This column has not had a good record when it comes to predicting the future, even into the next year. It has defied probability and its predictions were so overwhelmingly more wrong than right that Dr Beckles would diagnose the attempt at clairvoyance as being purely delusional. Sometimes it does not even get the year right. For example, if one was going to predict 2011 one should really have started on December 17, 2010 when a Tunisian vendor made the ultimate protest by burning himself after years of harassment by the police. His sister Basma earns for me the quote of the year: “Dignity is more important than bread.” It was the start of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring, a spontaneous revolution that led to the demise of long-term dictators like Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya, and has shaken the foundations of oppression in more than a dozen Arab and North African countries, including Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Yemen and that paragon of stability, Saudi Arabia.
If 2011 started as a work in progress – to use the commentator’s favourite loan expression from the accountants – the year 2012 is no different. The Arab Spring, a homegrown liberation movement using as its the main tool the ubiquitous imported cell phone and the social media and promoted by the expanding Al Jazeera news network, in turn might have spawned its own export to the democratic west in the form of the Occupy Movement. No one can say that the influence of one on the other or their respective role was not reciprocal. But as Syria and indeed Egypt are showing, any declaration of victory is dangerously premature. The old guard of militarism and the new establishment of religious fundamentalism are fighting back with a viciousness that suggests that in this new dispensation there is no room for prisoners; it is the ultimate zero sum game.
Remembering the Rapture (and Y2K)
2011 must also be remembered for some of the things that did not happen, with the most infamous but welcome being the non-arrival of the end-of-time Rapture which according to the American crazy horse Harold Camping should have taken place on May 21, 2011. It was also the International Year for People of African Descent, aimed to strengthen international, national and regional cooperation to benefit the people of African descent, and to recognize and promote their political, economic, social and cultural contributions. Hopefully our own African Cultural Development Association (ACDA) will present an end-of-year report to identify the gains made and challenges experienced in delivering on the ambitious targets which ACDA had set itself for the year.
And while the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) seem locked in a deathly economic vortex that is threatening to bring down the euro, the much feared double-dip recession did not take place, and in late December us President Barack Obama could actually go off on his annual Hawaii vacation against a background of some silver lining peering from behind still threatening but perceptibly receding dark clouds.
In dear old Guyana the era of Jagdeo headed for an abrupt end as he almost singlehandedly guaranteed that for the first time since 1992, the PPP/C would lose control of the National Assembly. A painful blow for the unbearably arrogant PPP/C, the gift of power-sharing to the people of Guyana, long the forlorn cry of the WPA, suddenly came with the November 28 elections. A man who had pandered to the religious right by defying the unanimous vote of the National Assembly to abolish discrimination in sexual orientation then took an entire country on the road to casino gambling and worse, and seemed to become an adherent of the creed that hedonism and greed are good and that state power is for personal aggrandisement.
In a tragic reversal of fortune, the Champion of the Earth and wannabe Nobel Laureate could not face his own people. Unlike the dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Jagdeo’s fall from grace was not the work of physical enemies from without, but those from within himself. It must surely be a lesson to all who come after him and to all of us who allowed him to transform from an ordinary country boy with a modest academic record and an even more modest professional work life into a dictator in a democrat’s clothing.
The Year of the Dragon
And now the column turns to 2012, a leap year and for the Chinese, the Year of the Dragon. I am annoyed that the Chinese do not make even a token concession to vegetarians by naming one year in each decade after a fruit or vegetable, with the Chinese sounding name Pak Choi offering an obvious possibility. It is time for the vegetarians to protest. My first prediction is that the world will not end on December 21, 2012, a claim wrongly attributed to the Mayans. Yes, on 21.12.12 — the winter solstice — the sun aligns with the centre of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. Scientists think this will disrupt the energy streaming to Earth, but like the dread spawned by the Y2K scare (remember we all feared that all computers would shut down at midnight on January 1, 2000) and by Harold Camping’s Rapture, nothing extraordinary will happen on that date. On that I am prepared to bet my shirt.
Britain will host the 2012 Olympics in July immediately following Wimbledon which will see hometown lad Andy Murray continue the heartbreaking quest for a Grand Slam by a male Britisher (he is actually a Scotsman) since 1936. Bolt will not be as dominant nor will the Jamaicans be able to repeat their phenomenal final medal haul of 11 (comprising six gold, three silver and two bronze) achieved in China in 2008.
The Olympics will also compete with the traditionalists and the ‘nostalgienti’ who will celebrate in the 21st century, in endearing, cosmopolitan and expensive London the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, the producer of some of the best literature ever written in any language. Nor will we be allowed to forget that the year marks a century since the unsinkable Titanic proved far more normal than its makers and its captain had imagined.
The best and the worst
Here at home, Chief of Staff Commodore Best will order an invasion of the National Stadium in a pre-emptive strike to stop the finals of the Kashif and Shanghai football tournament and request that the GDF budget be doubled to purchase missiles required for the exercise. The Minister of Finance agrees.
In cricket, sense will finally prevail and the West Indies Cricket Board will order that with immediate effect its teams will only compete in bumper ball tournaments and the West Indies team duly sweeps all and sundry before them and is crowned champion in Test, one day and 20/20 formats.
2012 will also be a year of national elections and it seems that everyone will be going to the polls. This prediction does not apply to Guyana which will seem always on the brink but never quite get there. Let us start with the US where BO (Barack Obama, of course) will be vying for a second term even as two independent candidates enter the US presidential elections. With help from Michelle, Barack Obama will be reelected by getting 270 Electoral College votes, the exact number needed to win. However, under the Patriot Act eavesdropping programme, a dozen emails surface showing that he had begged Bill Clinton to let Hillary be his running mate so that she and Bill would not harbour ambitions higher than the number two spot.
Meanwhile the Republicans win back enough Senate seats from the Democrats and get to 50 which results in a tie in the Senate, and the Democrats win enough seats in Congress to wrest the majority from the Republicans by one seat. In that regard, the US will become more like Guyana except that in the US they call it politics while in Guyana we think it is for real. Just look at the nightmare playing out between the AFC and the APNU – parties committed to sharing the spoils of victory but not defeat – in the selection of a Speaker!
The signs are that our good friend and neighbour Sr Hugo Chávez in a weakened state will still campaign to stave off defeat, while his friends in Cuba will worry about the possible loss of cheap oil in exchange for an army of semi-qualified doctors. China’s eighteenth Congress will say goodbye to both their handpicked President and Prime Minister and the new rulers will liberalise the one child per family rule to one and a half children per family. The regulations to put life (no pun intended) into this rule will take the better part of the Congress and our Priya Manickchand will be invited to assist on the technical details.
In domestic politics a Speaker will be agreed upon in time for the Budget debate. Except for this, there can be no other prediction involving parties committed to power-sharing but who each starts from the position that it has a divine first right to all the powers before it can start sharing any. Meanwhile the storm about statements of polls will have fizzled out by early January and APNU chief spokesperson-for-the-week will react to questions about the lightning speed of APNU’s reconciliation of the SOPs by pointing out that APNU has other pressing matters to deal with, such as a grand farewell and pension package for Robert Corbin.
The Budget debate when it finally gets going will feature two of the shortest men in the National Assembly – Singh and Greenidge. Singh’s response to Greenidge’s professorial critique will be that since the PPP/C’s Budget for the past nineteen years was founded on the same ERP that Greenidge invented back when Singh was barely a young man, Greenidge has no “moral authority” to speak evil of the Budget.
Gold will lose some of its glitter while the Chinese and Russians will contract their international operations amid increasing resource nationalism and a fear of backlash. With Robert Persaud gone looking for oil, the four P’s of his former lavishly funded ministry – pepper, pineapple, pumpkin and plantains – will give way to a campaign to save sugar.
Jagdeo will refuse an invitation to take him at his word to become personally involved, saying that his appointees are doing an excellent job and that with all the money being spent on GuySuCo there is no place for production to go but up.
China’s growth will stall, but above mid-single digits, while India will continue to be mired in corruption and their Occupy Mumbai movement will be led by a septuagenarian with the unlikely name Anna Hazare. Guyana will look anxiously to see how India deals with prevention of corruption legislation; will make Geeta Singh-Knight answer for her (mis)management at CLICO and have Dr Ramroop and Odinga Lumumba pay a fair price for all the state assets handed to them by their now invisible benefactor.
Caricom will be like West Indian cricket and the less said about them the fairer it will reflect reality.
Finally, here is my 2012 wish list which by definition is impossible to get wrong. That President Ramotar will reverse his prior commitment to more of the same and will:
Demand that the Public Accounts Committee perform its parliamentary duties with greater competence.
Push legislation to improve transparency by appointing a new Ombudsman, establish the Public Procurement Commission, revise the Access to Information Act and introduce anti-corruption legislation.
Revisit Jagdeo’s pet projects like the Kingston Marriot, the fibre-optic cable, Amaila and the speciality hospital.
Order the Cabinet-infested NICIL Board to bring its accounts up to date for independent audit. Declare the implementation of VAT was a rip-off but have a change of heart and compromise on a reduction in the rate to 10%.
Instruct the Guyana Revenue Authority to increase the volume of lifestyle audits of workers to try to understand why, like Leona Helmsley said, only the poor pay taxes.
Get rid of the deadwood in the Office of the President, otherwise known as presidential advisors, by the application of an integrity detector test and the ability to stay awake during meetings.
Until I get back to reality, here’s wishing us all a wonderfully productive 2012.