The rest of the world will share the slowdown in the global economy, the fallout hurting some small nations in Africa than it will hurt America or China
By Opiyo Oloya
“So what do you think is in for the New Year?” asked a man named John, chatting with a friend on New Year’s Eve at the LA Fitness gymnasium in Newmarket.
“Not much, I don’t think,” answered the other man wearing a blue T-shirt that said in white letters on the back: Team East Gwillimbury.
“Same old, same old,” John added. “Yeah,” replied Team East Gwillimbury.
That actual conversation between two retired Canadian men overheard at the gym as the pair worked a sweat on the elliptical machine illustrates the unenthused prospects on the global scene for the New Year, 2019.
If John sounded both hot and cold about the New Year that is precisely the same pickle everyone is in, globally, this year.
In fact, if one listens to the news the global uncertainty makes for downright depressed feeling that the world may not survive beyond June 2019.
The unease is caused mainly by the world’s largest economies, the US and China, at each other’s throat for the past several months.
To show he is a tough guy, the Wild West cowboy, Don Trump, initiated a trade fight with China which the latter quickly welcomed and, before anyone could say, “Hey, you two cut it out”, the world’s powerful nations were using tariffs to block goods from the other side. The global stock markets reacted poorly to the skirmishes, adjusting daily, someday falling dangerously low, only to recover momentarily.
Many US manufacturers and farmers began to feel the pinch of the trade war, business drying up because there were no markets for their products. Though feeling the pinch, China so far has kept a poker face, pretending it is not hurting that much.
Of course, the old-age African saying — When two elephants fight, it is the grass that feels the hurt — applies here.
The rest of the world will share the slowdown in the global economy, the fallout hurting some small nations in Africa than it will hurt America or China, essentially because when things get really bad, it is easy for the big guys to toss overboard the smaller, inconsequential developing economies.
Simply, the inward-looking trade protectionism between the big economies has only ensured that everyone else is stuck with what they make, unable to sell to the world market out there, a disaster looming for those unable to ride out the trade wars.
But there is a lot of blame to go all around and, sharing in the blame is the UK still struggling with Brexit deal with Europe, making everyone nervous.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped that by New Year she would have wrapped everything up, put a bow on it, and essentially kissed Europe goodbye.
Instead, by the time we went to press, she continued to struggle day-by-day, some days more horrifying than others, valiantly working to sell Brexit deal to her countrymen and women, except they are not buying it.
In fact, it is not even clear at this time what the people of Britain really want from Europe, Brexit or Annexit? Yet until Britain can get it together, the European economic landscape, indeed the rest of the world, will remain shaky, unstable, causing everyone else to hold their breath, waiting for something to happen, which may not happen for a long time. Japan, once a major world economy, is going through its own troubles.
No longer the carmaker and electronics leader it once was, it is doing its own thing, including restarting whale hunting, something the civilised world had banned a while back.
But none of these compares with the antics of an out of control American president and the potential for real world consequences. His power curtailed by a newly Democratic Congress starting today, yet still bent on proving his manhood rather than governing, Trump will say and do anything that pops into his head, some of his utterances defying all rational thinking, forcing him to stick to a position even when it does not make sense.
He said Mexico was going to pay for his wall along the US-Mexico border and when Mexico fiercely said no, he went after American taxpayers, shutting down part of the federal government in an ill-tempered tantrum to extort the money from American taxpayers.
That America continues to function at all is a marvel of democratic institutions built over hundreds of years withstanding one of the most unpredictable leaders the country has ever experienced.
Indeed, there should be suspicion that Trump will deliberately, cynically and carelessly plunge the world into a war with Iran, now cast as the villain of all things nuclear.
Never mind that in real terms, the more immediate worries of nuclear war come from nations with the nukes — Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and India, that could use the bomb because of one thing or another.
But, right now, it is good narrative to create a bogeyman out there, make Iran the thing your mother tells you to be afraid of, the bad guy who should be taken out by the good guys.
Needless to say, such a war could only cause misery and hundreds of thousands of deaths in a region that can ill-afford another war. But such is the current situation in Washington, that anything is possible, whether or not the world is prepared for such an undertaking is another matter.
In the mix is Russia’s spoiler Vladimir Putin, the pyromaniac who loves to see the world burning, chaos being the thing that makes him jump up and down with happiness. But make no mistake, Putin really is exacting an unimaginable influence on Trump.
It is the safest bet that Putin was behind Trump’s sudden announcement of pullout of American troops from Syria, injecting further confusion to an area already rife with problems.
Yet, even as the world remains on the edge, there is a lot of opportunity out there, a chance to move things forward for the better in 2019.
Africa is going through infrastructural renewal, borrowing heavily (mostly from China) to lay out much-needed roads, bridges, rails and transportation hubs, ensuring that when the world comes knocking on the door for organic food produces, minerals and other resources, the means exist to transport those resources to the market.
Used correctly, these loans will pay good dividends for generations to come, but squandered, the borrowing nations could be on the hook for a long time and, one thing China does better than any nation is collecting its money from borrowers.
John, the older man in the gym, likely in his mid-70s, had earlier excitedly told his friend about the chicken industry in Canada, intimating that government subsidies poured into the chicken business was the reason chicken farmers were making a killing.
“Maybe I will go into chicken production,” he confided to his friend. Maybe in 2019 the world should go into the chicken business.
Then, even when things fall apart, at least, we are assured of chicken wings.