Unlocking the Future: Clem Sunter's Red Flags Illuminate Local And Global Trends
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Clem Sunter’s ‘Red Flag’ system decodes global and national futures, guiding us through the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.


Western Cape, South Africa (29 August 2023) – In an era where the future can seem uncertain and complex, renowned scenario planner Clem Sunter has gifted us with a roadmap to navigate the labyrinth of possibilities.

Sunter’s latest book, “Flagwatching,” is more than just a book; it’s a guide to deciphering the future by identifying the crucial flags that wave on the horizon. These flags, like vivid markers of change, hint at the transformational forces shaping the world. Among them are the titanic challenges of climate change, religious extremism, national debt, and the sweeping tide of an ageing global population. Sunter, a master of the art of foresight, also outlines the recipe for a prosperous nation and offers insights into whether South Africa can embrace this recipe.

The beauty of Sunter’s approach lies in its simplicity – choosing the right flags to watch. Here, we delve into eleven of these flags that illuminate the principal forces propelling the present into the enigmatic future.

1. The Religious Flag

The religious flag illuminates the dynamic interplay between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. This vibrant tapestry of faiths sometimes leads to intense competition, and at other times, to devastating conflict. This flag’s history is punctuated by the tragic events of 9/11 in 2001 and the current tensions centred around Israel and the spectre of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

2. The Leadership Flag

The leadership flag focuses on the calibre of world leaders and their relationships. Sunter highlights the need for a fresh generation of leaders to steer the course of the world, emphasizing the value of cooperation over individual agendas.

3. The Red Flag

The red flag represents the intricate dynamics of Russia, China, and North Korea. With Russia, the question of peace or conflict in Ukraine looms large. China grapples with its strained relations with America and the Taiwan issue, while the unpredictability of North Korea’s nuclear-armed leader keeps the world on edge.

4. The Grey Flag

Ageing populations in nations like Japan, Europe, the UK, and China wave the grey flag, influencing long-term economic growth prospects. The contrast between these regions and the youthful demographics of America and India reveals a shifting global economic landscape.

5. The Green Flag

Climate change unfurls the green flag, driving extreme weather events that reshape the world. Despite the urgent rhetoric, tangible action to reduce carbon emissions remains scant. The transformation towards green technologies and conscientious consumer habits is paramount.

6. The Anti-establishment Flag

The anti-establishment flag exposes the growing polarization stoked by wealth inequality and amplified through social media. Constructive debates yield to divisive positions, undermining the progress of society.

7. The Porous Border Flag

Rich nations grapple with the porous border flag as waves of migrants seek a better life. The plight of refugees escaping poverty and conflict presents ethical challenges, potentially exacerbated by climate change.

8. The Debt Flag

Easy money policies post the 2008 financial crisis raise the specter of debt defaults. Rising interest rates and fluctuating commodity prices signal potential economic instability.

9. The Pandemic Flag

The pandemic flag refuses to be lowered, reminding us of the ever-present possibility of new viral threats.

10. The Crowded Space Flag

Collisions between space debris, rockets, and satellites warn of disruptions to global communication and financial systems.

11. The Artificial Intelligence Flag

The artificial intelligence flag flutters at the forefront of innovation. As society grapples with the implications of AI, questions about job displacement, cybersecurity, and humanity’s future take center stage.

Through these flags, Sunter paints a vivid picture of the forces shaping our world. He projects two overarching global scenarios: “Friendly Planet” envisions cooperative leadership addressing critical issues, while “Gilded Cage” portrays the West retreating into its interests. The battle between these narratives is fierce, with climate change looming large.

“The two mainframe global scenarios that flow out of these flags are “Friendly Planet” where a new generation of world leaders create a more cooperative world in which climate change and other international issues are addressed in a positive way; versus “Gilded Cage” where the West huddles together in its cage and leaves the rest of the world to sort itself out as long as there is no danger to Western interests.”

For South Africa, Sunter identifies five flags that offer insights into its future trajectory:

1. The Crime and Corruption Flag

The crime and corruption flag and whether we are making genuine attempts to bring it down the pole.

2. The Infrastructure Flag

The quality of infrastructure flag in areas such as electricity supply, railways and ports, education and healthcare. For this flag to be positive, there has to be a proper alliance between the government and private sector.

3. The Entrepreneurship Flag

The entrepreneurship flag, where young entrepreneurs are given the right support systems to open up businesses and grow them and where the township economies are successfully integrated into the mainstream economy.

4. The 2024 Election Flag

The 2024 election flag where the result could be much closer than previous elections since 1994, particularly with the talk of coalitions between parties. Moreover, there could be a surprising switch from the trend of rising voter abstention and apathy to people being persuaded to vote positively for change by putting their cross against a different party on the ballot paper. However, this will only happen if all parties when campaigning articulate exactly what they will do to improve the lives of young people, should they be elected to lead the country.

5. The Neutrality Flag

The neutrality flag where South Africa ensures that it treads a middle path in the presently divided world and keeps its trading relationships with its main external trading partners intact.

From these flags, Sunter envisions two central South African scenarios: “People’s Economy,” where entrepreneurship thrives, and “Cautionary Tale,” where unrest and economic struggles dominate.

“The two mainframe South African scenarios that flow out of these flags are “People’s Economy” where steps are taken to establish a genuine entrepreneurially driven economy which grows from the ground upwards, while infrastructure and services are enhanced by a lasting government/private sector partnership; and “Cautionary Tale” where the economy flounders, civil unrest rises and the country begins a descent towards a Waste Land of misery.”

As the world evolves, Sunter’s flags serve as beacons, guiding us through the uncertainties. Whether on a global scale or in South Africa’s context, these flags offer insights into potential futures, reminding us that the choices of today pave the paths of tomorrow.

Sources: Clem Sunter 
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Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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