As the year 2016 comes to a close, one name more than others rings loud: Donald Trump. With it come so many connotations, but nationalism and protectionism stand out.
The American President-elect’s campaign was run on the tagline, Make America Great Again, and he repeatedly told his audience that it was time to “take our country back.”
Among many of Trump’s messages was his intent to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico. The logic behind it was that rather than send its best, Mexico sent “rapists and drug dealers” to America. Trump’s rhetoric may have been informed by characters such as El Chapo.
One of the first – and most captivating – global stories of the year was the recapture in January of the Mexican drug lord, real name Joaquín Guzmán.
Considered the “most powerful drug trafficker in the world” by the United States Department of the Treasury and the “most ruthless, dangerous, and feared man on the planet”, by the US government, El Chapo was recaptured in Mexico after he had escaped from prison about six months before.
El Chapo has exported more drugs to the United States than anyone in history and in 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named him “Public Enemy Number One” for the influence of his criminal network in Chicago. The last person to receive such notoriety was Al Capone in 1930.
Twenty-sixteen was the year Iran completed its journey from international pariah to being welcome back to the comity of nations as the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in January that the Middle-Eastern country had adequately dismantled its nuclear weapons program, allowing the United Nations to lift sanctions immediately.
Later in the month, the World Health Organization announced an outbreak of the Zika virus, a virus spread by daytime-active mosquitoes. Among other ways, Zika can be transferred from a pregnant woman to her fetus, prompting countries like Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica to advise women to postpone getting pregnant until more is known about the risks.
This year has witnessed a more belligerent North Korea. The Asian country launched a long-range rocket into space in February, violating multiple UN treaties and prompting condemnation from around the world.
Later in September, it conducted its fifth and reportedly biggest nuclear test. World leaders again condemned the act, with South Korea calling it “maniacal recklessness”.
In March, three coordinated bombings in Brussels, Belgium killed at least 32 and injure at least 250. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. Later in June, the same terrorist organization claimed responsibility for attacking the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, killing 45 and injuring around 230.
In April, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published a set of 11.5 million confidential documents from the Panamanian corporate, Mossack Fonseca, that provided detailed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies, including the identities of shareholders and directors, including noted personalities and heads of state.
Known as the Panama Papers, it was leaked by an anonymous whistleblower called John Doe, and revealed that some of the shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, kleptocracy, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.
Tragedy struck in May when an EgyptAir Flight 804 crashed with 66 people on board over the Mediterranean en route from Paris to Cairo. There was a fire and some reports claim an explosion. The cause of the crash is still being investigated.
In the same month, former Chadian President Hissène Habré was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed during his tenure from 1982 to 1990. It was the first time an African Union-backed court convicted a former ruler of a country within its jurisdiction.
In what could be seen as a sign of things to come later in the year, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. The vote, known as Brexit, was the first in a new wave of “rebellions” against an increasingly globalised world. A fallout of Brexit was Theresa May replacing David Cameron as Prime Minister of the UK.
One of the most viewed – and talked about – events of the year was the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August.
But it wasn’t the only major news emanating from the South American country that month. A few days after the Games ended, the Brazilian Senate voted 61–20 to impeach the President Dilma Rousseff.
It was the culmination of a process that had seen the Vice President, Michel Temer, assume presidential powers and duties as Acting President during Rousseff’s suspension. Temer took office for the remainder of Rosseff’s term.
There has also been a changing of guard in other countries. One of the notable instances is in the Philippines, where seventy-one year old Rodrigo Duterte rode to power aided by his vocal support for the extrajudicial killing of drug users and criminals.
Following criticism from United Nations human rights experts that extrajudicial killings had increased since the election, he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the UN and form a new organization with China and African nations.
West African countries Ghana and Gambia also recently held elections with similar outcomes but different reactions. In Ghana, Nana Akuffo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party was elected President, defeating incumbent President John Mahama of the National Democratic Congress.
In Gambia, opposition candidate Adama Barrow also defeated long-term incumbent Yahya Jammeh in what was seen by many as a surprise. More surprising was the concession of defeat by the incumbent who had held power for 22 years.
However, a week after congratulating his victor, Jammeh insisted on a new election. The international community has advised him to cede power to Barrow.
The most enthralling presidential contest was that of the United States where Republican candidate Trump defeated Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton in a result that went against most predictions. The presidential race was one of the two dominant topics of 2016 in the US. The second was the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement, originating in the African-American community, campaigning against violence and systemic racism toward black people. There were protests against police killings of black people and broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and perceived racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system.
Twenty-sixteen saw the exit of two champions of the African community, Muhammed Ali and Fidel Castro.
Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali was an American professional boxer and activist. He was widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century. From early in his career, Ali was known as an inspiring, controversial, and polarizing figure both inside and outside the ring.
Castro was a Cuban politician and revolutionary who governed the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008. Politically a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, Cuba became a one-party socialist state and ally of the USSR under his administration, to the irritation of the US. He reportedly survived 638 assassination attempts by the CIA.
He is remembered as a friend, ally and, in some places, a savior in Africa, where he supported many liberation movements including the fight against apartheid. Castro is however seen as a dictator in some quarters, a notion trumpeted by Trump.
The American President-elect’s combative style and nationalistic/protectionist views have helped to make him one of the world’s most powerful men. He has been crowned TIME Man of the Year. If any one word defines the international political landscape of 2016, it has to be Trump.