Young leaders igniting change worldwide

As I browsed the world news the night after the declaration of the U.S. election results, I noticed a couple of changes.

The big change was in America, of course, with Barack Obama elected as the new president. But the U.S. wasn’t the only country grasped by the change in government.

People in a country on the shores of the Indian Ocean and another amid the Himalayas were rejoicing in their share of change as well. But amid the glitz and glamour of the U.S. presidential race, historic changes in the Maldives and Bhutan passed unnoticed to many.

As many Americans witnessed history with their first black president, people on the other side of the globe in the Maldives cheered for their first new president in 30 years. In Bhutan, the Bhutanese celebrated the crowning of a new king.

So, what’s the common thread among these newly-elected heads of the state? They’re all young leaders striving to bring changes to their countries.

On Oct. 29, the island nation of Maldives, the world’s smallest Islamic state located in South Asia, chose its new leader. Mohamed Nasheed, defeating President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for three decades.

The new president, Nasheed, locally known as Anni, is a former journalist who claims Gayoom imprisoned him for 13 years beginning in 1989. He is only the third president since the country became independent from Britain in 1965.

According to the BBC, in his inaugural speech, the 41-year-old leader promised to strengthen democracy and to combat poverty and drug abuse, a growing problem in the country. However, like Obama, his critics say he has little policy-making experience beyond his direct action campaigns against the then-government.

Transitioning to another change, let’s look at Bhutan, also one of the world’s newest democracies.

The country, which had no roads or currency until the 1960s and hadn’t been connected to the Internet and TV until 1999, is opening itself to the world. After more than 30 years of strict rule, on Nov. 6, Bhutanese king Jigme Singye Wangchuck passed on the throne to his Oxford-educated, 28-year-old son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

According to an article in The Times of India on Nov. 6, the new king has pledged to maintain his father’s unique philosophy of improving “Gross National Happiness,” and not common economic indicators, to ensure well-being in the “Land of the Thunder Dragon.”

But one of the major challenges for him would be the Bhutanese refugee issue. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ “The State of the World’s Refugees 2006,” approximately 103,000 Bhutanese Lhotshampas – descendents of Nepalese, who moved to the southern lowlands of Bhutan in the 19th century – have been confined to several refugee camps in southeastern Nepal since 1990. They had been forced to leave the country by the former monarch in the early 1990s during a campaign to impose compulsory national dress and ban the Nepalese language.

Coming back to the United States, 47-year-old Obama has promised the country new hope and change. He faces the challenges of a rough economy and to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan among others. Harshly criticized by his opponents for being inexperienced, Obama also falls on the bandwagon of the next generation leaders like in the Maldives and Bhutan.

In the past weeks, it suddenly seems like the world is ready for the next generation of leaders with fresh ideas and beliefs. These leaders have vowed for a new change in their respective ways.

Be it Obama in the U.S., Nasheed in the Maldives or junior Wangchuk in Bhutan, they’ve all promised to bring peace, progress and prosperity in their regions. They’ve pledged for a change, and now that they have the power, it’s time for the world to watch these young leaders change the world.

Bibek Bhindari is a senior international communication major from Kathmandu, Nepal.