2014 is coming to an end on a rather despondent note given the global economic context and multiple social tensions worldwide. The ever-elusive rebound of the global economy has many wondering what is in store for 2015.
Still, a few countries will not let the general malaise dampen their spirits. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was created by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) in the UK. It aims to rank countries on how well they fare with respect to three factors: life expectancy, the level of well-being experienced and ecological footprint.
The HP index for 2014 ranked 151 countries, with Costa Rica, Colombia and Vietnam topping the list. In Europe, Switzerland, the UK, Germany and France tops the ranking while Algeria and Madagascar are the happiest from the African continent. This result came as a surprise for many observers of African politics given the social turmoils in the two nations in recent years. Similarly, French citizens would be gobsmacked to see their nation ranking anywhere near the top of a happiness list as voters have grown increasingly upset with the direction of the country.
Instead of finding potential fault with the HP Index for those three countries, let's look at the reasons why these three countries should be looking forward to the year 2015.
Potential for reconciliation and recovery in Madagascar
Let's be blunt. With 90 percent of its population living with less than 2 US dollars per day, a rampant spread of Bubonic plague and failure to provide electricity to most of its citizens, there are very few reasons to be cheerful during the holiday seasons in Madagascar. Yet, things may not be as bleak as they seem.
One reason is that Madagascar is on the recovery path from one the most challenging political crises of its history, which began in 2009 and dropped the national economy into a deep hole. New President-elect Hery Rajaonarimampianina has commissioned a task force for reconciliation to mend the unresolved dissensions from the 2009 coup. To jump-start the initiative, the president met with four of his predecessors and former opponents, Zafy, Ratsiraka, Ravalomanana and Rajoelina, for the first time in a bid to restore national unity:
Madagascar history is rife in political backstabbing and sudden changes of heart, so one cannot be faulted for being cautious about the politicians’ genuine desire to let bygones be bygones. Yet, the economy cannot possibly withstand another political crisis.
Another reason to be optimistic is that economic outlook seems to be looking up for 2015, with economic growth projected at 5.5 percent by the African Development Bank. Now if only Madagascar could get its electricity running properly, the future would already look much brighter.
Citizen activism and rise of young politicians in Algeria
Algeria was the other surprise front-runner in Africa in the HP Index, ranking 26 out of 151 countries worldwide and ahead of countries such as Norway and Switzerland.
Not all is fine and dandy in Algeria. The latest presidential poll on April 2014 saw the re-election for a 4th term of barely functioning incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with 81 percent of the vote facing allegations of fraud. Bouteflika is severely ill after suffering a stroke and now uses a wheelchair.
On top of the uneasy political atmosphere and an overbearing surveillance state, sectarian tensions flared following violent clashes between majority Muslim Sunni and minority Ibadite communities. Still the presidential elections witnessed a spirited campaign from the political opposition, led by former Prime Minister Ali Benflis. Other candidates, such as Abdelaziz Belaid, the youngest presidential candidate ever, and female candidate Louisa Hanoune also showed that there is a potential for new wave of politicians in Algeria.
Despite severe repression from the police, citizen media also had a strong impact on Algeria in 2014. Video reports from civilians such as the following uncovered brutal conflicts in the city of Ghardaïa that was mostly ignored by national media:
Political and free speech activists were jailed during the electoral campaign, but the Barakat! (enough in english) movement grew stronger during the elections, which bodes well for the future of democracy in Algeria.
French citizens united against French bashing
As clichés go, the forever-striking French workers is a tough one to let go of. Truth is, the political atmosphere has turned quite tense in France, a by-product of a stagnant economy, enduring high unemployment and the rise of far-right parties. If elections were held today, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen would be leading all potential presidential candidates.
The challenging context provoked a plethora of scathing remarks by foreign observers over the bleak future of the France, commonly known as French bashing.
No country wants to be painted with a broad brush or put down by outside observers. So when Nobel committees awarded not one but two Nobel Prizes in 2014 to two French citizens (the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences to Jean Tirole and the Nobel Prize in Literature for Jean Patrick Modiano), French Prime Minister Manuel Valls could not help but respond with “take that” against French bashing on Twitter:
Après Patrick Modiano, un autre Français au firmament : félicitations à Jean Tirole! Quel pied-de-nez au french bashing ! #FiersdelaFrance
— Manuel Valls (@manuelvalls) October 13, 2014
After Patrick Modiano, another French citizen on top of the world: Congratulations to Jean Tirole! Take that French bashing! #FiersdelaFrance (Proud to be french)
Beside the temporary gloating over the Nobel Prize awards, there are in fact reasons for the French to hold their heads high. The economy might be stagnant, but it must be noted that it has not plunged during one of the harshest economic crisis in Europe in decades. A reform to boost the economy called “Law on Growth and Activity” is in place. The business reform includes, among other measures, a plan for more flexibility on opening hours in tourist areas. In fact, tourism is one area in which France is doing quite well, as noted here by UK newspaper The Guardian.
A public forum over three days in December called “Osons la France” (loosely translated as “Daring to be French”) highlighted all the innovative services created by French start-ups in 2014, as shown in this video:
Not all is well in France, evidently. But naysayers might have been a bit premature with doomsday predictions, at least for 2015.
So here's to more hopeful, cheerful news worldwide in 2015: