INTERNATIONAL VILLAIN OF THE YEAR
Winner: Jair Bolsonaro; Runners-up: Tucker Carlson & Abiy Ahmed
Amazon forest’s enemy #1, Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsonaro, is more than just a world-class Covid-denier.
The English-speaking media often describe President Jair Bolsonaro as South America’s Donald Trump, a caricature of a tin-pot dictator with cartoonish megalomania and spit-out-your-drink displays of ignorance that take the edge off phrases like “crimes against humanity”.
The Brazilian president, voted international villain of the year by Daily Maverick readers, is a leader in the interconnected world of right-wing, nationalist populist movements that use misinformation and violent rhetoric to inflame their bases while undermining the rights of citizens and dismantling democratic institutions to hold on to power and enrich their families and allies.
A couple of months ago, Bolsonaro, who is proudly unvaccinated against Covid-19 and has supported quack treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, was photographed with members of his staff eating pizza on a pavement in New York, which requires proof of vaccination for indoor dining, while in the city for the United Nations General Assembly.
What looked like a minor humiliation actually summed up the president’s response to Covid; it was a chance to smile defiantly and keep eating in the face of mass death and condemnation.
Throughout the pandemic, Bolsonaro has made a point of dismissing accepted scientific advice and relentlessly endorsed attempts to achieve herd immunity, calling those who demand stronger restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and secure prompt access to vaccines “sissies” who are complaining over a “little flu”.
Officially, more than 600,000 people have died from coronavirus in Brazil, which has the world’s second-highest Covid-19 death toll behind the United States. According to experts, an estimated 300,000 lives could have been saved if Bolsonaro’s government had introduced policies to prevent the spread of the virus and rolled out a timely vaccination programme. Indigenous communities have accounted for a disproportionately high number of fatalities.
Bolsonaro publicly encouraged people to continue gathering, dismissed advice on wearing masks and, in the height of the pandemic, tried to keep businesses open by presidential decree rather than impose a lockdown. The country has had four health ministers during the pandemic.
Brazil’s vaccine roll-out was delayed by months while Bolsonaro ignored attempts from manufacturers to reach agreements and instead continued to push ineffective alternatives long after they were disproved.
In October, a Brazilian congressional panel recommended Bolsonaro be criminally charged for his handling of the pandemic. “I am personally convinced that he is responsible for escalating the slaughter,” said Senator Renan Calheiros, the report’s lead author. Bolsonaro dismissed the findings as politically motivated and maintained, “We know we did the right thing from the very first moment.”
In response to the multiple investigations into his leadership, Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has increased attacks on democratic institutions, raised the spectre of voter fraud and suggested he won’t accept an election defeat in elections scheduled for next year, which could cause a constitutional crisis in the country.
Environmental policies have also been gutted and contrary to Bolsonaro’s commitments to end deforestation in the Amazon, it has risen to the highest levels since 2006 with an area larger than Belgium lost under his leadership. DM168
FIRST RUNNER-UP: TUCKER CARLSON
Tucker Carlson, the top-rated host on Fox News, took second place in Daily Maverick’s international villain of the year vote. He has long embraced and perpetuated the polarising Trumpism of the far-right in the US but this year he took the propaganda to new heights.
In his three-part series Patriot Purge, Carlson portrayed protesters at the 6 January insurrection as patriotic and peace-loving Americans who were infiltrated by the FBI and Antifa agent provocateurs. These innocent citizens are now being hounded by law enforcement, which is using techniques honed in the War on Terror, for simply standing up to election fraud.
Carlson uses conspiracy theories to justify violence, further undermine democratic institutions and attempt to sully future election results. He portrays crazed Trump loyalists as victims who have lost an America that is rightfully theirs.
Some of Carlson’s colleagues at Fox have been critical. Don’t, however, expect Fox or Carlson to stop feeding the beast they helped to create. DM168
SECOND RUNNER-UP: ABIY AHMED
Less than two years after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for ending hostilities with Eritrea, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was marking the anniversary of a war with new foes in November, promising to bury them “with our blood and bones”.
Abiy launched a military campaign against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020 after the group seized military bases, which it said was a pre-emptive move. The TPLF had dominated Ethiopian politics for decades before Abiy purged the group from the government following his 2018 election.
Despite international pressure to cease hostilities and negotiate, Abiy has relentlessly pursued the war and the TPLF has defended and expanded its territory. Thousands of people have been killed and more than two million displaced. The Tigray region faces a famine because of the blockade of food and medical aid.
A joint UN and Ethiopian investigation found all sides in the conflict likely committed human rights violations. DM168
Daily Maverick Persons of the Year
Every year, Daily Maverick puts its mind to the question of who we should recognise in our annual Persons of the Year categories.
In the past, these decisions have been made after a bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but this year, we decided to do things a little differently. We had the bare-knuckle editorial brawl, but simply to arrive at a shortlist of nominees in each category. Using a new reader engagement tool called Hearken, we asked our online readers to cast their votes on who they think deserves the final nod. We also gave readers the option to choose their own candidate in any category in case they thought we had neglected anyone more worthy. The results were both expected and surprising.
On the whole, readers agreed with our shortlisted candidates, with a few exceptions. We had not considered Greta Thunberg as a candidate for International Person of the Year, but so many readers nominated her that she earned enough mentions to be a runner-up in that category.
Many objected to us only focusing on singers for our Artist of the Year and objected to the predominance of foreign singers in the category. Quite a few readers were critical of us leaving out African women and female contenders in general.
The journalists at Daily Maverick were mentioned several times as nominees for different categories of People of the Year – ah, thanks for the love, guys, but this time around we wanted to cast our net outside our inner circle.
The more than 800 readers who voted totally exceeded our expectations, because this was the first time we have opened People of the Year to readers’ votes.
Below are the categories. Read about the winners and runners-up in various categories below.
- South African Person of the Year – a person who has had the broadest or most significant impact on the country as a whole.
- Africa Person of the Year – a person who has made an outstanding contribution on the African continent this year.
- International Person of the Year – a person who has had broad international impact or made an outstanding contribution this year.
- South African Villain of the Year – there was no shortage of suggestions in this self-explanatory category…
- International Villain of the Year – as above, but drawn from foreign fields.
- South African Businessperson of the Year – not necessarily the person who made the biggest profit, but someone whose influence went beyond the balance sheets.
- Community Champion of the Year – someone uplifting, defending and representing ordinary South Africans, often against all odds.
- South African Polluter of the Year – individuals and entities which have succeeded in further dirtying our environment this year.
- Our Burning Planet Heroes of the Year – the green warriors fighting for our planet’s survival.
- South African Youth Champion of the Year – young people working to improve the lot of other young people.
- Sportsperson of the Year – a sportsperson whose positive impact has been felt either on or off the field.
- Sports Team of the Year – a team that has stood out from the rest in 2021 either on or off the field.
- Artist of the Year – a hitmaker whose musical or social influence has towered above others.
- Moegoe of the Year – someone whose behaviour perhaps falls short of Villain of the Year, but who has in some way acted idiotically.
- Grinch of the Year – someone who qualifies as a spoilsport or killjoy. – Rebecca Davis/DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.
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