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THINK globally

by Archives December 7, 2005

There’s a well-worn expression that says a lot about the media: “No news is good news.” It means that if you’re not hearing anything about a particular person, place or problem, it’s because it’s probably doing pretty well. Unfortunately, this means that all news is bad news, or nearly all of it, and a glance at the daily headlines would tend to confirm this.

But just because something’s positive doesn’t mean it’s not important. Many good things happened this year, and we owe it to ourselves to reflect on them. Here’s a roundup of stories to renew your faith in humanity this holiday season.

2005 began with several encouraging developments, making January a good month for good news.

After being poisoned by the Russian secret police, Viktor Yushchenko came back from the brink to defeat Russia’s choice, Viktor Yanukovich in the third round of Ukraine’s Presidential election in what came to be known as the “orange revolution.” The Ukrainian people’s rejection of rigged elections and Russian interference was seen as a huge step forward for real democracy in Eastern Europe.

Then, Sudan’s Islamic government and Christian rebels from the south signed a peace agreement, ending a 20-year conflict that has claimed the lives of about two million people. While the government’s massive human rights abuses continued in the western region of Darfur, the treaty showed that international pressure could force Sudan’s government to change course.

Finally, Iraqis turned out in large numbers to vote in first democratic elections in more than 50 years, with election-day violence not nearly as bad as predicted. Iraqis elected a 275-seat National Assembly and 18 provincial assemblies, with secular democrats dominating among all of Iraq’s ethnic constituencies. While violence continued, the vote was seen as proof that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want representative government founded on secular law and human rights.

More good news followed in February, much of it from the Middle East.

First, in their highest-level summit in four years, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon agreed to a truce. While occasional acts of violence still occur, the truce was widely seen as a success, strengthening both Abbas’ and Sharon’s positions among their respective peoples, and leading to August’s pullout from Gaza.

Also, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia held its first-ever elections for local city and town officials in Riyadh. While women remained barred from voting and less than a third of eligible voters registered, it was still a step forward for democracy in the country, with more elections promised for the future.

Egypt also caught the democracy bug, as President Hosni Mubarak proposed that Parliament amend the constitution to make way for direct multiparty elections at the end of November. Even though international observers said the elections didn’t qualify as free and fair, democracy advocates in Egypt and elsewhere celebrated the humble beginnings of representative government.

March brought more positive developments to the region. After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February sparked massive anti-Syria demonstrations in Lebanon, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. By the end of April, all troops had returned to Syria, ending the 29-year occupation of the country. While southern Lebanon remained under the control of Iranian-backed and Syrian-supported Hezbollah, The “cedar revolution” was celebrated as a victory of non-violent civil protest against dictatorship.

June arrived, and brought with it an increase in aid for Africa. The Group of 8 industrialized nations signed an agreement to cancel $40 billion in debt owed by 18 poor countries to international lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The Bush administration also committed $1.2 billion over the next five years to fight malaria in 15 African countries. Combined with smarter, more accountable methods of distributing relief funds, these initiatives are expected to make a big difference in the quality of life of many Africans.

In July, good news graced the United Kingdom as the IRA formally renounced violence as a means of bringing about a united Ireland, announcing that it will instead pursue its goals politically. By September, Canadian general John De Chastelain confirmed that the Irish Republican Army had dismantled its entire arsenal. People on both sides of the dispute celebrated the move, which allows Ireland to forget the fighting and focus on being one of the hottest economies in the world.

The Aceh Peace Accord was signed in August between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement, ending the 30-year civil war in a province that badly needs peace to rebuild after an enormous tsunami devastated the region exactly one year ago.

In September, Afghanistan held its first elections in more than 25 years. While as many as half the seats in the lower house were won by Islamic conservatives and former fighters, women also won 68 seats: more than 25 per cent of the total.

Iraqis ratified a new constitution in October, and the vote was seen as a victory on many levels. First, turnout was very strong, showing that Iraqis were unafraid of the insurgency. Also, the Sunni minority turned out in large numbers as well, demonstrating that they acceptance of Iraq’s multiparty future. Finally, the constitution was supported by 79 per cent of voters.

November saw the inauguration of Africa’s first female head of state. Elections in Liberia resulted in Harvard-educated economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf defeating soccer star George Weah in runoff election. The newly-elected President is seen as experienced and serious about the job, and her victory showed that Liberians didn’t treat the election as a popularity contest, voting on policy instead.

While many conflicts still rage around the world, and some problems seem insurmountable, it’s important to acknowledge real progress when it occurs. These stories show that sometimes, real news is good news, too.

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