Stories began appearing midway through 2016, asking whether it was the worst year ever. It wasn’t. It’s wasn’t even the worst year in the last half-century. (Try 1968. Or 1974. Or 1979.) But 2016 certainly experienced its share of significant world events.
Here are my top ten. You may want to read what follows closely. Several of these stories will continue into 2017.
The 10 Most Significant World Events in 2016
1. Colombia Strikes a Peace Deal
If, at first, you don’t succeed, find another way to get the job done. Colombian President Juan Santos took this advice to heart. He first won the election back in 2010 while promising to continue Colombia’s 50-year-old fight against the FARC Marxist guerilla group. Once in office, he changed his mind. Years of peace talks culminated with the announcement on August 25, 2016: The two sides agreed on six negotiating points. A national referendum would be held to approve the deal. Santos’s predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, led critics who assailed the agreement for its leniency towards the FARC. Polls predicted that the “yes” vote would carry easily.
But Colombians voted down the deal. Santos, who was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the agreement, proceeded to hammer out a new deal. Unveiled on November 24, 2016, it toughened some of the provisions on FARC members. But the biggest change was dropping the requirement for a national referendum. With no need for the public to vote, the Colombian Congress approved the deal a week later. Colombians now hope the deal works; the FARC’s conflict has killed nearly a quarter-million people.
2.Brazil and South Korea Impeach Their Presidents
3.Eastern Aleppo Falls
What begins with promise can end in tragedy. When Syrians revolted in March 2011, it looked for a time that Bashar al-Assad would be swept from power. His Alawite-dominated government initially lost much territory to rebel groups. But by ordering barbaric tactics that included chemical weapons and barrel bombs, Assad eventually managed to stem the losses.
4. The Coup in Turkey Fails
5. Rodrigo Duterte Becomes President of the Philippines
Foreign policy seldom shapes elections, but elections positively shape foreign policy. Rodrigo Duterte won the Philippines presidency in May with 39 percent of the vote and quickly changed how Manila does business. A man of bluster and bravado with a strong anti-American streak, he distanced the Philippines from Washington, a country that Filipinos overwhelmingly like and has a treaty of alliance with the Philippines. In Tagalog, Duterte called President Barack Obama a “son of a whore,” announced he would seek a “separation” from the United States and said that U.S. troops must leave the Philippines within two years.
The primary beneficiary of Duterte’s anti-Americanism has been China, a country that many Filipinos dislike. After an international tribunal had rejected China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea in a much-anticipated legal case initiated by the Philippines, Duterte said the ruling would “take the back seat” as he sought Beijing’s favour. Duterte has yet to take any certain steps, so perhaps he plays the two powers off against each other. While the vigilante campaign he has encouraged against drug addicts and traffickers hasn’t hurt his popularity at home, it could be a major thorn in U.S.-Philippines relations. The campaign, which has killed at least 4,000 people, has been condemned internationally. (Duarte claims that he once killed criminals “personally” when he was mayor of Davao.) Should Duterte realign Manila’s foreign policy, it will remake East Asia’s geopolitical landscape.
6. Ethiopia: ‘Several’ killed in Oromia festival stampede
A deadly stampede broke out after Ethiopian police reportedly fired tear gas to break up an ethnic Oromo protest during a festival with several people killed south of Addis Ababa.
There were conflicting death toll reports following the stampede in Bishoftu on Sunday. At the scene, an AFP photographer said he saw 15-20 unmoving bodies, some of whom were clearly dead.
An Associated Press report said, “several dozens” have died.
“As a result of the chaos, lives were lost, and several of the injured were taken to the hospital,” the government communications office said in a statement, without giving exact figures. “Those responsible will face justice.”
Crowds chanted “we need freedom” and “we need justice” and prevented community elders, deemed close to the government, from delivering their speeches at a religious festival, prompting police to fire tear gas that caused the stampede.
Protesters chanted slogans against the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation, one of four regional parties that make up the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, which has ruled the nation for a quarter of a century.
In the last two years, sporadic protests have erupted in the Oromia region, initially sparked by a land row and increasingly turning more broadly against the government.
7. North Korea Conducts Missile and Nuclear Tests
A rocket is launched to demonstrate a new large-calibre multiple rocket launching system attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un I International Business Times.
What do you do when you kick the can down the road and then run out of the road? That’s a question the United States could soon be facing. For more than two decades, Washington has pressed Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program. But North Korea continues to forge ahead. It conducted its fourth nuclear test in 2006 and followed up with a series of ballistic missile tests. On September 9, it held its fifth nuclear test, producing an explosive yield of 10 kilotons, the highest recorded so far.
8.Britain Votes to Leave the European Union
9. The fire that destroyed Fort McMurray
10. Donald Trump Wins the U.S. Presidency
Donald Trump got the last laugh. From the moment he announced his long-shot presidential bid on June 16, 2015, political experts dismissed his chances. But on November 8, Americans elected him the 45th president of the United States. He now belongs to a select group: he is one of just five presidents to win the office while losing the popular vote. He is also the first president with no prior experience either in government or the U.S. military.
Candidate Trump vowed to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, threatened to tear up major U.S. trade agreements, questioned the utility of America’s alliances, and denounced U.S. foreign policy as both parties have practiced it over the past three decades. Friends and foes alike now wonder what this “America First” foreign policy will look like in practice. Great power politics could see the biggest changes; Trump promises a tougher line with China and Russia’s softer line. His efforts on the latter score could set off infighting within Republican ranks, especially in the wake of the CIA’s conclusion that the Kremlin worked to help him win the presidency. In all, the odds are good that President Trump’s foreign policy decisions will dominate the news in 2017 and possibly redefine America’s relations with the world.
Other Stories of Note in 2016
In January, Iran severed diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis executed Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. In February, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba, the first time the heads of the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches sat down together in nearly 1,000 years. South Africa, Gambia, and Burundi announced that they intend to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. Terrorists launched major attacks in Nice, Belgium, Pakistan, and Orlando. South Sudan’s civil war intensified. The release of the Panama Papers in April exposed how some wealthy people hide their money offshore. The Zika virus emerged as a major global health threat. In October, Iraqi forces, aided by Kurdish troops and guided by U.S. Special Forces, launched an offensive to reclaim Mosul. Matteo Renzi, who burst onto the political scene back in 2014 as Italy’s youngest prime minister, resigned in December after voters decisively rejected his plan to revamp Italy’s political system. The same weekend Italian voters went to the polls, Austrian voters chose Green Party candidate Alexander van der Bellen rather than Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer as their next president, thereby saving Austria from the stigma of becoming the first European country since World War II to make a far-right candidate head of state. 2016 will likely go down in the books as the hottest year on record—at least until next year.