In 2020, chaos swept across the world following the death and economic hardship caused by COVID-19. The situation was, however, different in 2021 as stability returned and lockdowns reduced following the discovery of vaccines to fight the deadly virus. Even then, 2021 was a mixed bag of joy and sadness across the globe:

Migration crises test rich countries: The downturn in international migration flows in 2020 triggered by COVID-19 continued into 2021. That didn’t translate, however, into the end of migration crises. By October, the number of people entering the United States illegally had hit 1.7 million over the prior year, the highest number since 1960. European Union saw a 70 percent rise compared to 2020 in the number people entering illegally, with critics arguing that the EU was failing its duty to help migrants.

Mali’s second coup in 10 months: On May 24, Mali’s strongman Colonel Assimi Goita carries out the country’s second coup in 10 months.

Tunisian president’s powers: In Tunisia in July, President Kais Saied takes wide-ranging powers.

Guinea’s president overthrown: Guinea’s president Alpha Conde is overthrown in a military coup on September 5.

Sudan’s PM sacked, reinstated: And in Sudan, in November Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is reinstated, but the army tightens its grip after the previous month’s coup.

Aung San Suu Kyi toppled: Myanmar military topples the popularly elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and imprisoned the former Nobel Prize winner on corruption and other charges

Castro steps down: In April, Raul Castro stepped down as head of Cuba’s Communist Party, ending an era of leadership that began with his brother Fidel Castro’s victory in the Cuban Revolution in 1959. After 62 years, Cuba is free from the Castro brother’s rule.

Netanyahu out: Naftali Bennett, rivals of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, formed a loose coalition to oust him from power in June, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year reign.

Angela Merkel bows out: German Chancellor Angela Merkel bows out after 16 years in power, becoming the first chancellor in the nation’s history to leave power on her own terms. Social Democrat leader Olaf Scholz, allied to the Greens and the Liberals, succeeds her on December 8.

Leftist millennial becomes Chile’s president:  A leftist millennial who rose to prominence during anti-government protests was elected Chile’s next president. Gabriel Boric, 35, will become Chile’s youngest modern president when he takes office in March. 

Haiti president assassinated: In July, gunmen masquerading as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents burst into the home of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti, killing him and seriously wounding his wife. 

Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan:  The U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed in February 2020, paved the way for the fall of Afghanistan into the Taliban’s hands.

Israel, Hamas 11 day war: On May 3, violence explodes between Israel and the Palestinians after clashes in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, sparked by a years-long bid by Jewish settlers to take over Arab homes. Violence spreads to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the occupied West Bank.  A week after the first clashes, the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules in the Gaza Strip, fires rockets at Israel, which hits back, leading to an 11-day war in which 260 Palestinians die. Thirteen die on the Israeli side.

Brexit hits UK: Britain, which left the European Union’s single market on January 1, faces empty shelves and a fuel crisis because of labour shortages, especially of lorry drivers.

Brexit creates tensions in Northern Ireland, as well as between the United Kingdom and its neighbours, especially France, over fisheries and migrants.

US rejoins Paris Climate Accord and WHO: In his first hours as president, Biden signed a letter signaling the return of the United States to the global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, adopted by nearly 200 nations in Paris in 2015. The nation had officially withdrawn from the Paris accord in late 2020, after Trump began the process soon after taking office. Biden also renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization (WHO), a leader in efforts to combat COVID-19 worldwide.

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Haiti earthquake kills 2,200: A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit southwestern Haiti, followed by flash floods, leaving more than 2,200 people dead and injuring or displacing thousands more in a nation already suffering from widespread poverty and hunger.

Verdicts in 3 prominent US murder trials: In April, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, which sparked protests against systemic racism and police violence in more than 2,000 U.S. cities and 60 countries around the globe in 2020. In another trial related to Black Lives Matter protests, teenager Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after claiming self-defense in the killing of two people and wounding of another during the unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Finally, a jury in Georgia convicted three white defendants of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a young Black man whom they confronted while he was jogging through their neighborhood. As with Floyd and Blake, Arbery’s killing and the slowness of local law enforcement to make arrests had fueled anger and outrage among protesters condemning racial injustice and demanding change.

2 men exonerated of Malcolm X killing: In November, a New York judge granted the motion to vacate the convictions of Muhammad A. Aziz and the late Khalil Islam for the 1965 assassination of Black nationalist and religious leader Malcolm X. The two men’s exoneration more than 50 years after they were convicted came after an investigation found that crucial evidence pointing to their innocence, including FBI and New York Police Department documents, had been withheld at the time of their trial.

Okonjo-Iweala becomes first African, first woman to lead WTO: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala made history in March by becoming the first African and the first woman to serve as director-general of the World Trade Organization. Okonjo-Iweala was also the first woman to serve as finance minister in Nigeria, a position she held twice.

Pandora Papers reveal hidden wealth of powerful people: The release of the Pandora Papers in October garnered worldwide attention, with the leaked documents revealing the hidden wealth of some of the most powerful people in the world. Reporting by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed how the files exposed the hidden offshore finances of 35 current and former world leaders.

Poles protest to defend media freedom: Poles flocked to city centers across the country Sunday to defend a U.S.-owned television network that is being targeted by the country’s right-wing government and to protect media freedom in a European Union nation where democratic norms are eroding.

Schoolgirls trousers cause row in India: A row has broken out in the southern Indian state of Kerala after a government school allowed teenage female students to wear trousers.

US missionaries abducted in Haiti escape: Twelve missionaries who were abducted in Haiti managed to get away on their own. The group escaped their captors at night and used the stars for navigation to trek through dense bush for hours, a spokesman said. The gang that seized them had demanded a ransom of $1m (£740,000) per hostage. It is not clear if any money was paid. In total, 17 missionaries and their families were abducted, after they had visited an orphanage in the town of Ganthier, east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Five others had already been released.

Autonomous drone deployed to attack humans: A drone may have autonomously hunted down and killed human targets in Libya, according to a U.N. report.

A human brain wirelessly connects to a computer: In a possible breakthrough for those with spinal cord injuries, scientists at Brown University fully connected a human brain to a computer via a transmitter device.

Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos enter space in own spaceship: In a huge step toward making astrotourism a reality, the Virgin Galactic founder won the billionaire space race, rocketing into the July sky aboard the supersonic SpaceShipTwo, a winged spacecraft developed by his company. Nine days later, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, joined the billionaire space club in his own rocket, New Shepard.

El Salvador becomes the first country to make Bitcoin a national currency: El Salvador passed a law in September adopting Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar.

France recalls envoys to US for the first time in the alliance’s history: US President Biden announced in September that the United States would share closely guarded submarine propulsion technology with Australia, a rare move widely thought to be a countermeasure against China’s looming influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Just before this deal was made, Australia reneged on a prior agreement to purchase conventional submarines from France. In protest, France, which was not informed of the deal, angrily recalled its ambassadors in the United States for the first time in its long diplomatic history with the country, which started in 1778.

A Filipino is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in a first for her country: The journalist Maria Ressa was co-awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her enterprising reporting in the Philippines on President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial strongman tactics in the war on drugs. She is the first Filipino Nobel laureate and won the award alongside Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, the editor of the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which is known for its critical reporting on the Kremlin.

Black woman becomes US vice president: Kamala Harris became the first Black woman and the first woman of colour sworn into the office of Vice President of the United States. During the inauguration ceremony, Amanda Gorman, a Black writer and, at 22, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, recited “The Hill We Climb.”

Ancient human discoveries dominated 2021: The human story where we come from and how we evolved got a new chapter in 2021. Thanks to new fossil finds and analysis of ancient DNA preserved in teeth, bones and cave dirt, scientists have unearthed startling revelations about our Homo sapien forebears, and other humans that existed before and in some cases, alongside us.