Earlier this year, seeking a label for the outlook for 2011, it seemed to me that “The Year of Reckoning” might be appropriate. That early prognosis was based on the first signs of revolution brewing in the Middle East and North Africa, the analysis of risk published by the World Economic Forum, Nouriel Roubini’s description of the vacuum in global governance and the prevailing denialism that kept imagining economic recovery on the horizon.
As events unfolded in the MENA region – a couple of dictators were toppled, bloody battles for survival rage on where despots will not go quietly and citizens refuse to settle for anything less than radical political and economic transformation even in the face of brutal reprisals – the label grew more and more apt.
Then waves of popular discontent from Japan, Thailand, India, China and Malaysia to the UK, France, Spain and Greece and from Belarus, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Swaziland, Venezuela and the Ivory Coast posed growing challenges to governments or swept old orders out of power. Leaders around the world, even in the most repressive states, found themselves compelled to give ground to emboldened citizens demanding accountability, transparency and a real say in governance.
In several countries, the powerful – ministers , legislators , senior bureaucrats , chiefs of police and security forces, even the odd financial tycoon - demitted office, were jailed, put on trial, and even executed.
Major international sporting bodies came under scrutiny. The International Monetary Fund found it needed a new President and, most recently, a publishing empire threatens several jobs and reputations as it implodes in a storm of allegations of criminal misconduct. And impunity continued to be eroded for authors of genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Outrage at patent injustice or malfeasance, renewed belief that change is possible, new standards of transparency (semi-voluntary or forced by ‘hacktivists’), and new forms of mobilisation have all acquired critical mass. Combined, they are challenging impunity of all forms in many types of institutions. Do these developments signify a broad enough trend to suggest we are witnessing a global tipping point in accountability? What are the exceptions to the trend? Can their immunity be breached? Will the relentless forces resisting change prevail? What will it take to ensure 2011 is remembered as the Year of Reckoning?