya’s been having increased issues with militias, as I indicated earlier; and Lebanon has had increased bombings, assassinations and clashes as the Syrian Civil War continues to spill over.
  18. Julia Gillard will no longer be Prime Minister of Australia.
    Yes.  She was ousted earlier than I expected, having her position as leader of the Labor party usurped by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister.  The Labor party was then met with disaster in the September election, losing 17 seats and its tentative majority to Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, ending 6 years of Labor Party rule.
  19. Putin will consolidate his dictatorship in Russia.
    To be honest, his dictatorship was rather consolidated anyway by the end of 2012, but it certainly hasn’t weakened.  He’s continued pressing forward in policies such as the ‘anti-gay laws’, infringing the rights of LGBT people.  Things have become more interesting in the last month in the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi: Putin granted an amnesty to many high-profile political prisoners, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the remaining two members of Pussy Riot and the ‘Arctic 30’.  Perhaps this is a big to improve Russia’s standing among the international community.  He must have been shaken by two bomb attacks in the last couple of days in Volgograd, which might be part of a continuing campaign by Cechen rebels.  But nevertheless, his authority in Russia seems pretty powerful.
  20. The Mars Curiosity Rover will make more discoveries which fail to interest the public.
    Yeah, I’ll give myself that one.  There have been many discoveries on Mars, including pretty strong evidence that it once had running water.  That’s more interesting than I expected, but I don’t suppose it’s something the majority of people noticed or continue to think about.
  21. Netanyahu will be re-elected in Israel.
    Yes!  Sorry, that explanation mark makes me sound more enthused about this than I am.  See more here.

Overall, I seem to have actually fared better than I expected, having been more or less correct on 65% of the issues!  Tomorrow I’ll publish my list of predictions for 2014 – watch this space.

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Israel’s New Government

Israel’s new government has today, finally, been sworn in, after the rather awkward situation political parties were left in during the election earlier this year.  In many ways much is the same: Benjamin Netanyahu will return for a second term as Prime Minister, and the coalition will include parties which support Israeli settlements in the West Bank (most notably, ‘Jewish Home’, who I feared would become part of government).  The new Defence Minister and Housing Minister are both supporters of settlements.

However, there are also some marginal changes.  For the first time in around a decade, orthodox Jewish parties have not been included in government.  There are more ministers who would be described as moderate within this government than there were previously.  Most surprisingly of all, the liberal Hatnuah party, which supports the two-state solution, has also been included in the coalition.  What effects this will have, I do not know.

Although the government appears slightly more favourable now than it did last year, I don’t think a lot will change.  I highly doubt there to be a breakthrough in peace talks with Palestine, and I imagine the rhetoric against Iran will continue.  Perhaps the government will be marginally less likely to support military action against Iran now, but I really couldn’t say.

Blood Diamond Review

(Contains Spoilers)

The film Blood Diamond was recently lent to me by a friend in the hope I would find it interesting, considering my studies into African history.  I had heard of the film but knew little about it, and similarly had a very limited knowledge of the Sierra Leonean Civil War (1991-2002) during which the film is set.  Historical films such as this generally have two goals to achieve: to be entertaining and well made, and also to successfully bring to life a period from history.  Historical films are also often education, particularly those which are focused around a moral issue such as the diamond trade in this one.  In my opinion, the film ticks all of these categories.

The purpose of Blood Diamond – other than making money, obviously – seems to have been to raise awareness about the nature of the industry of blood diamonds.  The film explains in great detail how warlords in Sierra Lone took control of diamond mines, gathering local slave labour from pillaged villages as their workforce.  These would then be smuggled out of the country into Liberia and sold to transnational corporations.  These corporations kept some diamonds off the market in order to boost prices, which, to quote the film’s explanation, didn’t fund the war but created the conditions for it to be profitable.  The film explains the situation in rich detail, using a mixture of voiceovers and clips of the different stages to make what could have been a boring explanation come alive.

A historical aspect portrayed less satisfactorily, however, is the political situation during the war.  At one stage a character says “government bad, rebels worse,” and this sums up the film’s attitude to the opposing sides.  This summary could be accurate, though I’m not well informed enough to say and still have no idea after watching the film.  We do see a lot of one rebel faction, which blazes through the countryside killing randomly, taking slaves and hacking off limbs.  I believe this to be a realistic portrayal of the atrocities committed during the war.  The film’s inclusion of child soldiers also corresponds to my previous knowledge, and the process of indoctrination is shown during chilling scenes where the children are first kidnapped, and then forced to kill innocent people – sometimes even their own families.  This form of psychological torture desensitises the children to killing, and coupled with their respect for authority makes them, sickeningly, ‘perfect’ soldiers.  The psychological conditioning which the children go through could have been better explored, though, as the film ceases to give the child’s perspective once they have become a soldier and then afterwards.

Blood Diamond is set between 1996 and 2002, during the second half of the war, as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began to make gains across the country against government forces.  My attempt at researching the date has only brought up confusion, as events in the film seem scattered across several years: the only appropriate election I can see to fit the circumstances at the beginning of the film, with the horrific images of arms getting cut off to prevent voting, is the 1996 election.  There must be a time-jump at some point, because the capture of Freetown by RUF forces occurs mid-way through the film which didn’t happen until a year later in 1997.

But enough on politics and economics.  The three major characters in the film are Zimbabwean diamond smuggler Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), Sierra Leonean former slave Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) and American journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly).  Solomon’s family became refugees after their village was razed by RUF forces, with the exception of his son who was forced to become a soldier.  Solomon became a slave searching for diamonds managing to secretly find and bury one before taken to a prison in Freetown.  He is freed by Danny, who seeks the diamond so he can escape from Africa.  They are joined by Maddy, who hopes to gain information from Danny about the smuggling in order to make a difference in the war.  Solomon, desperate to be reunited with his family, is hounded throughout the film by different sides seeking the diamond.

Each character has a fierce and contrasting motivation which pushes the film forward.  DiCaprio is excellent as Danny, bringing life and likeability to a character who ought to be despicable yet clearly has a heart.  Despite his willing role as a diamond smugger, with the knowledge that this funds the war, and his clear intention to steal the diamond from Solomon – as well as the shockingly racist way he treats him throughout the film – Danny is eventually a sympathetic character.  In letting Solomon take the diamond and giving Maddy details on his smuggling operations, Danny redeems himself and dies with the viewers on his side.  This may not have been possible without DiCaprio’s skilled performance.

Hounsou’s performance as Solomon gives the horrors of the war a personal perspective as we watch him suffer throughout the film, yet courageously trudge on to take on forces larger than him in order to reunite his family.  He gains the audience’s sympathy by being so clearly out of place in a warzone, endangering the quest on one suspenseful occasion.  He contrasts with Danny, a trained soldier, and an interesting relationship forms between the two.  On the surface they are together by necessity only, each seeming to resent the other’s presence.  But by the end of the film they seem to have genuine respect for one another, and depart as friends.  As a human personification of the war, Solomon acts as a catalyst for Danny’s redemption.

Maddy is a character I found particularly engaging due to my own desire to become a journalist – though perhaps not in a warzone.  Connelly convincingly brings across Maddy’s frustration at being unable to make a difference, and acts as a mouthpiece for the Liberal ‘Western’ perspective of the war.  Although she seeks a big story to return to the USA with, this is in order to inform the world of what is happening within Sierra Leone rather than for personal gain.  Her continuation with this goal is all the more impressive given, after Solomon asks her whether the Americans will help her after she publishes her report, she replies, “probably not.”  Yet she carries on reporting on the war because she believes it to be right.  A fascinating moral question is brought up, as Danny asks her whether she exploits the local Sierra Leoneans in reporting and photographing their grief as much as he does in smuggling diamonds.  It does appear insensitive that she, and other journalists, are out snapping with their cameras the moment a ‘good picture moment’ occurs, be it dead bodies or despairing relatives.  Maddy is aware of this, and more than once puts her camera down to give people privacy.  I would not describe what Maddy does as exploitation, considering her aim is to show the world the atrocities being committed, which cannot be watered down if it’s to have the desired effect.  But it’s a difficult issue.

The film is fast-paced, moving rapidly from scene to scene across countries and regions to develop the story.  There’s constant action and violence, keeping me engaged with suspense in a way The Hobbit never did.  This difference may partly be because I don’t already know the story to Blood Diamond, but the nature of each scene creates a new terror for the characters.  They must always hide, run, sometimes retaliating but mostly fighting forces they know they cannot defeat.  If this had been The Hobbit, I imagine Danny could have single-handedly won the war for the government.  By showing a variety of locations; in Freetown, in rural areas, along the smugglers’ route, in the USA, in Britain, etc. – every perspective on the war is given a voice.

Blood Diamond is a fantastic film which has informed me well of the role the diamond industry played in sustaining the Sierra Leonean Civil War.  I invested in the characters and cared deeply about each of the protagonists.  The climax of the film where they find the diamond, no larger than a golf-ball, almost feels like a let-down.  Everything is being fought over this tiny chunk of rock?  This seeming disappointment adds to the film’s message.  I hope everyone who has watched the film will think twice when considering the possibility of buying a diamond, and will make sure it has originated from a ethical source.

Final score: 9/10

The Rise of UKIP

UKIP has been reaching unprecedented levels of popularity recently.  I mentioned this on my piece about opinion polling, but there’s since been further developments in three by-elections held across the country yesterday.  All were considered safe Labour seats before the election, and indeed, Labour held onto all three of them.  Nevertheless, the results make interesting reading:

Rotherham

Sarah Champion (Labour)                – 9,866 (46.25%, +1.62%)

Jane Collins (UKIP)                             – 4,648 (21.79%, +15.87%)

Marlene Guest (BNP)                             – 1,804 (8.46%, -1.96%)

Yvonne Ridley (Respect)                         – 1,778 (8.34%)

Simon Wilson (Conservative)                 – 1,157 (5.42%, -11.32%)

David Wildgoose (English Democrat)          – 703 (3.30%)

Simon Copley (Independent)               – 582 (2.73%, -3.58%)

Michael Beckett (Liberal Democrat)          – 451 (2.11%, -13.87%)

Turnout: 21,330 (33.63%, -25.37%)

 

Middlesbrough

Andy McDonald (Labour)                – 10,201 (60.48%, +14.60%)

Richard Elvin (UKIP)                     – 1,990 (11.80%, +8.10%)

George Selmer (Liberal Democrat)          – 1,672 (9.91%, -10.00%)

Ben Houchen (Conservative)                 – 1,063 (6.30%, -12.48%)

Turnout: 16,866 (25.91%, -25.44%)

 

Croydon North

Steve Reed (Labour)                          – 15,898 (64.71%, +8.69%)

Andy Stranack (Conservative)                 – 4,137 (16.84%, -7.28%)

Winston McKenzie (UKIP)                   – 1,400 (5.70%, +3.97%)

Marisha Ray (Liberal Democrat)          – 860 (3.50%, -10.48%)

Shasha Islam Khan (Green) 855          – (3.48%, +1.51%)

Turnout: 24,568 (26.4%, -34.25%)

 

 

The most obvious comment to be made about these results is the fantastic gains Labour has made, which is in line with their increases in opinion polls, and of course, the abysmal performances of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  The Conservatives managed to perform modestly in Croydon North and terribly in the others; The Liberal Democrats were wiped out across the board.  Coming 8th in Rotherham… I may have underestimated just how unpopular the party is right now.  Supposedly no major party has ever survived such a poor by-election result.  Time will tell.

But back on topic, I think UKIP will be very happy with this result.  Coming second twice and then third is an incredible result for the party, and could indicate an approaching breakthrough into the House of Commons one day.  However, it could also be attributed to a phenomena known as ‘protest votes’, where the electorate do not want to vote for the current government, but are also wary of the opposition who are still fresh in their minds after previously being in government, so third parties tend to perform disproportionately well.  The Liberal Democrats have historically taken these votes, but now they are in government voters have sought out other parties.  This may explain Respect’s victory earlier this year in a by-election.

These ‘protest parties’ tend to do modestly well in national elections but rarely repeat their peaks during by-elections.  While UKIP have done extraordinarily well in some of these by-elections, in several they’ve not even kept hold of their deposit.  In short, it’s difficult to say whether these results mean UKIP is heading towards their first seats in parliament; they are certainly good news for the party, but don’t indicate that UKIP has broken into national politics quite yet.