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Here are the Sunshine Awards 2011

It’s time for the annual Sunshine Awards from this columnist: highlighting the significant events and people of 2011. Before you proceed, please remember the selection process is opaque, peculiar and idiosyncratic, and not subject to external auditing.

The Damburst of the Year was the amazing outbreak of popular uprisings. Starting from the Arab world this time last year, mass protest took on a new momentum in 2011. The protests spread like wildfire across North Africa and the Middle East. One of the world’s ancient civilizations, Greece, had its people repeatedly causing havoc on its streets. The Occupy movement spread across the globe to protest elite hegemony. And there’s much more to come in 2012, as ordinary people resist becoming the victims of the privileged.

Linked to this, the unpredicted Phenomenon of the Year was the spectacle of big-men dictators falling like dominoes. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi, Gbagbo, Saleh, Assad, Kim are gone or going. All over the globe, sitting dictators looked on in disbelief and many must be dreading the words “Up Next…”

The Fiasco of the Year has to be the near-collapse of the Eurozone. Who saw that coming at the beginning of the year? Europe’s diverse and indebted economies are now seeming virtually impossible to shackle with a single currency, and the proposed salvation measures – print more money to spread around a failed system – only seem to kick the can down the road for future taxpayers to pick up. For those of us in East Africa: let’s watch this space keenly in 2012 – and learn the lessons about economic blocs.

For Kenya, the Technology of the Year must be social media. Sure, it’s been around a while, but 2011 was the year Kenyans joined in droves, primarily using inexpensive mobile devices. Apart from allowing Kenyans to exchange inane trivia, this cheap, widespread connectivity has two more meaningful consequences: first, for our politicians, who are going to discover how difficult it is to keep young people in ignorance and stifle debate amongst them; second, for our companies, who are going to wriggle on the hot plate of instantaneously transmitted customer dissatisfaction and reputation damage in 2012.

In Kenya, the Idiot of the Year is undoubtedly the overlapper. This creature displays some distinguishing characteristics. He (the overlapper is nearly always male) comes from all walks of life and all social classes; he does not give a damn about anyone else around him, as long as he gets a few metres ahead; he is evidently dimwitted, since his actions make things worse for everyone, himself included. 2011 was the year in which overlapping became a plague rather than a minority ailment. And all the while, leaders and regulators looked away.

Kenya’s positive Change of the Year is the slow but steady building of an independent judiciary. For too long, our legal system has been in the steely grip of the executive and the grubby paws of the rich, which is why the country now displays its soiled linen in the International Criminal Court. There are strong signs that a judicial system that enforces laws fairly for all may be on its way back. There will be many roadblocks ahead, but the journey is well worth continuing. Our future wellbeing and prosperity depends on the untainted rule of law.

And finally, the Transition of the Year was the passing of Kenya’s iconic heroine, Wangari Maathai. The good lady moved on, but left us a legacy of unbowed courage in the fight for a cause. It is wonderful to see so many brave souls picking up her baton to continue the fight for Kenya’s trees – all strength to them.

May 2012 be a year of peaceful transition of power, and of more people doing the right thing even when no one around them sets the example. Festive greetings to all.

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