Now that we have officially reached the end of 2009 it is time for A World View to pay homage to the notorious and the noteworthy. So read on for our collection of honors, including the announcement of the winner of the coveted “Golden Cockroach” (all irreverence and satire is most surely intentional). Happy 2010 to all!
Typo of the Year – The US State Department
In his first year in office, Barack Obama made a big deal out of “resetting” America’s relationship with Russia, officials even made up a giant novelty “reset” button for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first meeting with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last March. Unfortunately, the novelty prop contained a whopping typo – it read peregruzka, which is Russian for “overcharge” not “reset” like the Secretary announced when she presented it to Lavrov. Aside from providing a moment of minor embarrassment for Clinton, the whole incident raises the question: doesn’t anybody at the State Department speak Russian?
Capitalists of the Year – The Pirates of Haradherre, Somalia
Various pirate groups operating along Somalia’s lawless coast have gotten hostage-taking and ransom negotiation down to a science, but the pirates based in the port of Haradherre have taken things to the next level by opening their own stock exchange. The exchange allows the citizens of Haradherre to “invest” in pirate missions in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean - if the pirates they fund are successful in capturing and then ransoming a ship, the investors can make tens of thousands of dollars from their share of the booty. Something tells me if the pirates of Haradherre ever decide to give up life on the sea, they could have bright futures on Wall Street…
Unintentionally Funny Terrorist Photo of the Year – Doku Umarov
Doku Umarov isn’t the warm and cuddly type. The self-styled “Emir of the Caliphate of the Northern Caucasus” is trying to establish himself as the terrorist leader of forces attempting to carve a pure Islamic state out of southeastern Russia. Unfortunately for him, the fearsome warlord image is totally ruined by pictures like this.
Obviously no one in Umarov’s entourage knew one of the basics of photo/video production – to always check the background of your shot. Otherwise it is doubtful they would have sat Umarov so that the sword on the banner in the background sticks through him like the old Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head gag. I half expect Umarov to say “I’m a wild and crazy terrorist…”
Roger Daltrey Award – President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan
Roger Daltrey of The Who once sang the line: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss…” And in that spirit we give the Roger Daltrey Award to Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov. He is just the second leader the Central Asian state has had since it gained independence with the demise of the Soviet Union. His predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov was a humble man who crowned himself Turkmenbashi, or “Father of All Turkmen”; named a month after himself; collected his “wisdom” in a book called the Rukhnama, which he then mandated be taught in all Turkmenistan schools; and built giant golden statues of both himself and the Rukhnama. When he died in 2006 the people of Turkmenistan hoped for a less flamboyant leader.
But after a promising start Berdymukhamedov is now showing the same penchant for outlandish projects as his predecessor. This year Berdymukhamedov opened “Avaza”, a massive gambling complex on the coast of the Caspian Sea (a sort of Las Vegas of Central Asia) that cost $5 billion to build. Not to rest on his laurels, in July Berdymukhamedov personally opened the taps on a massive engineering project called the “Golden Age Lake”, an inland sea he said will “make the desert bloom.” Critics, on the other hand, say the fertilizer-laced irrigation canal runoff used to hydrate the project won’t create a living sea but rather a gigantic cesspool. Berdymukhamedov personally used a spade to open up the first feeder canal for “Golden Age Lake” before riding off on a bejeweled horse. So much for being less flamboyant…
Field of Dreams Award – “African Renaissance” in Dakar, Senegal
“If you build it, they will come”, is the famous line from the supernatural baseball movie “Field of Dreams”; the government of Senegal seems to have taken this message to heart. Work is being completed on “African Renaissance”, a massive statue of an African man, woman and child that now looms over the capital, Dakar. How big is “African Renaissance”? It’s taller than the Statue of Liberty and larger in volume than the Eiffel Tower, and built at a cost of $27 million.
Officials in Senegal hope that “African Renaissance” will become a tourist magnet. In fact, no one is hoping this more than Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, who also cut himself in for one-third of the future revenues generated by “African Renaissance” as the project’s “designer”, much to the chagrin of his countrymen.
Plain Brown Envelope Award – EU President Herman van Rompuy
In this tight economy a piece of conventional wisdom for landing that dream job is to make yourself stand out from the crowd. It’s good advice unless you’re Herman van Rompuy, who was apparently the only person deemed bland enough for the newly created job as President of the European Union. The former Prime Minister of Belgium became the consensus pick among the 27 members of the EU, beating out the far better known (and far more controversial) early favorite, former British PM Tony Blair.
Ultimately it was felt that Blair had too much baggage – namely his support of George W. Bush during the Iraq War – for the EU to agree to tap him for the job. By contrast, everyone seemed okay with van Rompuy, who a year earlier became the Belgium PM after months of haggling among fighting political factions again because of his overall inoffensiveness. Herman von Rompuy just shows, Bland can be Beautiful.
The Golden Cockroach – President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe
Named in honor of nature’s ultimate survivor, this year’s Golden Cockroach Award goes to President Robert Mugabe. Earlier this year it looked like the sun might finally be setting on Mugabe’s three decades of rule in Zimbabwe. In the wake of a controversial, violence-plagued election, the international community pressured Mugabe into a power-sharing unity government that saw his bitter political rival Morgan Tsvangirai named to the newly created position of prime minister and government ministries split between their two factions.
But Mugabe was undeterred. He staffed key government ministries with his own ZANU-PF party loyalists despite the terms of the power-sharing deal; had Roy Bennett, a key figure in Tsvangirai’s MDC party, arrested twice; and froze the MDC out of financial negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. Tsvangirai, meanwhile, narrowly survived a car accident in April that many in Zimbabwe felt was far from “accidental”.
At the end of 2009, the unity government is largely in tatters, and Mugabe is talking about holding early elections in 2010 to consolidate his grip on power. The international community is offering little in the way of opposition to Mugabe’s power grab, this summer China offered Zimbabwe a billion dollar line of credit to prop up their shattered economy, no strings attached.
All in all, it was a survival performance by Robert Mugabe that is more than worthy of the Golden Cockroach.
3 days ago