Africa demands reform of United Nations
Southern Times Writer
Windhoek – Ted Anthony, writing for Associated Press at the start of the United Nations General Assembly debate this week, summed up the growing discontent with the state of multilateral relations today.
“When the United Nations rose from World War II’s rubble, its birth reflected a widespread aspiration that humanity could be lifted up and dispatched down a positive path — if only there was a coherent, informed, unified effort of good faith among countries and their leaders. That would require persistence, compromise and, above all, hope.
“Four generations later, the theme of this year’s mid-pandemic U.N. General Assembly leaders’ meeting reflects that ideal: ‘Building resilience through hope’. But at UN Headquarters this week, while persistence seems abundant, hope is a scarce commodity. The General Assembly is unfolding this week under a thundercloud of deep pessimism. Coherence is spotty.”
It was a tone echoed by leaders from across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, as well as by UN Secretary-General Dr António Guterres himself: the system favours the rich, it is broken, and it needs fixing.
Opening the General Debate of the 76th General Assembly in New York, Dr Guterres said the world was “moving in the wrong direction”, and that international solidarity was in short supply “just when we need it most”.
His remarks were largely within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change; and they not only resonated with the vast majority of world leaders, but were also repeated with varying emphasis.
Dr Guterres described the situation where wealthy countries have vaccinated the overwhelming majority of their populaces against COVID-19 while less than 10 percent of Africans had been inoculated as “a moral indictment of the state of our world”.
Southern African leaders, who for the better part of a year now have been saying just that, also took their lobby against vaccine apartheid to the General Assembly.
SADC Chairperson, President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi said the world must now decide on a future based on co-operation or on greed.
Citing reports that developed countries were sitting on 500 million COVID-19 vaccines that will expire in 90 days, he wondered why these were not being shipped to territories in need.
And on climate change, he challenged the rich countries that have polluted the planet to pony up on the US$100 billion “cleaning fees” they pledged in the Paris Agreement ahead of the Conference of Parties 26th (COP26) meeting on climate change.
President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi of the DRC, who is the African Union Chairperson, weighed in saying “Africa does not need charity”, but constructive win-win partnerships. He also said while the recent IMF disbursement of Special Drawing Rights was welcome, Africa’s US$33 billion share of the US$650 kitty was a pittance. The IMF, President Tshisekedi said, should disburse US$100 billion to Africa.
He concluded by highlighting the “endless (problem) of the reform of the United Nations and of the representation of Africa within its Security Council”.
“It is a question of the effectiveness of the United Nations and of justice to a continent an entire section of humanity whose role continues to increase every day,” he said.
President Hage Geingob of Namibia called on the General Assembly to demonstrate the same unity of purpose that had seen the organisation play a central role in advocating for the Southern African country’s independence from apartheid South Africa.
“Namibia wishes to state that save lives can only be successful once we eliminate vaccine apartheid. It is not in anyone’s interest that in certain countries people are receiving their first doses while in others, people are receiving booster shots. Let us not forget that ‘no one is safe until all of us are safe’,” President Geingob said.
And President Andry Rajoelina of Madagascar added “We have seen we are not all equal”, while South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said “The gulf is widening between better-resourced nations who are buying up and even hoarding vaccines and developing countries who are struggling”.
“This is unjust and immoral. We welcome the commitment to dose donation and sharing. However, we reiterate our position that developing countries should be able to manufacture their own vaccines as well as to procure them directly,” President Ramaphosa said.
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema said his country had only been able to vaccinate three percent of its population, and “This clearly highlights the inequitable access to vaccines in developing countries”.
From elsewhere in Africa, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the “asymmetry” in vaccine supply “reflects a multilateral system that is in urgent need of repair”.
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “… we can and must do more to speed up vaccine distribution in Africa; doing so benefits the entire world.”
He said the UN Secretary-General was right to warn of a breakdown of the multilateral system in the face of COVID-19, conflict, climate change and chronic poverty.
In his contribution, President Mohamed Farmajo of Somalia said, “It is fundamental to recognise that responding to COVID-19 requires renewed commitment to vaccinations for all. Human safety is the cornerstone of any sustainable recovery from this disastrous health pandemic.”
Ghanaian leader, President Nana Akufo-Addo, said the structure of global economic organisations had proved inadequate for developing countries, and called for a constructive review based on equity, sustainability, and collective prosperity.
His Togolese counterpart, President Faure Gnassingbé said the pandemic could only be overcome through equal distribution of vaccines.
“This bipolar picture of the world is not what we want to see,” he added, while stressing that multilateralism meant going beyond diplomatic niceties and instead entailed creating a world order premised on co-operation and the principle of global prosperity.