Wednesday, October 28, 2015


So this post was supposed to go up last week but I postponed it- as I explained in my last post. Now, the much anticipated CNN Democratic Primary Debate was held about 2weeks ago. Set in the “sin-capital of the world”, Las-Vegas, Nevada, the debate was moderated by Anderson Cooper who was assisted by Dana Bash, Juan Carlos Lopez and Don Lemon who manned the online media feed. After weeks of speculation as to whether VP Biden would enter the race and participate in the debate, it proceeded without him. The 5 Democratic hopefuls- Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martyn O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee- stood facing a reasonably sized audience in the Wynn Resort, with Clinton strategically placed squarely in the center of the 5, signifying her position as the clear front-runner.
I remember watching the Republicans last month, and I certainly had a lot to write about. Watching the Democratic Debate though, I knew the case would be different. It is not that there weren’t many talking points- because there were- but the tempo was much different this time around. In fact, I remember thinking that the overall atmosphere was markedly at variance with the rather up-beat tempo of the location chosen for the event i.e., Las Vegas. Before the debate, Senator Sanders had clearly stated that he was not one to attack personalities as was the norm amongst Republican Presidential Candidates, but he was all about addressing the issues; and during the debate, this was to be the pattern- to an extent- amongst the remaining 4 Democratic Presidential hopefuls.
The five candidates tackled a host of issues ranging from foreign policy, economic issues especially income inequality and the role of banks, gun control, racism, college tuition, social security, immigration, veteran issues, and climate change. Even though most of the debate seemed to revolve around H. Clinton, it was clear from start to finish that the Democrats intended to be amiable towards one another, rather than engage in Cat-fights. So I’ll now proceed to state a few things. First off, I thought Mrs. Clinton had a grasp of the issues- as she should, considering the fact that she has had a long history in politics and public service. Clinton made a point of not overly criticizing the Obama administration while also making a distinction as regards to herself. I thought she handled questions regarding the E-mail scandal rather gracefully, especially when she simply said “no” in response to Anderson Cooper’s question as to whether she would want to respond to Lincoln Chafee on the matter. I also thought that Clinton was correct when she stated that the US had to stand up to Russian bullying especially in Syria, and let Putin know that his actions in Syria were highly unacceptable. She had lots of questions to answer on foreign policy, especially her decisions on US foreign policy as a Senator and as Secretary of state. She held up well. Hillary Clinton certainly endears herself to a lot of Americans for a number of reasons; one of which is that she is married to a much-loved former President. But while she enjoys this endearment, she consistently strives to show that she is her own person, and not defined by her last name. Now even though Mrs. Clinton is a very intelligent woman with great political pedigree, over time, there have been questions regarding her personality. Since her early political days with Bill Clinton in Arkansas, some have wondered as to the sincerity of her political decisions; pointing fingers at what they see as her somewhat "aloofness and lack of transparency"- not altogether without reason though. I think there is something about her personality that seems quite un-accessible to most people; but I don’t think it’s a personality flaw that is quite as “off-putting” as that of Richard Nixon! So in that regard, I would give Clinton a pass. One also has to consider that Hillary Clinton has fought a very long battle with many enemies on both sides of the American political divide- from the Whitewater scandal, to the Lewinsky debacle and the threat of Bill’s impeachment, to her health-care battle with Congress, to Benghazi, and now, the E-mail saga- she has fought all her political life, and this has in some measure caused her to view all political environments as battle fields. I cannot blame her. By the way, I cringed watching Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois, a Republican member of the Select Committee on Benghazi grill her as she appeared before the committee some days ago. It was another attempt to demonize her and show that her actions in Libya were for self-gratification and political glory. She held up pretty well. She continues to fight. But for her Presidential aspirations, I think Mrs. Clinton would need to find more ways to change perceptions about her personality- she's doing well with all the talk shows; so at least, she's aware of the problem and is taking steps towards fixing it. Undoubtedly, she is passionate about America and about the American people. She needs to let that shine through more often.
Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont received many loud applauses from the audience. Watching him, I got a sense that he had his hand on the political and economic pulse of majority of the American people. He seemed to speak their minds on so many issues especially regarding his opposition to American involvement in conflicts, and the introduction of US soldiers into theatres of war. He did state that he would be willing to take military action when situations demand it; but watching him during the debate, I highly doubt that. He seems to support mostly “advise and assist roles” for American troops, and that is what I believe would be a more likely scenario in the event of a Sanders Presidency. He was all for stronger actions to be taken in checking the excesses of wall street, though towing a careful line with gun control, as he's from a state whose residents are big on hunting! True to his words, the Senator was careful not to take personal shots at his colleagues; but instead, tackled the issues squarely. 
Jim Webb, the former Senator from Virginia, did seem to me as somewhat of an oddity. If there was any hard-liner during the debate, it certainly was him. No surprises, he kept butting heads with Anderson Cooper. But he is a Vietnam veteran and a former marine…so I guess old habits die hard. But I’m pretty sure he didn’t make too many fans that night- if any at all!
In my opinion, Webb, Chafee and O’Malley were more of "un-necessary extras" added to the debate by the Democratic Caucus to broaden the field just a little; but we all know who the main attractions were. Well at least I could make out something from Webb’s performance- whatever that was. But on the remaining 2 candidates though- Lincoln Chafee and Martyn O’Malley- I’m quite indifferent. To speak rather bluntly, Chafee seemed to me like a sleepy grand-father who kept stumbling through his words, and O’Malley looked the picture of the content teenager whose major “Chutzpah” moment was his battle with the NRA. I just wasn’t impressed!
At most points during the debate, I felt like the contenders were making more of a pitch for Obama, than for themselves. Agreed they are all Democrats; but then, there were just too many accolades heaped on the incumbent President that one wondered whether Barack Obama was the person seeking political office! Aside all that though if there was one poignant moment for me, it was the acknowledgement by the contenders that “black lives matter”! As an African who shares an extended ancestral bond with blacks everywhere, it has been very troubling to see the increase in the number of black Americans gunned down by law enforcement officials, and being subjected to racial profiling and undue harassment. Even though Jim Webb tried to give a more "politically correct" answer by first stating that “as a citizen of the US, every life matters” before going on to point out how he had also aided black causes in the past, it was good to hear the candidates affirm the importance of black lives…though the real motivation might just have been the chance to whip up popular sentiment and garner black votes!
The Democrats tackled the issues as best as they could while trying to project a picture of class, decorum and amiability towards one another. There were disagreements on “means”, but coherence on “goals”. I certainly would have loved a little more fire, and for them to feed more off the vibe of the audience- I mean let's be real, we all expect political debates to be just as entertaining as they are enlightening- but I didn’t really get that. Maybe the next Democratic Party Debate would be different. As I have previously alluded, the debate was actually between two people- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Clinton was calm, poised and meticulously calculative; and Bernie Sanders was pure Bernie- the guy for whom thousands have thronged to arenas to hear speak, over the past few weeks. Sanders is a man to watch; but truth be told, I don’t think he stands too much of a chance against Mrs. Clinton in the long run. As I see it, she has certain advantages which cannot be overlooked- a highly revered and much-loved surname, the uniqueness of being on the verge of making history by virtue of gender, these in addition to a versatile life-time experience in politics. Plus, after her superb performance before the Benghazi Committee some days ago, Hillary looks pretty hard to beat! Like all politics, American politics also runs on sentiment. I may be proved wrong eventually; but if that happens, it would most certainly be a surprise!

P.S.: The Democratic Presidential line-up has changed significantly since the debate. First off, VP Joe Biden eventually decided he wouldn't enter the Presidential race; Jim Webb then dropped out of the Democratic Party race, although stating he may return to the Presidential race as an Independent; and then Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race completely. So they were five...then three- or maybe just two!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I decided to deviate a bit from the central theme of most of my articles- international affairs- and focus today on speaking directly to Nigeria's youth, who make up 60percent of the general national population. My original article for today was supposed to be an analysis of the CNN-moderated Democratic Party Presidential Debate. It was already typed out on my laptop and waiting for upload, but I changed my mind just a few days ago. That article will now go up next week. 
What informed my decision to write a different article was a particularly interesting piece I had read online which was written by Otunba Femi Pedro; a former Deputy Governor of Lagos State, and one of the founders of Guaranty Trust Bank. It was a piece titled “Buhari and the curious case of the young generation”, in which he basically analyzed via contrast, the involvement of Nigeria’s youth in the 70’s and 80’s, versus the involvement of Nigeria’s youth today in the political and economic landscape. He started by discussing how he and a few friends all in their 30’s- early 30’s precisely- started a financial institution that turned out to be one of the most sound banks in Nigeria today- GTBank. He then proceeded to list an array of young Nigerians in the 60's, 70’s and 80’s who distinguished themselves in the field of politics, the financial sector, the civil service and the army. These names included men like 37year old Obafemi Awolowo, 27year old Anthony Enahoro, 34year old Tafawa Balewa, and 42year old Nnamdi Azikiwe who amongst others, led the struggle for independence; 29year old Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu (a man whom I have read about, and whom I personally admire) who led the first coup, 32year old Yakubu Gowon who ascended to power as a result of the coup, and even a Muhammadu Buhari who was a Military Governor in his 30’s; in the civil service, the band of 30something year olds also included Phillips Asiodu, Allison Ayida, etc.; while the financial sector had the young Jim Ovia, Tony Elumelu, Herbert Wigwe, amongst others. The bone of contention and the reason Mr. Pedro’s article was written, was the fact that young Nigerians today feel left out of governance, and this grouse has been heightened by what has been seen as the filling of President Buhari’s cabinet with “old men”- the same who have been in power since independence. In contrasting the behavior of the youth of his generation versus the behavior of the youth today, Femi Pedro noted that the youth of his generation were faced with the same problems and challenges as the youth of today, that no one did them any favors, that power did not come easily or cheaply, and that they basically had to fight for what they got! Though he noted a few excellent young Nigerians today who have carved their own niche through struggle, perseverance and hard work, he also made a point that seemed to infer that these ones were the minute minority i.e., the exception to the general prevailing norm i.e., the ones who did not wait for opportunity to be handed to them on a platter of gold, but who simply went ahead to create their own opportunities. I could see Otunba Pedro’s point, and it was well taken.
I proceeded to read the comments- comments are usually always interesting- and I was not surprised at what I found. Most young Nigerians were not having any of it! Again, I could also relate with them- somewhat. There was a particular young woman- an entrepreneur- who sounded totally pained. Her grievance was that the financial institutions built by men like Pedro and his friends, have failed young entrepreneurs today. She noted how difficult it was for SME’s to obtain loans or grants for their businesses, even when the entrepreneurs had sound financial proposals and plans. She stated that the rot in the financial sector had been created by men like Femi Pedro whose empires have developed policies that serve the interest of only a select few, rather than the majority. She reminded Mr. Pedro that his bank (GTB) was set up in the “glory days” of the financial sector when conditions for establishing such institutions were not so stringent. As a young entrepreneur, she was struggling to establish a business. I could feel her pain. Another young Nigerian scolded the older generation and seemed to be terribly angry at the impetus of Femi Pedro! He/ She proceeded further to outline the failures of Mr. Pedro’s generation- election failures, the civil war, underperformance of the agricultural sector due to the emphasis on oil, lack of world class infrastructures in the education and health-care sector, etc. And all these failures have been handed down to the present generation- us- who are then miraculously expected to make our way out of this quagmire, and basically create water in the wilderness!   
When I was younger, my late mum (bless her beautiful soul) told my brothers and I stories of a time when Nigeria was so rich that the nation’s leaders basically “begged” foreigners to come share in our wealth. I have personally met older Nigerians who were trained on Nigerian scholarships- scholarships which were handed out much more freely and generously. Professor Wole Soyinka’s generation went to universities that could be said to be of international standard in their day- those were the days when university students had access to affordable meals and laundry services for their clothes. I believe it was so much easier for the young generation of the 60’s to get involved in governance in the immediate aftermath of independence when “godfatherism” did not prevail as much as it does today. My mother seemed “astonished” the day she was told that a bottle of Fanta now sold for 20 or 25naira- I'm not so sure now. She could not understand what was happening! I remember my first day of university when I had to stand in a crowded classroom crammed with the sweating bodies of hundreds of young students like myself- you see, there were very few seats and no functioning fans. The lecturer did not have the aid of a sound system and couldn’t be bothered to raise his voice. Needless to say, I heard nothing! I have witnessed the struggles of the entrepreneurial young, firsthand. On many nights I have shed silent tears for my amazing business-minded younger brother, the most business-savvy of all my siblings. I have witnessed the struggles he has faced navigating the murky waters of entrepreneurship. I have watched him change his plans time and time again, in order to adapt to new realities. He still trudges on, and I am so proud of him. I myself am a rebel. I have basically gone against expectations, and painstakingly created a path which is greatly at odds with societal expectations of me. I have had my failures, but they are greatly overshadowed by an enduring determination to succeed.
I could take sound lesson from both Otunba Pedro and the “commenters”. While I greatly admire the gut and drive of Mr. Femi’s peers, I also know that these qualities are not in short supply amongst the young of today, of which I am a part. Agreed, far too many of my generation are carried away by irrelevant distractions created by technological advances- social media has been a blessing as well as our greatest curse! But also, there are a great many of us who have great visions, and who are on the path to fulfilling them. Mr. Pedro, we face lots of challenges- challenges which were largely created by your generation- but we have not given up, and do not intend to. Maybe you can help, by doing more to aid our success. Maybe you can come up with new financial policies that do not only favor the children of your peers. Maybe you and your friends can see the young Nigerians who do not have the advantage of name or societal status; but who possess the tenacity, the doggedness, and the stuff of what successes are made of, and maybe you can render just a little help to these ones. And then I say to my generation, expect miracles, but also acknowledge reality. Instagram is a fantasy world, and things are not always as they seem- behind every true success, there is usually blood, sweat and tears. Develop yourselves…never stop learning. When opportunity is not given, sometimes, it can be created. Remember that original ideas are few…most likely, there are others who have trudged before on your chosen path, and have succeeded- seek them out for advice if you can. Make demands of the older generation (i.e., Otunba Pedro and Co.), and make demands of life…but make sure they are “sensible” demands. Spend more time crafting a life plan than you do taking selfies. Write your own self-help manual…what you read in foreign books will not always apply to your own situation- this is Nigeria. Think for yourself. Be a civil participant, not an uninterested bystander. Listen more than you speak, and be intelligent when you speak. When you are faced with a brick wall, there is always a choice to get a ladder and climb over, to sit still by the wall and re-strategize, or to just walk away…either way, no one will ever know your vision more than you, so the choice is completely yours to make. Yes, we live in a time of great uncertainty and harsher realities; but then again, there are also advantages and opportunities, however few and far in-between- dwell on those and try to be balanced in your judgments and criticisms. Be creative. Be re-creative. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to get involved...there will be many more elections- we must find ways to be adequately positioned for leadership. We must stop selling ourselves short and stop being readily-available instruments for mischief and violence, in the hands of the same politicians we criticize. It is hypocritical to demand positive change while continuing to propagate the same negative traits you claim to despise! Finally, always remember that if there is one great failure about Femi Pedro’s generation, it is that our generation does not feel like they created an enabling environment for us to thrive. The failure of our generation will be that the next generation thinks the same of us, in the future. Let’s make a difference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


As the picture of the lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi lying washed up on the Turkish shoreline was flashed around the world, the international community was moved, saddened, outraged…even if for only a short while. The migrant crisis is one of the greatest catastrophes of present times, and the greatest refugee crisis since WW2. This year, 2015, the world has witnessed- and continues to witness- massive numbers of people fleeing their home countries for the promise of Europe. In fact, it is estimated that close to half a million people have made the perilous journey in the first 9months of 2015 alone and many more are expected to. Germany alone has seen about 10,000 migrants cross into its territory on a daily basis, in recent times. This massive exodus has also been fraught with a great many tragedies, as thousands of lives- including that of little Aylan Kurdi- have been lost to the ferocious and merciless seas. But the people keep coming.
A distinction must be made amongst these Europe-bound travelers. Some of them are genuine asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in their home countries like those fleeing the war in Syria, and those fleeing from the savagery of the Taliban in Afghanistan. And then, there are also the economic migrants from a number of countries including Nigeria, who are simply on a quest for economic gain. But we call them all migrants. The journey to reach the shores of Europe does not come cheap, as smugglers are paid upwards of thousands of US dollars to get these migrants into Europe via European entry points such as Greece, Italy and Hungary.
At the start of 2015 no one would have predicted just how massive this European influx would be; but as the migrants keep arriving in great numbers, Europe has started to buckle under the weight of this extremely heavy burden. For most migrants, the dream destination is Germany- this in no small measure, has to do with the initial welcome policy of German Chancellor Merkel- but to arrive at Germany, one must transit through several European countries; some of which are not so gracious e.g. Hungary. In fact to register their displeasure at this “most unwelcome problem”, the Hungarian government resorted to erecting border fences, with the threat of imprisonment for any migrant who dared to scale through. The migrant crisis has only worsened the already present divisions and polarizations within the EU. There were just not enough structures on ground to accommodate so many people, and so, European nations bickered amongst themselves. Obviously, some EU nations like Germany, Austria, and Sweden are wealthier than others; and the less wealthy European nations believe their richer neighbors should bear more of the burden. A lot of animosity has also risen because the most likely entry points are nations like Greece and Hungary who are either in economic decline, or just not as economically vibrant as most other European countries; and this massive incursion into their territories has also led to a disregard for the Dublin Agreement. 
Revised in 2013, the Dublin Agreement stipulates that asylum seekers must remain in their country of contact i.e. point of entry, where they will be registered and their applications processed. Movement to another EU country will be met with repatriation, back to the point of entry. Thus, “Mr. A”, an asylum seeker arriving in the Greek island of Kos, is bound to remain in Greece, under EU laws. But the current migrant crisis has revealed that this agreement places disproportionate burden on entry states (which are usually not so buoyant, capable, or willing); thus, the migrants are quickly passed on to other European countries, without being processed at their entry points. In fact in most cases, the migrants themselves refuse to be processed in their countries of contact, as they would then be bound to remain there- something they certainly do not wish to happen. I mean, for someone who has fled war, persecution, or even economic hardship, a financially strapped or even hostile nation certainly does not seem like the ideal resettlement zone! So, what must Europe do?
To find a solution to the migrant problem, EU leaders convened. After much disagreement, they came to a conclusion that a quota system must be put in place to divide these migrants amongst themselves, with the numbers being relative to individual nation GDP. But of course, this was not acceptable to states like Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania who do not see reasons why they must be compelled to accept migrants. The number agreed upon for resettlement did not even amount to half the number of those who have already arrived in Europe, not to talk of those still on their way! So where does Europe go from here?
I believe that any solution will have to be comprised of long and short term plans. In the short term an agreeable quota system will have to be reached, to resettle the migrants that have already arrived. If this can be achieved, it will also help strengthen registration and screening procedures. To speak frankly, genuine asylum seekers i.e. those fleeing conflict and persecution must be given priority over economic migrants- most of whom will just have to be sent back to their home countries! A distinction must be made. I know this will not be easy as most migrants destroy their passports before reaching Europe so their true identities’ will not be ascertained. Some others give their passports to smugglers as part of the bargain for transportation. But EU border officials would just have to devise means of detecting the true identities of migrants- maybe through their distinct accents or features. Border controls must also be strengthened. I know this sounds harsh, but the truth is that extremely porous borders will only attract many more people. Maybe if the procedures for entry were more stringent, it would keep away most of the people solely seeking economic fortune who masquerade as asylum seekers, and make way for only those who truly deserve refugee rights. I mean, individuals fleeing deadly wars have nothing more to lose. They are the ones truly deserving of Europe’s help. And then, the issue of smugglers must also be addressed. These smugglers are a large part of the problem, and their careless and heartless actions are largely the reason for so many recorded and unrecorded deaths! They get paid huge sums of money; and then they ship these weary travellers in rickety boats, packing them like Sardines, without any regard for human dignity! They must be sanctioned! I am glad to hear that the UN has just recently given the green light for military action against these smugglers. This must be strictly enforced.
A comprehensive long term strategy on the other hand, will have to involve strategies for addressing the root cause of the problem. In plain terms, these wars must be stopped! This would involve not just the EU, but the international community putting aside their differences and finding viable solutions to these conflicts, once and for all. It may have to be military solutions, diplomatic solutions, political solutions, or a combination of all, but something must be done! And while this is ongoing, humanitarian corridors must be established for safe protection of the internally displaced.
The migrant problem is serious, but it is not unsolvable. It will all depend on willpower. Europe must act quickly. Already, tensions have started running high between migrants and some host communities. This is largely due to the great ideological divide between both groups. The migrants arrive Europe with their own culture, values and traditions which greatly differ from those of Europe; and this has led to a great many misunderstandings and even crimes, which have largely been kept away from the knowledge of the general populace so as to prevent the outbreak of violence on a large scale. Europe’s migrant population will have to be re-educated to cope with Western ways of life, and this would take time…time which is in short supply. No one knows just how much more tolerant host communities will be, before things turn ugly. I sincerely hope this is not a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode! Time is of the essence. I would conclude by stating that our shared humanity compels us to render help to those who need it. But our willingness to render aid must also be balanced by our acknowledgement of difficult realities. While we cannot turn our backs on those who genuinely need help, we must also be careful not to bite more than we can chew so that we do not find ourselves in positions where we become incapacitated, and no longer able to adequately alleviate human suffering. Japan has stated that it would give 1billion dollars to the migrant cause, even though it cannot take in migrants. Many more nations must bear this financial burden. Each nation must assess its position, taking account of its own capabilities, and do as it reasonably can; but in the same vein, no nation should fold its hands and feign incapability, if it can certainly do more! May the sweet memory of little Aylan Kurdi be our guiding light, as we temper mercy with reasonableness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


So the biggest event coming out of New York lately- apart from the historic first visit of the pope- has been the 70th session of the UN General Assembly. The UN General Assembly is an annual gathering of world leaders held at the UN headquarters in New York. Amidst all the pomp and pageantry and the line-up of programs, the general debate sessions are a particularly interesting affair, as they provide a platform for world leaders to outline their agenda(s) in front of the general body of nations. Now, though an array of world leaders are scheduled to speak during these sessions, overtime, a few have become figures that diplomatic observers look forward to hearing from each year. These include the US President, the Israeli Prime Minister, the Russian President, the Palestinian leader, and in recent years, the Iranian leader. The mix of highly anticipated characters may change from year to year, depending on what critical event (i.e. crises) is rocking the world at that moment in time.
To be truthful, i am not keen about watching these marathon speeches as I have gotten greatly disillusioned about the UN lately. But I find myself still paying attention, out of sheer habit! You see, I have come to view these speeches as ceremonial activities which are nothing but long talks in front of a very dignified audience. Very little in terms of concrete policy formulations result in the aftermath of this elaborate yearly gathering that I am usually inclined to think of it in somewhat comical terms. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t take it seriously! Anyway, this year, I decided I would pay attention as much as I could. Maybe it was because Nigeria’s newly elected President was on the line-up to give his first UNGA speech, or maybe it was because there are just too many global catastrophes going on at the moment and I wanted to get a sense of where world leaders stood on these issues. But by the end of the first day, I think I was already asking myself, “why even bother”?
Can I vent a little? Okay, thanks. You see not only do UN speeches re-enforce my view that most world leaders are largely detached from reality, but also this year, some speeches just felt like a great insult to my intelligence- and I imagine to most of the world’s as well! Now let’s start with the US President, Barack Obama. This gifted orator, who believes that his brand of diplomacy holds the key to solving all of the world’s problems, graced the stage with his audacious presence. This “ought-to-be most powerful man” who cannot bring himself to face the fact that his actions and inactions have only served to strengthen global hardliners and trouble-makers, attempted again to project an aura of authority that in my opinion is largely fading away. In an attempt to scold Russia, Mr. Obama stated that “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world,”; and I thought it was rather ironic that he would say that, because his lack-lustre foreign policy performance has contributed in no small measure, to the creation of these "dangerous currents" which have certainly produced a more disordered world! The Russians have basically dragged the carpet from under his feet and now he just sounds like a broken record- my opinion! And so at that early stage, I was already going “oh, not again please…not another wonderfully-deceptive speech without any follow-up action”! But I endured. Vladimir Putin, who missed Obama’s speech as he was on his way to the location from the airport, also did just as I knew he would. This was his first speech at the UNGA in a decade, and I figured he was coming to ignite fireworks and greatly annoy the West. Mr. Putin basically stated to the entire world that Bashir Al-Assad is the only one legitimately fighting ISIS in Syria. My goodness, even now, I cringe! Do we come across as being so gullible to Mr. Putin that he thinks we cannot see that his every move is strategically calculated to increase Russia’s global influence, strengthen its alliances, and place it squarely at the center of any future solutions in Syria- and anywhere else he deems fit to occupy with Russian military presence for that matter? In fact, to prove Putin’s true intentions, Russia launched its first air strikes in Syria primarily targeted at Homs and Hama. If you say you are going in to fight ISIS, why then bomb areas occupied by Anti ISIS/Assad fighters- the moderate rebels who are backed by the US and coalition forces! ISIS fighters are not even stationed in those places- and in most others that the Russian Airforce has subsequently bombed! And so you have the Russians actually killing those who are in fact fighting against ISIS and also Assad (Russia’s ally); and that first aerial bombardment was carried out while the UNGA was still going on! In my opinion, Putin has zero regard for the international community and I dare say he “paid no mind” to Obama’s speech. He knew it was just another “oratorial display”; and to add insult to injury and show Russian disdain for America, the Russians gave only one hour’s notice to the US to get their planes out of Syrian airspace before their onslaught began. And they did it in the most insulting and un-professional manner! Hmmm…I proceed in annoyance. And then, imagine President Xi Xinping of China calling for more powerful nations to stop bullying weaker ones! Can someone please remind him that China’s territorial maneuvers in the South China Sea pose a serious threat of direct military confrontation with its Asian neighbors, and that its actions are tantamount to bullying! And then he offered one billion dollars to the UN fund and I just thought “oh wow, there goes any hope of a reprimand by the UN”- not as if there ever would have been one! I would stop at these 3 because I am constrained for time, but not before adding President Robert Mugabe to the mix. So Mugabe traveled all the way from Harare to New York to remind the West- again- that Africans are not homosexuals, as if that was the greatest ill plaguing Africa at the moment or Zimbabwe for that matter! I guess he just felt the need to burn some jet fuel and register his presence at the UNGA! I would be tempted to question the rationale of speechwriters, if I didn't know that it is the politicians who outline the major talking points. And even if they don't, they most certainly give approval on the final drafts. So in fact, they say only what they want to say!
Another UN General Assembly gathering is now behind us. Do I expect any changes in terms of concrete policies that would stop aggression, strengthen peaceful coexistence, bolster collective security, or aid the self-determination of people(s) as the UN charter states? No, not really. This is just the way of global politics! But if I must be fair, if there was a bright spot for me, it was when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel spoke on Thursday. I had been looking forward to his speech, and I was not disappointed. Sometimes the majority is not always right, and it was a great feeling to see a leader telling the world the “bitter truth” to its face. In front of an assembly that seems to have been completely hypnotized by the Iranian charm offensive in recent times, PM Netanyahu defiantly declared, “the days when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies- those days are over. Not being passive means speaking up about the dangers. We have. We are. We will”. He also stated that “Israel remains committed to achieving peace with the Palestinians as well”. And then on a final note, he told the world to stand with Israel because “more than ever, Israel is defending you”! And in the midst of his audacious speech, was that absolutely captivating 45seconds of deafening silence where it seemed like he was daring the world to challenge his facts! I wouldn't say that Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is a saint- no politician is- but he most certainly is no "shrinking violet", and I thought he was completely brilliant!
So as typical UNGA's go, speeches at the 70th session were laden with name-calling, mud-slinging, and blame-games…it is to be expected- politics is not for the feeble hearted, and even the most respectable diplomatic sphere has become a warzone! But when these leaders return to their opulent palaces, majestic mansions, well-guarded white houses and imposing villas- all maintained by taxpayer monies- the war in Syria will still be raging, the exodus of migrants to Europe will still be ongoing, various conflicts will still be ravaging portions of the globe, countless lives will still be lost to hunger and preventable diseases, and our collective intelligence will still be bruised! But if I must end on a good note, at least another set of developmental goals were outlined i.e. the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) to replace the Millennium Development Goals. And so, we are now on a countdown to achieving these goals by 2030. But sadly, I do not think it will all be Peaches and Roses…I mean it’s not as if we were successful with all the MDG’s that came before. As President Muhammadu Buhari aptly stated during his speech, “for the newly adopted SDG’s to be truly global, they must be practical”. Theories are never in scarce supply in the international community; but it is the practical application of these theories and indeed the necessary willpower to enact them, that are constantly lacking. We hope things will be different this time around. And there goes my happy ending!