The year that was 2014 – Part 3

Alex Mitchell
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In the third instalment of our ‘Year that was 2014’ series, we look at stories from Nigeria, Hong Kong and even space! Catch part 1 and part 2 for more news stories that gripped us in 2014 – and look out for part 4 later in the week.

boko haram

Boko Haram

The militant Islamist group Boko Haram based in Nigeria is credited with killing 2,000 people in the first half of 2014 and kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok on the night of 14 April. Having gone into the school dressed as guards, they were suspected of taking the girls to a fortified camp in the Konduga area of the Sambisa Forest. The girls were aged 16 to 18 and in their final year of school. Initialy it was thought 85 students were taken. This was revised to 100-129, which was later retracted before the official figure of 276.

The students had been forced to convert to Islam and into marriages with members of Boko Haram with a ‘bride price’ of £7.50. Militants were spotted with schoolgirls entering the neighbouring countries of Chad and Cameroon.

A video from Boko Haram leader Abubaka Shekau claimed responsibility, saying, ‘Allah instructed me to sell them … I will carry out his instructions.’ He claimed slavery was allowed in ‘my religion’. He also argued the girls should not have been in school and instead should have been married.

Shekau acknowledged that many of the girls seized were not Muslim (with Chibok being a Christian village). He said, ‘The girls that have not accepted Islam, they are now gathered in numbers … and we will treat them well, the way the Prophet Muhhammad treated the infidels he seized.’

On 26 May, Nigerian Chief of Defence staff announced they had located the girls but ruled out a rescue attempt amid fears of risking the hostages.

On 12 October, four girls were reported to have escaped from the original kidnapped group and said they had walked for three weeks to freedom from Cameroon. They reported that they were raped daily.

A truce between the government and Boko Haram raised hopes that the remaining 219 schoolgirls would be released. This followed a month of negotiations mediated by Saudi Arabia.

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The most widespread epidemic of ebola is currently sweeping across several West African countries. It began in Guinea in December 2013 then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. A small number of 20 cases occurred in Nigeria, with one in Senegal, but both countries have now been declared Ebola free.

Several cases have been reported in Mali with one isolated case reported each in the UK and Spain, with four cases in America through medical workers returning home. As of 29 December, 20,153 suspected cases have been reported with 7,883 deaths, though the World Health Organisation says this ‘substantialy understates the magnitude of the outbreak’.

With ebola affecting poverty stricken areas, the lack of basic supplies such as soap and medical supplies is hindering efforts to control the virus. The President of Doctors Without Borders has been critical of the support and assistance from UN member nations saying, ‘Six months into the worst ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it.’

Sir Bob Geldoff reformed Band Aid for a Christmas charity single to raise funds for the ebola crisis. Band Aid 30 recorded the song ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’ replacing the original ‘Feed the world’ with ‘Heal the world’.

There is at present no treatment specifically for the ebola virus, however there are measures that improve the chances of a patient surviving the illness. Rehydrating the body is one way of preventing the loss of fluids in the body. The previous ebola outbreak fatality rate was at 50%.

Pharmaceutical companies are still in the early stages of developing effective medication to help fight the disease. Experimental treatments are being considered but there are ethical issues with fast-tracking medications.

This epidemic is set to continue into the new year with Britain reporting its first case from a healthcare worker who returned home to Glasgow from West Africa.


Hong Kong democracy protests

In what has become known as the Umbrella Revolution, September saw protests against the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s (NPCSC) proposed reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system. The NPCSC intended to scrap the rule allowing anyone to stand for the legislative council if they received more than 1% of registered voters’ signatures and replaced it with a 1,200 member nominating committee, which would elect two or three electoral candidates with more than half the votes before the general public could vote.

Protesters took to the streets in civil disobedience, protesting the screening of candidates with the removal of those that disagree with Beijing. Protesters soon descended on government buildings. Police confirmed they fired teargas and used pepper spray.

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By 2 October, activists lay siege to the central government headquarters. Shortly before midnight the Hong Kong government responded to an ultimatum set by the protesters and agreed to host talks about political reform. The Hong Kong government had agreed to talks on 10 October, however changed his position on 9 October, stating that negotiations could not take place if they are linked to illegal activities. This saw protesters return to the streets once more.

The protesters also wrote to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, saying the proposed electoral reforms went against the genuine wishes of the people of Hong Kong. The protesters called for Hong Kong leader CY Leung to resign. He argued it would not solve anything, while police continued their efforts to clear barricades and tents.

CY Leung said that it was a good thing that Beijing had not intervened and that western forces were behind the protests. He argued that open elections would create pressure to create a welfare state in Hong King.

21 October saw televised debates between the leaders of the protesters and senior figures from the Hong Kong government. The government proposed it would write a report on the protesters’ concerns regarding the reforms, but that civil nominations fell outside the framework and the NPCSC decision which can’t be reversed.

The protests continue with civil disobedience and protesters occupying major roads. A minibus company took out an injunction against the protesters and their blockade of major roads, while independent police complaints councils have been brought in to monitor the level of force used and look for any excessive use of force. The protests are set to spill over into 2015 and so this story is not yet over.


Rosetta Spacecraft

The Rosetta spacecraft landed on comet 67P on 12 November, having been launched by the European Space Agency on 2 March 2004. It became the first object to orbit a comet and had the intention of completing a detailed study of the comet over 17 months.

The craft landed on the comet at 15:33 but bounced twice, eventually resting on the comet at 17:33. On contact with the surface, two harpoons were meant to fire to hold the craft in place, however this didn’t happen. Scientists decided not to manually fire the harpoons in case it dislodged the craft. Due to the position of the craft, its solar panels were sheltered from the sun and it eventually went into hibernation, following a few initial tests. These tests showed that Earth’s water is unlikely to have originated from comets such as 67P.

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Sochi 2014

February saw the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. A total of 98 events in 15 winter sports were held.

The games were shrouded in controversy with allegations of corruption among officials, leading to cost overruns. The major concern for the LGBT+ community and many activists was the safety of LGBT+ athletes and spectators, due to arise in homophobic attacks after the recently passed legislation banning anything deemed to be ‘gay propaganda’. BBC Sports commentator Claire Balding went to Russia despite fears for her safety, and many people (and businesses) boycotted Russian imports – such as vodka.

Russia came top of the table with 13 gold, 11 silver and 9 bronze medals. Norway came second with 11 gold, 5 silver and 10 bronze medals, and in third place was Canada with 10 gold, 10 silver and 5 bronze medals.

Great Britain came 19th with 1 gold from Lizzy Yarnold in the Skeleton, 1 silver from the men’s curling team and 2 bronze medals from  Jenny Jones (Britain’s first medal on snow) and the woman’s curling team.

As a result of the increased focus on Russia, the International Olympic Committee introduced anti-discrimination clauses to the contracts for future host cities – including protections for LGBT+ people.


Brazil World Cup

The World Cup in Brazil began on 12 June with the final on 13 July. This was the second time Brazil had hosted the competition, with great things expected of the hosts. Sadly, the tournament was met with protests against the costs, with Brazilians feeling money was being moved away from essential services to satisfy FIFA.

The cost of hosting the tournament was $14bn, making it the most expensive World Cup to date. President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA chairman Sepp Blatter were booed at the final.

31 teams qualified, with this being the first time goal line technology was used. Defending champions Spain were eliminated in the group stages as were England and Italy. The hosts lost to Germany in the semi-final, who then went on to beat Argentina in the final 1-0 with a goal scored by Mario Götze. This was the first time a European team had won in the Americas and the first time a continent had won three tournaments in a row.

Can We just enjoy this picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the changing room with the winning team
Can We just enjoy this picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the changing room with the winning team

Glasgow 2014

The 20th Commonwealth games took place in July in Glasgow, becoming the largest multi-sport event ever hosted in Scotland with 4,950 athletes from 71 nations competing in 18 different sports.

The home nations of the United Kingdom took their biggest medal haul, continuing the success from the Olympic games. England finished top of the medal tables for the first time since 1986. Australia came second, Canada third, with Scotland coming in fourth. Kiribati also won its first ever gold medal.


The diving pool saw a special moment after the 10m men’s synchronised diving event, which saw gold and silver medals go to out gay divers Matther Mitcham and diving partner Dominic Bedggood (gold), and Tom Daley with James Denny (silver). Daley also took the gold in the 10m individual dive.

The Commonwealth Games were used as a moment to reflect on the protections and equalities won by LGBT+ people in the UK, while considering the challenges still faced by many in the former colonies as a result of Victorian legislation that was never repealed after independence.


A farewell to comedy greats

The comedy circuit lost two giants this year with the deaths of Joan Rivers and Robin Williams.

Robin Williams died on 11 August aged 63. He was found at his home after taking his own life. Williams had been suffering with severe depression and also struggled in his past with drink and drug addiction in his past.

His wife Susan Schnider said, ‘I have lost my husband and best friend whilst the world has lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings … As he is remembered it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.’

Williams’s career spread across stand up, TV and film with him winning an Oscar for his performance in Good Will Hunting in 1998. He will also be remembered for his performance as Mrs Doubtfire, which was set to return for a sequel, and the voice of Genie in Aladdin. The Westboro Baptist Church intended to boycott his funeral, much to the upset of fans, friends and family alike.

Joan Rivers died on 4 September, aged 81, after being on life support. She had begun to experience breathing difficulties whilst undergoing a minor throat procedure. She never awoke from her medically induced coma.

Rivers’s career spanned five decades. She became the first woman to host a late-night network talk show in America, following an appearance on her mentor Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The author of 12 books and numerous comedy albums, Rivers was nominated for a Grammy for her album What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most, and a Tony Award for her performance of the title role in Sally Marr. She also won a daytime Emmy for her talk show The Joan Rivers Show and claimed the title of Celebrity Apprentice on the American version of the show hosted by Donald Trump.

In 1968 the New York Times critic Jack Gould called Rivers ‘quite possibly the most intuitively funny woman alive’. Critics of her outspoken style of comedy noted her transphobia towards Chaz Bono, among other jokes that were deemed offensive by some.


Field of Remembrance

2014 saw 100 years since the start of World War I with a special commemoration at the Tower of London. More than five million people are estimated to have seen the ceramic poppy field which appeared in the moat of the Tower in November.

Over four months, 888,246 poppies appeared, each marking one of the dead. It was meant to be a visual way of quantifying those who lost their lives. Each poppy was then sold for £25 each to raise money for the Poppy Appeal, with eBay saying they would not allow them to be auctioned on their website out of respect.

The idea was that on the Monday following Remembrance Sunday, the field of poppies would disappear. But due to popular demand – with endorsements from Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron – the display was slowly removed over the remainder of the month.


Tony Benn

14 March saw the death of former cabinet minister and Labour politician Tony Benn, who had served as an MP for 47 years. He had been Secretary of State for Energy from 1975-79, as well as Secretary of State for Industry from 1974-75.

Benn inherited a peerage upon his father’s death as second Viscount Stansgate, which prevented him from continuing as an MP. He fought to remain in the House of Commons and then campaigned for the ability to renounce his title, which he succeded win doing with the Peerage Act 1963.

Benn was a prominent figure on the left wing of politics, with the term ‘Bennite’ being used to describe someone with radical left-wing politics. He also stood for leadership of the Labour Party against Neil Kinnock in 1988, following Labour’s third successive defeat

Benn was described as one of the few UK politicians to have become more left wing after holding a ministerial office. He served under two prime ministers: Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

Benn’s second son Hilary currently serves as an MP in Leeds, having served as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Environment and Rural Affairs and International Development.

Benn ascribed his move to the left following his ministerial position to the following four lessons. He learned:

1. how the ‘Civil Service can frustrate the policies and decisions of popularly elected governments’;
2. how the centralised nature of the Labour Party allows the leader to run ‘the party almost as if it were his personal kingdom’;
3. how the power of industrialists and bankers to get their way by use of the crudest form of economic pressure, even blackmail, against a Labour government; and
4. how the power of the media is ‘like the power of the medieval church, ensures that events of the day are always presented from the point of view of those who enjoy economic privilege’.

Benn served as an MP for two constituencies. He served first in Bristol South East 1963-83, a seat which was later abolished. Losing his bid to stand in the new seat of Bristol South, he eventually stood for Bristol East, losing to Conservative Jonathan Sayheed. He then stood in the Chesterfield by-election and served that constituency from 1984 to his retirement in 2001, when he announced he was leaving Parliament in order to ‘spend more time on politics’.

Benn was given the privilege of being able to continue using Parliamentary facilities. He then became President of the Stop the War Coalition, which saw him protest the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He spoke in February to protest the Iraq war. Police said it was the biggest demonstration in the UK with 750,000 matchers. He served two terms as president. His funeral service ended with the singing of ‘The Red Flag’.


Stephen Sutton

A young man who inspired us all, Stephen Sutton raised £5m from over 340,000 donors for the Teenage Cancer Trust. His efforts far surpassed his £10,000 target. He raised this staggering amount whilst in his final days of his own battle with colon cancer.

Sutton died aged 19 after a four-year battle with the cancer, which spread to his liver and lungs. The two thumbs up became a symbol attributed to him with #thumbsupforstephen trending on social media. Following an improvement in his condition after being taken to hospital with a collapsed lung, Sutton met with Prime Minister David Cameron, who voiced support for his cause.

Filmmaker Grigori Richters, who made a documentary about Sutton, said, ‘Two days before Stephen passed we talked about his legacy. He wanted to make sure we remembered him as the positive person he was and not a cancer sufferer.’

He was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours just weeks before he died. He was told prior to the public announcement made after his death. His mother Jane received the honour from the Queen in November. Although Sutton said, upon hearing the news, that he didn’t do the fundraising for recognition, being awarded an MBE was ‘Awesome’.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

July and August saw our social media feeds filled with nominations for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – including the video above by Steve Grand. It involved dumping a bucket of ice water on your head to promote awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in America and was adopted in Britain to raise awareness for Motor Neurone Disease.

Former President George W. Bush was one of the most senior figures to partake, challenging both Bill Clinton and Barak Obama. David Cameron was nominated by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and by Russell Brand.

About Alex Mitchell

Political observer and current affairs addict. I observe - I analyse - I debate