Ten things to look forward to in international politics in 2018

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1. Lenin Moreno is bringing freedom of speech back to Ecuador
During Correa's 10-year tenure as Ecuador's president, the country made enormous progress on the economic front, but the government also began to crack down on the media, severely curtailing freedom of expression. Under Correa's Communication Law, even cartoonists critical of the government were punished, leading Human Rights Watch (HRW) to rank it as the second least free in the Americas, after Cuba. Moreno, on the other hand, is more tolerant, and has encouraged independent corruption investigations by the judiciary. Ecuador's bizarre media laws are still in place and Moreno should abolish them — but at least the country seems to be on the right track, making it one of Latin America's few bright spots. 

2. Emmanuel Macron is articulating a vision for the future of France — and Europe
After Trump's election victory and the shocking Brexit vote, despair in Western democracies had reached a level that any minimally qualified winner of France's presidential election would turn into the beacon of hope for globalization and liberal democracy — yet Emmanuel Macron's victory would have been remarkable in any circumstance, single-handedly overthrowing established party structures and awakening France from its torpor. Since taking office, he has shown that France is not unreformable after all, raising hopes that it could regain some of its long-lost economic dynamism. In addition to saving the EU from Le Pen (who would have destroyed the club), he is now producing several bold ideas, such as a eurozone budget, as well as common EU policies on defense, asylum and tax. 

3. Cyril Ramaphosa has the chance to help South Africa recover
Now that South Africa's highest court has ordered parliament to consider the impeachment of Jacob Zuma, it seems increasingly likely that the president must step down, allowing Cyril Ramaphosa, the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), to become president. It is impossible to know what kind of president Ramaphosa will be, but it is hard to imagine that he will be as bad as Zuma, who led his country into an economic, political and moral crisis. That had negative consequences far beyond South Africa's borders -- after all, the country not only is one of the Africa's largest economies, but also its diplomatic heavyweight, with a tremendous capacity of projecting its influence abroad, not at least as a member of the BRICS and the G20. If Ramaphosa could even minimally restore stability, economic prosperity and transparency, South Africa could become one of 2018's best stories.

4. Brazil's Marina Silva will run for president
Marina Silva, the 59-year old activist, former Senator and former Minister of the Environment, not only has a profoundly inspiring personal life story of a poor rubber-tappers’ daughter who, after overcoming hunger, hard labor and severe illness, only learned to read at 16 but went on to become a world-renowned environmentalist. As a presidential candidate in 2014, she was unafraid to embrace socially progressive and economically sensible proposals, but ultimately succumbed to the PT's far more sophisticated (and vicious) propaganda machine, which unfairly painted her as a neoliberal (life is unfair, her critics retort). Running for president yet again, Marina Silva may not win, even though she is a highly qualified candidate — The Economist once called her "too good for politics", and indeed, many argue that she is not ruthless enough and too principled to prevail in the Machiavellian world of Brazilian politics. Irrespective of whether she will win or not, Marina will bring a humanizing element to politics, which otherwise evokes a mix of fascination and disgust with most Brazilians. Be it as an elected official or a Mandela-like leader of a movement, Marina's role in Brazilian politics will remain a bright spot.

5. Iceland's Environmentalist Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir is modernizing politics
Katrin Jakobsdottir, 41, chairwoman of the Left-Green Movement, has promised to make Iceland carbon neutral by 2040. Her party also called for the adoption of a new Constitution in the country of 340,000 people, partly crowdsourced through social media. Jakobsdottir's multi-party coalition government faces an uphill struggle —after all, no three-party coalition government has ever lasted a full term in Iceland. Still, if one politician can manage the motley crew, it is Jakobsdottir, the country's most trusted politician after a string of scandals discredited the established political elite.

6. More US states will consider legalizing marijuana
Almost two thirds of US-Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a 2017 Gallup Poll, rooted in more objective and pragmatic perceptions of the drug’s limited negative effects, the prospect of millions of dollars in marijuana sales and excise tax revenue for state governments, and the positive consequences for combating organized crime. Today, eight US states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, voters approved or expanded medical marijuana laws in their states. Recent trends of decriminalization in several US states are a great threat to drug cartels, as it establishes a legal (and taxed) market, no longer lining the pockets of illegal dealers. It therefore comes as a relief to drug lords that other quickly growing consumer markets, such as Brazil, are far too socially conservative to adopt any progressive strategy that would limit the cartels' cash flow. Addressing the drug trade and the violence it entails requires seeing it as an economic problem rather than a moral menace. Yet, while that may work in countries such as liberal Uruguay, it sadly seems unlikely to happen anytime soon in places like Indonesia or Brazil.

7. Immigrants around the world will continue to help their host societies prosper
Immigrants make societies not only more diverse, but also more dynamic, entrepreneurial and prosperous. The United States serves as a powerful example, where a brief look at the statistics shows the massive impact immigrants have on the US economy's capacity to innovate and generate jobs: some 40% of Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children. So were the firms behind seven of the ten most valuable brands in the world. Although the foreign-born are only an eighth of the US population, a quarter of high-tech start-ups have an immigrant founder. Apple, Google, AT&T, Budweiser, Colgate, eBay, General Electric, IBM and McDonalds, owe their origin to a founder who was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, is a child of an immigrant parent from Syria. Walt Disney also was the child of an immigrant (from Canada), as well as the founders of Oracle (Russia and Iran), IBM (Germany), Clorox (Ireland), Boeing (Germany), 3M (Canada) and Home Depot (Russia). In 2018, migrants, both those with and without proper documentation, will continue to enrich their host societies both culturally and economically.

8. Global poverty levels are falling
Despite growing inequality in many countries, economic rights are also advancing, and never in human history has the percentage of those living in extreme poverty been smaller. Strong economic growth in China and India continues to lift tens of millions out of poverty. The Post-Western World will be – largely thanks to the economic catch up in the developing world – more prosperous, with far lower levels of poverty on a global scale, than any other previous order. In 2018, that process will continue, with around 5% growth in emerging markets (China included) — a trend helped by slow but steady recovery in Russia, Brazil and (possibly) South Africa.

9. Global liberal order will resist Donald Trump
When Donald Trump won the election in November 2016, many predicted the end of global liberal order. Yet one year after Donald Trump's election, reality looks far less grim. The system does not depend on Washington alone, and it can thrive despite the US now acting as a neutral or, in several instances, a disruptive force. Trump has, after all, not halted globalization. Instead, globalization will march on with or without Washington, as the outcomes of recent high-level summits (such as BRICS, G20 and APEC) have demonstrated. Contrary to what many mainstream analysts believed, rising world powers have little interest in overthrowing or disrupting the rules and norms established over the past decades. Rather, policymakers in Beijing, New Delhi and Brasília are aware of the importance of actively defending global governance and globalization, from which they have benefited greatly.

10. The 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos will be led by seven women
The World Economic Forum's gathering in the Swiss resort of Davos will be chaired entirely by women in 2018 — for the first time in its 47-year male-dominated history. This comes as a drastic comparison to previous years: In 2015 women accounted for only 17% of the participants. In 2017, men outnumbered women five to one. Come January, seven women will set the agenda when 3,000 of the world's corporate, political, entrepreneurial and media leaders meet.

Read also:

Ten things to look forward to in international politics in 2017

‘Post-Western World’ now available in Chinese (Beijing Mediatime)

Review of ‘Post-Western World’ in the New York Review of Books (NYRB)

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