UNGA17: Beyond the TV cameras, pomp and fanfare

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During a White House luncheon in June 1954, Winston Churchill – the famed British orator, war strategist and statesman – remarked that “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war”.

He was highlighting the importance of solving problems through conversation rather than the use force – sometimes militarily. Simply put, there is power in collective commitment.

The 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off in New York, USA this week and the world is watching with keen interest how this year’s event would distinguish itself from its precursors.
This is because in the eyes of some, the General Assembly has become a repetitive talk shop, with some leaders, especially those from the so-called Third World, going there to run away from their domestic problems and calm their minds with the glitter of Fun City, as New York is sometimes called.

Brilliant oratory that feeds television soundbites and earns screaming frontpage headlines has become an annual instalment around this time of the year, yet we cannot help but ask the question: so what?
How has tough-talking and artistic oratory at the General Assembly changed the life of a kid in rural Ohangwena, or the maimed on the streets of Aleppo?

For decades now, Africa’s collective agenda at the General Assembly has been to beg the UN for a seat on the Security Council. It’s an attempt that fails dismally every year – perhaps defying Churchill’s ‘jaw-jaw’ approach.
Rather than begging and waffling every year, Africa ought to take a stand that would ultimately squeeze a solution out of the partisan UN system. We can no longer be treated like orphans by a body that claims to be the mother of all.

The General Assembly cannot continue to be a congregation of diplomats who have absolutely no agenda to effect change in the world. It’s not an occasion for selfies with leaders of the world and photo sessions in groups of four for archival purposes.

Not while there are ongoing conflicts raging in the Middle East and Africa, the unresolved ordeal of the Palestinian people and nations refusing to curb activities that exacerbate climate change.

It is painfully evident that the General Assembly lacks the political will to challenge any of the major states in the world, which, even if challenged, possess a right of veto in the Security Council.

Instead of running to New York every year, like kids rushing to the playground at the sound of the break-time bell, smaller nations must take a principled stand and boycott a session or two in protest of the blatant abuse of power by the UN and its muscular cohorts.

Rather than being a routine talk shop and a shopping opportunity for New York outsiders, the General Assembly must become an authentic catalyst for global democracy and a true representative of collective human and global interest.

Some of the wars and acts of terrorism currently haunting the world are a direct results of perceived exclusion and global injustices imposed on some people by others. True, the UN will never satisfy each of the 7.5 billion citizens of the world, but it must be seen to advocate for just that – and genuinely so.

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