Global Leaders to Watch in 2008

Eurasia Group's list of the 10 most important leaders aims to call attention to influential, though not necessarily well known, players

If you were asked to list the 10 world leaders likely to exert the most influence in 2008, the name Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov might not come to mind. But the president of Turkmenistan joined the likes of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Eurasia Group's list of "The 10 Leaders to Watch in 2008," released on Jan. 23.

The New York consultancy, which specializes in geopolitical analysis and risk assessment, selected leaders "critically important to their countries' futures," whose "impact could not be achieved by anyone else," says John Green, Eurasia Group's director of research. Thus Berdymukhamedov, playing host to an influx of foreign investors (, 3/16/07) eyeing his Central Asian country's oil and gas reserves, fits the bill, as do Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and India's Mayawati Kumari.

Mayawati who? The leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which represents the Dalits, the "untouchables" of India's caste system, has been steadily winning supporters countrywide since guiding her party to victory in state assembly elections last year in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

A World of Nations

Eurasia aimed for names many haven't heard, Green says, to encourage people "to really focus on the details and the subtleties of national politics." After all, he says, despite international phenomena such as the recent World Economic Forum (, Jan. 08) in Davos, Switzerland, "We still live in a world of nations."

While U.S. President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao are notably absent from the list—their power is more circumscribed, Green says—household names do appear. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf join the hyperkinetic Sarkozy (, 12/20/07) and Russia's likely next Prime Minister, Putin (, 12/10/07), in the top four spots as leaders whose decisions have "powerful geostrategic implications," the report states. Musharraf moved up the list after Benazir Bhutto, initially placed among the top three, was assassinated on Dec. 27 (, 12/27/2007).

The Importance of Next-Tier Countries

Other chiefs, such as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Jacob Zuma, the likely successor to South African President Thabo Mbeki next year, may not directly influence world affairs to the same extent, but they do shape some of the most important developing countries in the world. Indonesia, a democracy, is the most populous Muslim-majority nation and the fourth most populous country in the world. Brazil boasts the highest GDP in Latin America. South Africa produces one-third of sub-Saharan Africa's economic output.

By selecting leaders likely to effect the most change, rather than those who wield the most power, Eurasia calls attention to global dynamics beyond the radar of even the well-informed. "We're encouraging people to look at the next-tier countries," Green says. "These are the most important countries beyond the U.S. and China perhaps in the world."

Click here for a slide show of the 10 leaders.

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