It is quite often said that nations and organizations are the agents of change. But they in turn are led and moulded by people. People whose hopes, ambitions and ideologies can cause a major shift in the way nations or organizations interact with the world. Here’s a look at the major world events of 2015 and the leaders who were at their centre.
10 Leaders who highly influenced the world in 2015:
1. Aung San Suu Kyi – The Republic of the Union of Myanmar has come in the spotlight this past November. Myanmar held a widely popular and internationally favoured general election in 2015, in which the National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. The NLD is the party founded by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s most famous political figure and human rights activists.
Myanmar became independent in 1948, but has never truly been democratic with the military seizing power 1962. Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been in house arrest for 15 years out of 21 since 1989 under various pretexts, considered a threat to the military Government for her views on democracy. Suu Kyi was offered the chance to escape house arrest several times by leaving the country, but she chose to stand fast with her people, sacrificing her life with her husband and children to remain in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi can technically never become President because of a clause in the Constitution which prohibits a person with a foreign spouse or children to ever hold office. The clause seems to have been intentionally written to bar her candidacy. She has openly declared that she will still be in charge of running the country’s affairs as the leader of the winning party, regardless of who is appointed President.
Myanmar faces many difficult challenges ahead. The economy is poised to grow owing to a lifting of sanctions, the country faces the chance of a civil war due to the insurgency in its Shan State in the north, and the state has been internationally condemned for their handling of the Rohingya Muslim crisis. The military still remains a powerful force, with 25% parliamentary seats reserved for them. Myanmar’s future is uncertain, but Aung San Suu Kyi is the lady in charge of leading her people into it.
2. Vladimir Putin – The KGB agent who rose to become President of one of the world’s largest economic and military superpowers, Vladimir Putin is an iconic figure in Russia and notorious outside of it. He has been accused of authoritarian rule, and the suppression of dissent and opposition figures. However, in his term as President, the Russian economy has boomed and he has personally amassed a cult following among his people. In 2014, Russia was kicked out of the G-8 summit post its annexation of Crimea and hostilities in Ukraine. Yet the recent terror attacks in Paris and the subsequent call to arms by the West against ISIS in Syria has tipped the political hand in Putin’s favour. Historically, Russia and Iran both support the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and Russia has gone so far as to bomb all opposition to Assad’s forces in Syria, including western backed moderate rebel groups. Now, Russia has been invited to join Frances’ coalitions against ISIS as the Western powers need Russia’s military support on the ground. World leaders are therefore making nice and have, at least for now accepted that Assad will have to remain in power as long as Russia is supporting the anti-ISIS mission. Moreover, the western leaders have had to forgive Russia its transgressions in Ukraine and accept the annexation of Crimea as a fact going forward.
Russia is not out of the woods yet though. Their economy has taken a hit due to falling oil prices and western sanctions, but it seems like their tough and charismatic President has a way forward into the future.
3. Narendra Modi – The polarizing yet imposing figure that is the current Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, Narendra Modi has taken India and the world by storm. His massive electoral mandate coupled with his personal charisma and promise of good days has led many to pin their hopes on him as India’s saviour.
In February, he made the news for an unusual reason – A suit with his name inscribed all over it in pinstripes was auctioned off for 450,000 pounds. But this leader is made of serious stuff and he has made several international trips this year in order to secure international cooperation and clinch trade deals. In June, Modi unveiled a skill development program to train 400 million Indians in an effort to make India the “Human Resource Capital of the world”. In a visit to the Silicon Valley in September, Modi invited leaders of top firms like Facebook and Google to invest in India, an initiative which was wholeheartedly welcomed.
At the Paris climate conference this month, Modi announced a “Solar Alliance” of more than 120 countries. The headquarters of the alliance are to be in India with the eventual goal of raising $400 million for renewable energy investments. India plans to make renewable energy sources 40% of its total consumption by 2030, a bold declaration by any standards.
Back home, the PM has been widely criticized for his silence on religious intolerance and inflammatory statements by several of his party leaders in an effort to win local elections in Bihar. Love him or hate him though, Modi is the sort of powerful leader that India has not seen in a long while.
4. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi – The organization that is currently public enemy number 1 of most western nations, ISIS, has an understandably shadowy leader. With little known about him and his rise to power, the Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi is a most wanted man by many, with a $10 million bounty on his head.
The reason he makes this list is that, though he is a prominent terrorist and not a politician, ISIS has changed the discourse of the world and has had a huge impact in the way the world looks at and deals with organizations of its nature. ISIS has captured huge swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, and has claimed responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. ISIS plans to establish a global Caliphate of Muslims with Al-Baghdadi as its Caliph. ISIS has brutal, efficient tactics which have led to its unprecedented success as a terror group and many foreigners flocking to join its ranks. Its attack on Paris has put it in the crosshairs of the most powerful nations in the world.
Baghdadi was said to be seriously injured in the aftermath of a US-led coalition airstrike. The reports were unconfirmed and could not be verified. In May, ISIS leaders released an audio message supposedly from Al-Baghdadi seen as an inspiration to its followers. Despite the violence, terror and evil unleashed by ISIS, which is considered extreme even by Al-Qaeda, its influence on the world cannot be underestimated.
5. Justin Trudeau – Justin Trudeau is the leader of the Liberal Party and the current Prime Minister of Canada, sworn into office this November. Justin first came into the limelight following an emotionally charged eulogy he delivered at his father’s funeral, Pierre Trudeau, 15th PM of Canada. In 2012, he won a for-charity boxing match against a senator and military veteran.
The man has unveiled a surprise cabinet which is ethnically diverse, gender balanced and quite young. In response to a reporter’s question about why his cabinet was gender balanced, he replied, “Because it’s 2015”. His political views are equally modern. He has declared his intention to legalize and tax marijuana based, he supports the right of a woman to choose abortion, and he is in favour of taxing the wealthiest 1% more heavily and cut them for the middle class. He has declared his intent to end Canada’s air strikes against terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East and use the funds for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the area.
Justin represents a new hope for politics and politicians. His open, honest policies and progressive ideology has made him a popular figure in Canada and the world. He stands poised to affect great change.
6. Angela Merkel – The Eurozone is possibly the most complex geopolitical alliance of countries in the world today. Its current de-facto leader is Angela Merkel, first woman Chancellor of Germany and heralded as the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine. Leader of Germany since 2005, Merkel is the most recognizable faces of the European Union and as Chancellor of its most powerful country, the decision maker in many things.
Earlier this year, Greece seemed poised to leave the EU (a so called Greek Exit or Grexit) owing to its huge debt to the EU countries, Germany being the largest creditor. Such a move might have had catastrophic consequences for the EU, and was avoided through patient diplomacy and negotiations between Merkel and the Alexis Tsipras, the Greek leader. Greece had to concede to austerity measures and reforms to remain in the EU.
When the Syrian refugee crisis was at its peak, Merkel shrugged off her usually cautious approach and announced an open door policy for refugees in Germany, claiming that the country could admit as many as 500,000 a year. She also waived the Dublin protocols, which mandates that refugees seek asylum in the first country they enter, which would have disproportionately burdened Greece and other countries. She has faced a lot of flak for this decision in Germany, but may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
After the Paris terrorist attacks in November, Merkel agreed to German military involvement in Syria to support France, something the country has long avoided since World War 2. Merkel is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and pragmatic decision makers of the world and will be running for Chancellor once again in 2017.
Since February, there have been major concerns of corruption around Brazil’s predominantly state owned company, Petrobras. Earlier this year, a major scandal surrounding Petrobras broke out with allegations of corruption to the tune of $8.9billion. The country saw widespread protests with thousands taking to the streets in opposition to the corruption. The scandal went all the way up to Rousseff and her ministers, with many of them implicated in the scandal and allegations against Rousseff herself.
Brazil is also going through its worst recession in 3 decades. The country’s credit rating was downgraded to junk in September 2015 and the economy has contracted significantly. In the midst of these economic woes, Dilma Rousseff faces a challenge of impeachment for allegedly manipulating Government accounts for $668 million dollars.
The outcome of the impeachment motion remains to be seen. If unscathed, she will have a tough job of keeping her country from full economic collapse and overcoming the stain of corruption. As the first female President of Brazil, she was elected with high hopes in 2010 with promises on boosting the economy and ending poverty. Yet the scales have fallen after the corruption scandal which saw people in the streets in mass protest chanting for her resignation. She was the beacon of hope for millions of ordinary Brazilians, yet is now seen as the very evil she proclaimed to fight.
8. John Kerry – A diplomat’s job is one of the toughest on the planet and achieving something significant in that job is tougher still. US Secretary of State, John Kerry is the top diplomat of the most powerful nation on Earth.
2015 marked the year in which a historic agreement was signed between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the 5 permanent security council member nations- US, Russia, China, UK, France – and Germany). Iran has been at odds with the world over its support for Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad and most contentiously, over its nuclear program. After months of negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 countries finally agreed to a nuclear deal. Under its framework, crippling economic sanctions on Iran will be lifted in return for Iran closing its Uranium enrichment centrifuges for a year and reducing its enriched Uranium stockpile.
The deal was a milestone in International diplomacy and was a marathon effort by Kerry. Harder still was convincing the US Congress to adopt the terms of the deal with many in the house remaining staunchly opposed to it. Yet all of it was achieved and he promptly moved on to the next assignment, which is what the job demands.
9. Pope Francis – Pope Francis was elected in 2013 following the resignation of his predecessor and has since been seen as a progressive, moderate and frugal world leader. He seems to be a leader who is determined to take his people and the Catholic faith into the modern age. His frugality as Pope has been making waves, as has his hands on approach to international relations and diplomacy.
In June this year, the Pontiff published an encyclical (papal letter to the world), titled “Laudato Si” meaning Praise be to you. This 184 page text highlights the crisis of global climate change and calls on world leaders to stop the ruthless destruction of the environment in pursuit of profits. He wrote “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” The timing of this text is significant as world leaders meet in Paris this December to negotiate a global deal to combat climate change. He warned that the situation is now “borderline suicide” and that it was “now or never” for a deal on climate issues.
It has been quite rare in the recent past that a Pope be so involved with, and influential in, world politics. Pope Francis is a man on a mission and he has contributed significantly to the politics of 2015.
10. Xi Jinping – Xi Jinping was appointed to the highest offices in Communist China in 2012 and has since made a mark on international politics through his leadership. He has been commended for his initiation of widespread reforms, especially the crackdown on corruption in which he promised to go after high party officials and ordinary functionaries.
2015 has marked many important milestones in Chinese history, with the most recent one being the lifting of the One Child Policy after nearly 36 years. China is seeing a rapidly ageing population and needs a young demographic of the sort India has in order to compete as a global manufacturing hub and economic power. Xi also had a landmark meeting with Ma Ying-Jeou, the leader of Taiwan which is seen as a signal of reconciliation after decades of hostilities. Taiwan has been self ruling but has never formally declared independence from China while China sees it as a rogue province which needs to be brought back into the fold.
Xi visited the US and the UK this year, signing many deals and contracts for economic cooperation between the nations. China has pledged billions of dollars and in aid and promised to waive off debts in an effort to support the Sustainable Development Goals that were established this year. China also plans to invest billions in Africa and Pakistan for development projects, a move that will enhance their strategic goals in the regions. Not all has been rosy though. Tensions have escalated with the US and South-East Asian nations over China’s expansion in the South China Sea, as they do every year.
President Xi is at the helm of one of the most powerful economic and political powerhouses in the world today; a nation which everyone is quite wary of. China will have a definitive say in the future of the world and the world will need to find a way to deal with it.
This list is by no means a complete picture of all the major world events that occurred in 2015, or even a comprehensive one. These are the people, who, in this author’s opinions have affected the most change in most people’s lives this year and will probably continue to do so in the years to come. They are beacons of hope, harbingers of evil and some are simply politicians. Yet they have all helped shape our world as it is at the end of 2015. It is always people at the center of nations and organizations, and not the entities themselves that bring about a huge difference in millions of lives. One man or indeed one woman is all it takes.