1. Iran’s presidential race in May. Iran does run real elections — sort of — but will Rouhani survive? Or will the hardliners ascend again? How much is Rouhani a hardliner anyway? Stay tuned. I’ll just note a theorem in the margins here: the greater the unpredictability of the American president, the more the identities and decisions of the other world leaders matter. According to Wikipedia, the only announced reformist candidate is a blogger (not a good sign for him or them).
2. How Nigeria copes with its recession. This is the one country in sub-Saharan Africa that has the size and talent to make a significant commercial breakthrough. Now that oil prices are back up a bit, can they dismantle their counterproductive exchange and capital controls, boost FDI, and get to four to six percent growth? Or will they wallow in the range of one to two percent, which hardly means anything in light of Nigeria’s rising population?
3. Whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains stable. Joseph Kabila is staying past the end of his second presidential term. Will this lead to renewed instability and conflict, beyond what is already the case? “Africa’s World War” ended in 2003, not long ago, and it is not impossible to imagine it resuming.
4. African fertility rates. They’re high. In most other parts of the world, including Latin America and the Middle East, fertility has fallen much faster than most commentators had expected. That is not yet the case for Africa, but will it be?
5. Modi’s India and where it it headed: Maybe the demonetisation was an unforced error, but it seems increasingly likely it was part of a broader strategy to push India into a semi-cashless, biometrically marked, income tax-paying society. I’ll be curious to see how that goes.
6. Economic growth in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan grew 4.7 percent last year and Bangladesh has averaged about six percent for the last decade. Is all that (relative) good news going to continue? If so, the world will be in much better shape than otherwise.
7. Will Xi Jinping overturn Chinese political conventions? His term is supposed to end in 2022, but for a while he has been sending signals he might try to stay on as leader for much longer. That could bring a new round of political instability to the Middle Kingdom. Or a new round of stability. Depending how you look at it.
8. Chinese capital flight and the currency peg. This one seems to be heating to a boil. Capital flight continues to rise, using every technique known to mankind including Bitcoin and e-purchases of Singaporean gambling tokens. The government says that the sporadic reports of USD trades at 7-1 are nonsense, so they must be right. When will it snap? And when it does, will it be a non-event or a big deal?
9. American institutions: Will the United States Congress and courts continue to secure some version of rule of law in this country? And will we agree on what that means?
10. What is the Latin American middle class good for? Many Latin economies now have built a reasonably-sized middle class, but commodity prices are not in general favoring those economies. Will those middle classes push their countries into better policies and educational systems? Slowly but surely, I believe the answer is yes.
There is a chance the French or German elections make this list, but right now the best forecasts are for “business as usual” in both cases. Brexit will continue to torture us with its drawn-out agony. And remember — your emotional guide as to what is an important issue often reflects your own selfish concerns about the status of you and your preferred groups. Do keep that in mind throughout this year.
If you’re looking for a few sleeper issues, I’ll cite Russia-Israel tensions over control of Middle Eastern airspace, economic and institutional recovery in Ukraine combined with sabotage potential from you-know-where, the political economy and geopolitics of aging in Japan, the rise of a Trump-like populist in Mexico, and the potential failure of the Saudi reform process as a few more to keep your eye on. Climate change and the destroyed parts of the Middle East bear watching too, along with ongoing collapse in Yemen, for water supplies too.