Uncertainty, Now and Forever

Apr 11 , 2020
By Christian Tesfaye

Change comes fast, often with such speed and force that we usually forget that we used to have different priorities, assumptions and understandings. Sometimes change is so abrupt and so powerful that history changes its trajectory, and what we believed was the status quo, the most likely future episode, is entirely altered. It makes the discipline of futurology an exercise in futility.

The contrast before and during the Coronavirus pandemic offers a great illustration.

One particular world event seemed to preoccupy all of us four months ago. On January 3, 2020, President Donald Trump authorised a drone strike near the Baghdad airport in Iraq, killing Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

It was such a significant event that pundits described it as an assassination reminiscent of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose death sparked the series of events that led to World War I.

One viral tweet by an American journalist, Yashar Ali, captured the sheer gravity of the situation, detailing the consequences it will have on world events. He insisted that this was not a historical incident parallel to the killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces in 2011. It was much more momentous.

He described how Soleimani was close to Iran’s Supreme Leader and more powerful than the nation’s president. He stated that Iran would see the assassination as an act of war, that it would order major cyberattacks on the US and that the response from Iran would be the same as if it had assassinated the vice president of the United States.

“If what I'm expecting sounds alarmist...it's because this is a major, major event,” he reiterated.

Since that tweet and the assassination that was predicted to spark World War III, four months have passed by, and the episode has fallen off our radar so soon it will be barely recalled in the near future. Sure, it led to the further souring of Iran-US relations, some hairs were ruffled and vengeance was promised. Yet the fact remains that it was a meaningless, valueless incident in history.

Does this mean that Yashar read the geopolitical reality incorrectly and was in the end only “alarmist"?

Not at all. Yashar brought his expertise to a geopolitical episode he knew very well. He was entirely justified in making the assumptions that he did.

But he could not have possibly anticipated what was about to occur as billions of people interacted daily. Anything was bound to happen at any moment. Any conviction of certainty was make believe, a construct of our imagination.

Soon after the assassination, COVID-19 took over, and it now threatens to change every facet of our private and social lives, disrupt power relations and remake economic structures. Soleimani was but a drop in the sea of change that will be brought on by the pandemic.

The same goes for us as well.

Remember just about a month ago when every pundit predicted that any slight indication of postponement of the 2020 general elections would mean pandemonium?

We have recently been presented with a series of measures, specifically a state of emergency that points to a high likelihood of postponement. The Electoral Board has already chucked out its election calendar. August 29 is not on the timetable anymore.

Admittedly, it is not a trivial issue. But it is no longer considered a historical marker so big it will determine where the country will stand socio-economically and politically for decades to come. COVID-19 has taken the wind out of it.

What we are witnessing is the sheer brilliance of the force of certain unprecedented events on history. We have become better at documenting history and computing scenarios. But in the end, all we can do is come close. The near infinite amount of data that is generated by our constant interactions makes arriving at any sort of certainty impossible.

Not knowing is our lot in life.

Tracking COVID-19


Total cases Reported In Ethiopia


New cases Reported In Ethiopia


Active cases Reported In Ethiopia


New Deaths Reported In Ethiopia


Total Deaths Reported In Ethiopia


Total Recovered Reported In Ethiopia


Critical in Ethiopia

Source: Coronavirus monitor API

PUBLISHED ON Apr 11,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1041]

Christian Tesfaye (christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net) is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

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