Just three months into the year, the world has been set on end by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ramifications by this aggression echoes worldwide. Safeture’s team of analysts discusses how it affects USA, several African countries, European energy- and resource interests, Russia’s international standing, but also China’s outspoken interest in Taiwan.
While the war in Ukraine is grabbing headlines worldwide, there are also several bright spots when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic and how many countries are going into an endemic phase.
Follow the links on the right to respective analyst’s addendum and article.
These are the nine major trends and events that will happen in 2022, covering every major continent. In this Preview of 2022, Safeture’s team of analysts also recap the events that shook the world in 2021. While the pandemic will remain on top of everyone’s mind for many in 2022, other issues will also be at play, such as cyber-security threats, the military build-up in Russia and Ukraine, environmental issues following the COP26 summit, and stability in West Africa’s Sahel region. Also featured in this edition is Safeture’s Risk Forecast that identifies the type of risk that we believe will be the dominant theme for each country in 2022.
Another year has passed, with the world continuing to reel from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic that started in 2020. From controlling the pandemic at its onset, much of the world has since moved on to living with the virus as we learn more about it and vaccination drives gained momentum. The road to recovery has also started, albeit at a different pace across the globe, amid concerns over the emergence of a new variant, with Omicron being the latest. Aside from Covid-19, 2021 also saw the chaotic withdrawal of Afghans following the return of the Taliban and the escalation of the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia, two events that, among others, were highlighted in Safeture’s Preview 2021 edition.
In 2022, we hope to continue to help you with assessing and preventing risks through Alerts and risk assessments in both our platform and monthly Previews.
With the world set to ring the New Year bells, Safeture would like to take this opportunity to wish you a great 2022 and stay safe. Happy New Year!
Risk Map: Global Risk Forecast of 2022 by Safeture’s Analytical Team
28 July - 8 August
21 November - 18 December
With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, there has been growing optimism that the world is a step closer to the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Governments have pressed ahead with reopening plans as the number of new cases showed a declining trend, following a five percent drop in early February. Amidst such encouraging figures, the continuous development of vaccines and treatment options also meant that the world is getting a better understanding of the virus than when it all started two years ago.
The reason for such optimism, to some degree, lies in the fact that Omicron is less deadly compared to its peers, particularly the Delta variant. Hospitalizations remain under control while those who are vaccinated and boosted have mostly been spared from the worst effects of the virus. Capitalizing on these positive signs, European countries and the United States have since become the earliest to wind down their restrictions as they race toward reaching the endemicity stage. In contrast, governments in the Asia-Pacific region are taking more gradual steps to lift restrictions.
As many countries moved away from imposing restrictions, some in the Western Pacific have also been experiencing worrying surges of cases. Those that have embarked on the zero-Covid approach since the beginning of the pandemic are among the notable examples that have been hit hard by the Omicron surges. For instance, cases spiked in Hong Kong earlier this year despite its strict policy that managed to keep the virus largely at bay in 2020 and 2021. The Healthcare system in the territory was pushed to the brink as serious infections rose significantly.
The relatively low vaccination rate, especially among the elderly in Hong Kong, has also proven that focusing on mitigation measures alone is inadequate. In contrast, New Zealand imposed a total lockdown in August 2021 after only a single community case was detected shifted its approach to be more tolerant by acknowledging that the virus would be part of life, thus underscoring the importance of having a dynamic strategy.
Evidently, not all parts of the world are moving at the same pace when it comes to moving from pandemic to the endemic stage, as issue such as vaccine equity also remains at play. The transition toward the endemic phase will unveil a new kind of return of normalcy. Vaccination efforts will remain crucial in protecting individuals against severe illnesses, with possible booster shots offered to the public. Governments should continue testing and tracking possibly new and emerging variants in sustaining the next normal. Under the reasonable best-case, there will still be smaller regional or seasonal outbreaks of cases that could lead the government to impose localized restrictions. It is important to remember that endemic is not synonymous with harmless, yet this transition will serve as an important milestone after the emergence of the virus in late 2019.
The question is, how fast can we move on into this phase? Pandemics fade out of view because of human efforts like vaccine development, contact tracing, genomic analysis, containment measures, and international cooperation. These are the basic toolkit to end the pandemic as quickly as possible. On the bright side, we have seen vaccines being developed, and they have served to lessen and prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms. Despite the grim outlook next year due to emerging variants, vaccination efforts will continue with booster shots and the introduction of antiviral drugs available to counter more robust variants. However, it is essential to highlight that vaccine inequity between high-income countries, medium, and low-income countries remains, and this could be a bane to global efforts to tame the virus. While the rich countries roll out booster doses, their middle and poorer counterparts struggle to vaccinate half of their population.
As stressed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), no one is fully protected unless everyone is protected. Hence, there is a need to increase vaccine availability to allow for better uptake and remove barriers that prevent countries from producing their own vaccines.
Vaccination rates around the world as of December 2021 (Source: Our World in Data)
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also presented yet another dilemma for Xi. Beijing has long been an ally of Moscow, and the latest move by President Putin, however, has put Xi in a catch-22 situation. On the one hand, China has always been portraying itself as an advocate of respecting sovereignty, but at the same time, it also expressed recognition of Russia‘s so-called “legitimate security concerns.” Besides, policymakers in Beijing also understand the need to avoid backing Russia’s aggressive move among Western nations that will harm its trade interests. While some were surprised by the country‘s abstention from voting against the United Nations (UN) resolution condemning Russia, Beijing has so far refused to call the situation in Ukraine an “invasion.” The Chinese government could be more open to the idea of playing a mediating role in ending the crisis but expressing criticisms on Kremlin is something unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Across the Taiwan Strait, China‘s reaction to the invasion has also generated a buzz in the island that Beijing has regarded as a renegade province. Amidst the parallels of both issues, Chinese officials have been quick to point out that the Taiwanese issue is purely an internal matter, and reunification is bound to happen, especially with Xi‘s pledge in 2021. Taipei, however, has a different take on the crisis as the mainland has never ruled out using force to achieve the purpose. President Tsai Ing-wen has also expressed sympathy and solidarity with Ukraine as both Russia and China have been viewed as revisionist powers that claimed sovereignty of others as their own.
While such concerns are not unfounded, several factors will come to the fore, including geographical proximity and Taiwan‘s importance in the global supply chain, making a strong response from the United States more likely should China decide to invade. President Biden has also promised to defend Taiwan should China attack though it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act 1979 did not explicitly state that such action must be taken should a war breaks out.
However, both mainland and Taiwan will be watching the developments in Ukraine closely as there will be many lessons to be learned, ranging from military strategies, management of economic resources, diplomatic moves, and even battle of propaganda in the media sphere. The asymmetrical nature of the conflict in Ukraine that resembles the battle between “David and Goliath“ will also be another key takeaway. This is as Ukraine, being an underdog, continued to hold off against the Russian invasion for weeks, despite the latter being a bigger adversary with a more powerful military. Similarly, Taiwan will also be regarded as “David“ should the “Goliath“ China decides to launch a military operation in the future.
With Xi’s indefinite rule, his assertiveness at home and abroad will likely continue to be of high interest in 2022. The issue of Taiwan will continue to dominate the security agenda as tension flared in 2021 over Beijing’s constant incursions of the former’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). War is still a bit off the horizon as Xi remains keen to avoid a cross-strait bloodbath, especially during a year when the Winter Olympics is being held. Besides Taiwan, the relationships with other great powers such as the US and Europe will also be high on the list. Differences with the US remain stark after two years of Biden’s presidency, while the idea of “decoupling” from China by Germany, the traditional leader of the European Union (EU) following the departure of Merkel, could also risk irking Beijing more. As the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, the calls for an inquiry and assertion of a lab leak in China are also expected to be yet another source of tension in the global community.
15 November 2012
Assumed office as the General Secretary of Chinese Communist Party
14 March 2013
Assumed the presidency of ChinJune 2013: Launched a corruption campaign that saw top civilian and military leaders, including ex-Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member Zhou Yongkang and ex-vice-chairman of the military Xu Caihou being purged
26 September 2014
Beginning of Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong over increasing Chinese interference in the ex- British colony
24 October 2017
“Xi Jinping Thought” became part of the Communist Party constitution
11 March 2018
National People’s Congress removed presidential term limit, allowing Xi to rule for life
At around 03:00 UTC on 24 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine. At around the same time, initial Russian strikes using Kalibr and Iskander cruise missiles were reported from multiple locations in Ukraine.
As of mid-March, available information indicates that the Russian invasion has not proceeded according to initial plans. According to most analysts, it seems that the Russian leadership underestimated the capabilities and fighting will on the Ukrainian side. The initial stage of the invasion consisted of rapid advances using small ground formations and airborne units to capture Kyiv within a few days, with the idea that this would cause the rest of the country to surrender. This plan did not work well as Russian forward elements eventually met heavy resistance, and logistical units were ambushed along the unsecured supply lines.
Beyond the faulty assumptions underlying the invasion plans, several notable shortcomings have been pointed out. The initial Russian strike on Ukraine seems to have been partially ineffective, exemplified by the continuing operation of Ukrainian fighter jets and air defense assets. There have been numerous signs of poor morale among Russian forces, and reports indicate many units were told they were only going on exercises. As a result, there have been numerous reports of Russian army vehicles abandoned in the field. Based on open-source data regarding Russian army equipment losses, it also seems that modern weapons recently supplied to Ukraine, including Javelin missiles and Bayraktar drones, have proven to be fairly effective, while the effectiveness of top-attack protection measures observed on Russian armored vehicles has been called into question.
Following the failure of the first phase, the Russian advance has slowed significantly, but it has proceeded, mostly along the southern front. Russian artillery attacks have been ramped up, and as a result, the extent of damage to civilian areas and casualties are increasing. Although Russia may eventually achieve something that may be called a military victory, achieving the political goals of the campaign seems unlikely. The conduct of the invasion indicates that the aim was to achieve full control over the country, either directly or by a puppet government. Resistance motivation seemingly remains strong both in the Ukrainian armed forces and the populace. Russian forces have attempted to install pro-Russian mayors in the area they have taken control over and kidnapped sitting Ukrainian local leaders.
However, there have been continuing protests by remaining civilians in these areas against the presence of Russian forces. It thus seems likely that for any form of Russia-friendly governing bodies to remain in place for any length of time, a heavy presence of Russian military police would be required. Considering the current trajectory in Russia itself, it is likely these forces will be needed to maintain order domestically. Maintaining a prolonged presence might also present Moscow with a very costly quagmire. Maintaining an occupation force would likely require many more troops than those Russia has committed to the operation, and they could face a highly motivated and well-armed insurgency.
is, however, likely to be costly. The Ukrainian armed forces have improved in training, veterancy, equipment, and readiness since 2014. They have received advanced arms from the US and other partners, such as modern guided anti-tank missiles and attack drones (likely the direct cause for the recent tank defense modifications). While direct involvement by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces is unlikely, material support may increase significantly in case of Russian aggression. Any aggression also comes with a high probability of hard sanctions hitting the Russian economy. However, whether or not these factors influence Moscow’s decision-making and what their intentions are will remain unclear for now.
In 2021, civil unrest due to lacking climate action has affected many countries, such as the United Kingdom. Severe protests and strikes and road and air blockages were undertaken by climate activists determined to press the government to do more. Organizations such as Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Insulate Britain have been critical of COP26 and have claimed that it has been unsuccessful in taking action. With the summit leaving much to be desired, these organizations and many others are likely to increase their activities, causing severe disruptions throughout 2022.
On the other hand, the coal industry has been deemed obsolete by COP26. In many countries, however, the amount of energy coming from sustainable sources is sufficient to support this kind of transition. This is likely to result in continued natural gas trade, which will result in fluctuating energy prices when international negotiations are unsuccessful in agreeing. For instance, this could be seen in Moldova during 2021, resulting in an emergency due to an energy shortage. An important market is also lost by phasing out coal for the countries currently relying on exporting it. This is likely to result.
Coal production remains highest in the developing world, with China leading the pack (Source: Statista)
The Western Saharan separatist movement, the Polisario Front, declared in late November 2021 that they intend to step up their military operations against the Moroccan army in the near future. They have also issued threats toward foreign companies operating in West Sahara to leave the region. In early December, the group also rejected a UN initiative for peace talks. The risk of increased hostilities in the short term cannot be ruled out.
Many Haitians migrated after the earthquake in 2010 to South America.
Source: International Organisation of Migration, IOM
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February has triggered a global uproar among the people living in the country, particularly the opponents of President Vladimir Putin. Anti-war protests broke out in multiple cities as casualties from the war mounted. Predictably, such events were dispersed using brute force as thousands were arrested. Besides cracking down on dissenters, Moscow also took aim against media coverage of the war, especially online media outlets that have been critical of its action. Seeking to suppress public opinion, a new law was introduced to criminalize so-called “false information” about the invasion. Despite having a vague interpretation, several independent services have since been shut down. Relatedly, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have also been suspended or experiencing severe bandwidth throttling as Russia tries to control the war‘s narrative.
While the country still relies on the internet, the war has sped up Russian efforts to develop its own “Great Firewall“ intranet system. These technological and legislative steps are cutting off Russia from the rest of the world. Furthermore, international sanctions have also expanded into the digital world. Several major tech companies such as TikTok, Netflix, and Amazon have restricted services for Russian citizens. However, such actions will likely play into the Kremlin‘s hand as further isolation will support efforts to insulate Russia from the internet.
Other authoritarian regimes will be closely monitoring the next moves in this digital contest. Internet censorship is becoming an increasingly popular tool to suppress dissent. The early months of 2022 have already seen security forces in Kazakhstan, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Myanmar use internet suppression to stifle civil unrest. Other countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria are also pursuing their own plans to filter digital information. With Putin determined to escalate the war in Ukraine, the wait might not be long for Moscow‘s next step to censor the internet to continue suppressing negative public opinion of its efforts.
Multiple countries made international headlines in 2021 for imposing draconian internet restrictions that affected millions of people. In the first half of the year, there were already over 50 shutdowns across 21 countries. Some temporarily blocked the internet nationwide or curtailed access for certain regions. Others restricted access to popular websites such as Twitter. Most governments justified their actions in the name of national security. However, most internet shutdowns also disrupted communications amid anti-government protests. While this is not a new trend, especially among authoritarian regimes and weaker democracies, the outages are becoming more sophisticated. Instead of a costly blanket shutdown, it is becoming easier and cheaper for governments to block certain websites using readily available commercial products. Software that bypasses internet censorship, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and Tor, are also more vulnerable to being blocked.
With a majority of the world condemning Russia‘s war on Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin may turn towards African allies for support. A recent United Nations resolution condemning Russian aggression passed overwhelmingly, with 141 nations voting in favor. Despite this, 17 African countries abstained from the vote, which highlights a splintered stance, indicative of Russia‘s growing influence and inroads on the continent.
Pro-Russian sentiment is gaining favor in countries like Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central Africa Republic, due in large part to Russia’s recent focus on developing security and defense alliances. Mali’s ruling junta has spurned a longstanding ally in France and embraced Russian military support in its fight against its own insurgency. These close political and security ties have understandably garnered favor and reinforced Moscow’s diplomatic weight in the region, which was reflected in the recent UN vote. These countries are likely to act on their own geopolitical interests despite objections from the West, and Russia may look beyond traditional allies to weather the storm they are in right now. With Russia providing for 30 percent of all arms exported to sub-Saharan Africa, many countries may feel torn between fully denouncing Moscow and maintaining important security and economic ties.
The invasion of Ukraine and the unprecedented sanctions leveled on Moscow have also had serious effects on financial markets and global supply chains. While these problems are likely to be felt on a global level, many countries in Africa are expected to be acutely affected. Both Russia and Ukraine are significant exporters of cereal, wheat, and corn, and a protracted conflict is likely to push up commodity prices and lead to supply chain shortages. Experts in Egypt have warned of a looming food security crisis due in large part to the fact that they import nearly 85 percent of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Disruptions to this supply and dwindling reserves could constitute an existential threat to their economy. Other countries, like Kenya, Nigeria, and Sudan that are heavily reliant on grain and wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia have already seen sharp increases in food prices in recent weeks. Several countries on the continent have seen relatively recent large-scale protests and movements denouncing rising commodity prices. Social unrest and civilian anger have coincided with volatile food prices in countries like Mali, Sudan, and Egypt. With a new food security crisis looming, a period of conflict and instability may be on the horizon.
There are, however, some countries that could benefit from the crisis. Surging prices and a Russian oil embargo could see oil-producing countries like Nigeria, Angola, and Libya seizing the opportunity to bolster state revenues. Similarly, as Europe turns away from its reliance on Russian gas, it could turn to African countries looking to find a market for recently discovered energy reserves. Tanzania has restarted negotiations to revive the construction of offshore liquified natural gas projects, which could make them a significant partner on the continent. Algeria, a similar significant gas-producing country, has gradually increased its exports to Europe in the past decade. With talks underway to develop a trans-Saharan pipeline with Nigeria and Niger, Algeria could become a key natural gas provider to European markets. Nevertheless, production and capacity limits are likely to hinder any plans to look to countries like Algeria and Tanzania for a quick fix to Europe’s energy crisis. These opportunities represent long-term growth prospects, but they would require considerable investment, which could involve Europe footing a large part of the bill. Bolstering infrastructure to help meet production and transportation needs is vital if Europe wants to pivot away from Russian gas and tap into significant, reliable, and sustainable reserves in Africa.
The crisis in Ukraine has understandably cast a long shadow across Africa. A period of instability and volatility can be expected as the world adapts to rising fuel and commodity prices and disruptions to global supply chains. Many African leaders will have to navigate this crisis by maintaining their relationships with their often-competing external partners without reverting to Cold War era alignment politics, which could alienate and hamper development goals on the continent.
As the world enters the third month of 2022, the rapid development of global events has significantly reshaped the directions of the sports world. The Russian military campaign in Ukraine has prompted various international sports bodies to impose a slew of disciplinary action against its national sporting teams. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) took the lead by banning Russia and Belarus from participating in the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics. Further, FIFA and UEFA also made similar moves against Moscow and its associates. Reprimand acts against Russia also did not end with the suspension of memberships but also on its athletes, such as in the case of Ivan Kuliak, who displayed the “Z“ sign in support of the invasion. A disciplinary proceeding was initiated against the gymnast.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) also took a step further by banning Russian and Belarus judges from presiding in future championships. Should the conflict prolong, it will also create a domino effect on other sectors that has Russia‘s involvements such as sponsorships, marketing campaigns, and brand advertisements, among others.
As the world adapts to the realities of living with Covid-19, more major events will make a comeback in 2022. Despite uncertainties, next year is expected to be filled with international sporting events. Some of the biggest events include the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Venues of 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar (Source: The Times)
As curtains fell in 2021, Safeture reflects on some of the events that shook the world throughout the year.