The first day of every year provides a unique opportunity for national leaders, not only to take a look at what had transpired in the immediate past 365 days in their countries, but also to take a new look at the future, especially how to tackle foreseeable challenges, and how to also renew patriotism. The review of what had transpired often takes place within celebrations, the modalities of which vary from one country to the other. The messages also delivered vary. But more often than not, they are all driven by nationalism to the detriment of global peace and security, excepting when such countries are also challenged by situations of insecurity.
For instance, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, in welcoming the year 2018, noted that the year ‘promises to be pivotal in our quest for change. (F)or many, this Christmas and New Year holidays have been anything but merry and happy. Instead of showing love, companionship and charity, some of our compatriots chose this period to inflict severe hardship on us all by creating unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country.’
Besides, he underscored the need to address the country’s infrastructural deficit, what was being done about it, what was being done about power outages and projects, and issues of restructuring. He submitted that ‘our problems are more to do with process than structure,’ and more importantly, he raised the issue of national security, especially in the areas of terrorism and kidnapping. Thus, there was no specific mention of international peace and security, even though global peace begins with peace in the nation-states.
In his 2019 New Year Message, President Buhari factored in the issue of religion and rightly explained the New Year as a time which ‘offers precious opportunity for thanksgiving, stock taking and reflection on goals and targets set for the receding year, and how much was accomplished. The ones not done can then be rolled over into a new year.’ He recognised security as a recurrent challenge and the need for peace. As he put it, ‘we have had our challenges: security, economic, political, social. But we are resolved to combat and overcome them all.’ As it was the case in the 2018 message, there was no mention of global peace and security. Issues of political governance mainly attracted PMB’s attention in the 2019 New Year message. This is nationalism we talked about above.
At the global level, the picture is a little bit different in Africa and at the level of international politics. Donald Trump of the United States not only availed himself of the opportunity of the New Year to criticise his opponents, like he did in the 2017 New Year message, but to also address some foreign policy and security questions. In the 2017 message, he stated that ‘as our country rapidly grows stronger and smarter, I want to wish all my friends, supporters, enemies, haters, and even the very dishonest Fake News Media, a Happy and Healthy New Year. 2018 will be a great year for America.’ In this regard, many questions can be raised as to the extent to which the year 2018 was great for America. Without any shadow of doubt, we contend here that the year 2018 witnessed a major setback for the United States under Donald Trump, especially in terms of loss of great respect for Americans and their institutions.
For instance, on the eve of the New Year 2019, he jokingly accused his compatriots of ‘partying’ while he was ‘at the White House working.’ He said he did not blame them for enjoying themselves. In fact, he told them to enjoy themselves and ‘have a really, really Happy New Year.’ But perhaps more concernedly, he said ‘2019 will be a fantastic year for those not suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.’ He told them to ‘calm down and enjoy the ride, great things are happening for our country.’ This message is nothing more than an expression of non-seriousness of purpose, bastardisation of the essence of a New Year Message, and inability to know the differences between business and diplomatic ethics in the political governance of American people.
In his 2018 New Year Speech, President Emmanuel Macron of France called for a spirit of renewed spirit of unity, but cautioned against nationalism and promised to take a ‘determined action’ against Islamist terrorism. He welcomed the men and women who are fleeing countries where they are threatened because of their origins, their religion, or their political convictions.’ It should be noted that mention is made here about international terrorism, meaning that international security was a major issue in the previous year.
Emmanuel Macron, like Donald Trump, did not spare criticising those who created problems for him in the past one year. The difference is in the style. Donald Trump did his own without courtoisie or decency, Emmanuel Macron did his own more courteously, but he still has problems with the French.
It should be recalled here that President Macron’s former bodyguard, Alexandre Benalla, assaulted some protesters and was fired, but he is still found travelling with diplomatic passport and still exchanging messages with President Macron long after his dismissal. Additionally, there was the problem of destructive protests of the ‘Yellow Vests’ who were not happy with Macron’s high taxes and pro-business policies. In fact, Macron’s approval rating declined from 47% in 2017 to only 24% in December 2018, which is considered to be the lowest for any French president in modern French history.
It cannot but be surprising therefore, not to expect President Macron to be blunt in his New Year message. He told his French compatriots that, ‘in recent years, we’ve engaged in a blatant denial of reality… We can’t work less, earn more, cut taxes and increasing spending.’ Consequently, in the belief that the positive outcomes of his reform policies cannot be felt in the immediate, he promised to review France’s national unemployment, insurance, and pension systems.
He advised all the French people to ‘stop berating’ their country and to also stop complaining, possibly for reasons that are not far-fetched. In the eyes of Macron, the French already ‘live in one of the world’s greatest economies.’ Their infrastructures are among the best in the world.’ They pay little or nothing towards their children’s education and their healthcare cost are among the lowest of any developed country and this gives the French people ‘access to some of the best doctors.’ This appears to be a major dynamic of why Macron has insisted on the need to continue to defend his reform agenda in spite of his declining approval rating.
But unlike President Macron who, in the French tradition, gave his New Year message not late on the eve, President Vladimir Putin of Russia normally addresses all Russians on December 31 at 11.55 pm or 8.55 GMT Moscow time. When it is 12 midnight on the dot, the Russian National Anthem is rendered. Thus, is it simply a 5-minute business? In any case, every New Year message is an opportunity for expression of self-preservation and pride. Putin’s address is a clear pointer to this nationalism.
As Putin noted in his 2019 New Year message, ‘we have never had, and we will never have help. That is why it is important to be a cohesive, united and strong team. And let friendship and good hope, which unite us now, be here in the future, (and) help us in work and achievement of common goals.’ Putin not only added that all peoples make wishes like children and that the wishes should be allowed to be. However, he observed that ‘Russians all know for sure that achieving the best for ourselves, for our families, for our home country is only possible through our own efforts and joint coordinated work. We have to perform a number of urgent tasks in economy, science, and technology, healthcare, education and culture, and most importantly, ensure that we increase prosperity and standards of living step-by-step.’
In the speech, there was a direct call for the performance of urgent tasks and the need for increased prosperity, self-reliance and national unity. The speech did not give room for any bickering. It was basically nationalistic and forward-looking.
The Chinese case is not different. In his 2018 New Year message, President Xi Jinping focused attention on how to eliminate poverty in China by 2020. In his eyes, ‘China must speak out, …, act as a builder of world peace and a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order. The Chinese people are willing to join all peoples of the world in creating a beautiful future of greater prosperity and greater peace for mankind.’ While Russia is forward-looking from the perspectives of domestic politics, China is forward-looking from foreign policy perspectives by seeking a beautiful future of greater prosperity and greater peace for mankind.
The 2019 New Year speech of President Xi Jinping reflected both domestic and foreign policies, meaning that the New Year messages served as a linkage between the two. Jinping seized the opportunity of the New Year message to give a summary report of the achievements of his Administration and to draw attention to his impact in foreign policy.
In the words of Jinping, ‘it is only natural that hard work pays off, and it brings changes for the better everyday… We have made one achievement after another in the fields of science and technology innovation, as well as massive projects. The Huiyan Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope has launched into space. The C 919 large passenger jet has completed its maiden flight. The quantum computer has been successfully developed. Saltwater paddies have begun Trial Production. The first domestically built aircraft carrier has been put into use. The Haiyi underwater glider has conducted deep-sea observations. Samples of combustible ice in sea areas have been collected successfully. The Yangshan Phase-IV Automated Port has officially opened. The main structure of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge has been finished, and the Fuxing high speed trains have been operated across China… I would like to say Bravo to the great creativity demonstrated by fellow Chinese.’
True enough, the Chinese compatriots have done well and Xi Jinping can rightly extend his bravo to all of them. Perhaps what is also more important is not simply the creativity but the environmental conditioning and the cultural tradition surrounding the creativity and the New Year messages and greetings in China. New Year in China is not January 1, per se. Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. It is specifically to announce the arrival or beginning of the Spring Festival, which is celebrated by every Chinese scientifically and culturally.
It is celebrated scientifically in terms of firecrackers and money often put in ‘red envelopes that older members of the family give to young children to celebrate the festival. It is done culturally because each region or community of China has its own mania and tradition of celebrating the Chinese New Year. For instance, the food eaten at the New Year’s Eve varies from one region to the other.
As Chris Parker has it, ‘in northern China, people usually eat dumplings as one of the main foods, and they will often hide coins in some of them. If you get a dumpling with a coin in the stuffing, then it is thought that you will be wealthy and prosperous in the year to come’ (vide www.digmandarin.com). There is also the tradition of always buying new clothes to wear on the first day of the New Year or of the Festival because it signifies a new start. Chris Parkers says ‘ideally, everything you wear from head to toe should be a new purchase. Chinese people also like to clean the whole house to prepare for the festival and welcome the New year in cleanliness. In fact, the importance of the New Year Day and active involvement of the Chinese people in it is to the extent that it is ‘incredibly difficult to get a train ticket’ on the very day of celebration. ‘You can rent a girl friend to take home to your family.’ Everybody stays up to watch the same TV gala and everyone is required to ‘eat fish as part of the New Year’s Eve meal.’
Thus, it can be seen here that New Year is a big deal for some people, as it is in China, but jokingly taken by some other people in international relations.
In some countries, it is an opportunity. The 2019 New Year message is a great opportunity for the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. In her New Year address, she asked all the Members of Parliament to support her Brexit deal with the European Union. Theresa May is still pleading with the EU leaders for more concessions while the leaders are giving the impression that Brexit negotiations are over. Brexit is supposed to be a reality come March 2019. With this in mind, Theresa May wanted her compatriots to ‘start a new chapter with optimism and hope,’ and to put their ‘differences aside and move forward together.’ She promised the British, in this regard, ‘a new chapter’ and particularly the freedom that will exist for Britain to tackle the NHS shortages and the housing crisis if support is given to the Brexit deal.
The foregoing analyses essentially focused on the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security, generally referred to as the Permanent Five (P-5): United States, Russia, France, Britain and China. But what about the Big Five of Africa (B-5)? We have already discussed the case of Nigeria above, but what about South Africa, Algeria, Libya, Egypt which account for 75% of the African Union budget on the basis of 15% each? What about Ethiopia? Let us examine the example of Egypt and South Africa, and then take a holistic look at all other countries of Africa through the New Year message of the African Union.
The analysis of the case of Egypt is necessary because the celebration of the New Year is similar to what obtains in China. While the arrival of the Spring defines the New Year in China, it is when the crescent moon is sighted that the New Year begins in Egypt. www.123newyear.com has it that, ‘from the accounts of the Roman writer Censorinus, we come to know that the Egyptians calculated their New Year based on the sighting of Sirius, the brightest amongst the stars in the night sky. New year was declared when Sirius became visible after a period of 70 days absence. This incident was termed as the heliacal rising and it occurred sometime in the middle of the month of July just prior to the annual Nile inundation.’
Besides, like in China, the New Year’s Day in Egypt is celebrated in a carnival manner ‘with circus performers, dancers, singers and musicians congregating from all over Egypt to entertain people. Foods and sweets are also sold.’ Like in China, people in the Egyptian villages go out to wish others in other houses a Happy New Year. But, as further noted by www.123newyear.com, ‘they visit one home after the other and in the end visit the home of the Mayor. Today the custom has become compact, and people visit homes of their extended family and friends to exchange greetings.’
What is noteworthy about the New Year’s Day in Egypt is also that families are allowed ‘to wear colourful new clothes to mark the joyous occasion. Even the women folk who are traditionally seen in black attires are allowed to wear other colours on this day… Sweets are made in the shape of dolls for children. Girls get sweets made in a shape of a girl in a pretty dress while boys get sweets that resemble the figure of a boy on a horseback. The sweets are further adorned with coloured paper shaped in accordion.’
This tradition is not as much pronounced in South Africa. South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, considered 2018 a year of renewal and 2019 as the year to confront the challenges. Put differently, 2018 is the beginning of confronting state capture while 2019 is ‘to confront the devastating effects of state capture and corruption both in government and in the business world.’ He reminded that 2019 will mark the celebration of 25 years of freedom and democracy. In his words, ‘this is a result of many decades of tireless struggle and is a powerful demonstration of the shared resolve of all social partners to tackle poverty and inequality.’
Poverty and inequality, are particularly the most critical issues at the level of the whole African Continent. The belief of all African leaders is that, with continental integration, problems associated with poverty, insecurity and inequality will be removed. It is, therefore, not a surprise to have had the 2019 New Year’s message of the Chairperson of the African Union, Moussa Faki Mahamat, focused essentially on integration. He drew attention to the January 2018 Heads of State and Government Summit held in Addis Ababa and which launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).
He also recalled the Extraordinary Summit held in March 2018 in Kigali, which saw the opening for signature of the Agreement on the African Continental Free Trade Areas (AfCTA) and the Protocol of Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment. As at January 1, 2019, ‘27 Member States have joined the SAATM. The agreement on the AfCTA has been signed by 49 Member States and has already been ratified by 14 of them, while the Free Movement Protocol, which garnered 32 signatures, has only one ratification.’
Consequently, one of the main challenges for the AU Commission in 2019 is to ‘intensify its efforts to ensure the early entry into force of these instruments and the accession of all Member States to the SAATM.’ It is in this regard that the adoption of the guidelines on the design, production and issuance of the African passport, is joyfully expected to be presented in February 2019 at the 32nd Summit of the AU by the AU Commission.
Perhaps, more interestingly on the issue of peace and security, the AU Chairperson said it was a major priority for the African Union in 2018 and that African leaders had pledged to silence the guns by 2020. He admitted, however, that ‘achieving this goal requires renewed efforts on the part of all our Member States, civil society and other actors. Peace is a global undertaking that requires the involvement of all.’
But questionably true, is 2020 feasible to silence all the guns? Even with the signing of an MOU on the implementation of Agendas 2063 and 2030 by the AU and the UN in January 2018, is it really feasible in light of the insecurity in Burundi, Central African Republic, Libya, South Sudan, Western Sahara, Comoros and the Comorian island of Mayotte, Somalia, and deepening waves of terrorism, particularly in Nigeria and the Sahel?
Whatever is the case, there is no disputing the fact that there is the continued need to deepen continental unity in the war against insecurity in Africa. In doing so, however, every New Year message ought to focus greater attention on the modalities of the way forward. If the world is currently challenged by insecurity everywhere, it is simply because all the Member States of the global community are yet to secure themselves at the national level. International or global security cannot exist regionally, plurilaterally or multilaterally, if it does not already exist at the national level.
December 31 of every year ought to be a special time to provide a national report to the world on the situation of internal peace and security for the whole world to share. But most unfortunately, the various New Year messages are silent on it or do mention it tangentially. Whereas New year is common to the whole people of the world. The Chinese and the Muslims may have a different date for the New Year, nothing prevents their dates from being used to give the whole world needed information about peace and security in their home countries.