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!

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