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On day two of UN General Assembly’s annual debate, it’s multilateralism all the way

On day two of UN General Assembly’s annual debate, it’s multilateralism all the way
Photo credit: UN | Kim Haughton

27 Sep 2018

Climate change, economic inequality, systemic bias among issues underlined by world leaders as General Assembly continues debate

From trade to climate change to development and fighting diseases, world leaders mounted the podium of the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to deliver a ringing endorsement of multilateralism, singling out a strengthened UN as the prime tool for improving humanity’s lot.

Across the political spectrum, from economies large and small, representing all continents, Heads of State and Government crossed the lines of political and ideological division to join in their advocacy of a multilateral world order.

“In a global context that is increasingly fragmented, multipolar, and in constant evolution, we are convinced, in fact, that the international community needs more effective multilateralism and a United Nations that is strengthened in its role as a pillar of an international system based on peace, justice and equity,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on the second day of the Assembly’ annual general debate.

In many respects the leaders’ speeches were like ‘state of the nation’ reports in which they laid out a balance sheet of challenges faced and achievement attained by their individual countries, but many soon returned to the theme of the essential need for multilateralism.

“The world has slowly drifted ever more worryingly towards unilateral action,” Namibian President Hage Geingob said, stressing that this goes against the fundamental tenets of democracy upon which the UN is built and which are necessary for sustained inclusive development. “It is for this reason that multilateralism must be embraced with greater urgency.”

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo underscored the importance of multilateralism in trade. “Today, as we speak, a trade war is being stoked between the two largest economies of the world (US and China),” he said. “The consequences will affect those who have had no say, including small countries like Ghana. These events provide proof, if some were needed, that ours is an interdependent world.”

Selected African statements

pdf HAGE G. GEINGOB, President of Namibia (664 KB) , said that, since the end of the cold war, “the world has slowly drifted ever more worryingly towards unilateral action”. This development goes against one of the fundamental tenets of democracy upon which the United Nations is built. Democracy might have its flaws, he noted, but it is by far the best system, enabling the key values of the United Nations necessary for sustained inclusive development. It is for this reason that multilateralism must be embraced with greater urgency.

Namibia is founded upon the principles of democracy, the rule of law and justice, he continued. The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in its Constitution include virtually all the rights and freedoms recognized in international human rights instruments. However, these instruments in themselves are not sufficient to bring about sustainable development. There are emerging threats and challenges that continue to frustrate individual and collective efforts to achieve greater socio-economic progress.

As a dry and arid country, Namibia has stepped up its efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in critical areas, such as energy, water and terrestrial ecosystems, he said. In July 2018, it presented its Voluntary National Review on the implementation of the Goals, its first opportunity on the world stage, to show progress made in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and complementing Agenda 2063 of the African Union, in pursuance of the “Africa We Want”.

However, communicable diseases threaten to jeopardize the attainment of the 2030 Agenda, he underscored. For this reason, he endorsed the call to end the tuberculosis endemic and reaffirmed his country’s commitment to unite with the world in achieving this goal. His Government has demonstrated its commitment to address tuberculosis by including related targets in its fifth National Development Plan, as well as by ensuring that 70 per cent of available funding for tuberculosis comes from domestic resources. However, inadequate human and financial resources, high levels of poverty, and lack of public health services in rural areas remain a concern.

He emphasized that excluding women from certain spheres of life is to waste skills and expertise that can contribute to sustainable development. He applauded the United Nations Secretary-General for exercising leadership and reaching gender parity among senior management and resident coordinators. Namibia is also fully committed to implementing gender equality, as evident in the important role that women play in the country’s politics where they are equally represented in the Executive and Legislature. He also noted that during the darkest days of his country’s fight for independence, the Government and people of Cuba came to its aid. It is in the spirit of profound kinship Namibia shares with that country that he renewed the call for the lifting of the decades old, outdated, ineffective and counterproductive economic and financial embargo of Cuba.

pdf NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, President of Ghana (551 KB) , said that Kofi Annan’s passionate and profound belief in the United Nations and his certainty that a better organized and stronger Organization would make the world a better place is an ideal that should not be allowed to die. The international community continues to be faced with the stark reality that resolutions, norms and any number of votes in the Security Council and General Assembly mean nothing without the political will to enforce them.

When nations gathered in San Francisco 73 years ago and signed the landmark document that created the United Nations, it was a very different world than that which exists today, he continued. Ten years ago, as the General Assembly was starting its proceedings, the world was plunged into a financial crisis. The consequences were felt around the world, including in small countries like Ghana. Those events provide proof that the world is an interdependent world.

He noted that 55 per cent of the work of the Security Council in 2017 had to do with Africa. Unfortunately this invariably meant peacekeeping and poverty‑related issues. Africa no longer wants to be the place that requires peacekeepers and poverty-fighting non-governmental organizations, no matter how noble their motives. Regional bodies like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union are making systematic efforts to bring peace and stability to the entire continent. Ghana, like many countries in Africa, is forging relations with China to address part of the infrastructure deficit.

This is not a uniquely Ghanaian or African phenomenon, he pointed out. Developed, rich and well-established countries have been paying regular visits to China, seeking to open new economic ties and improve upon existing ones. A lot of anxiety is being expressed about the possibility of a recolonization of the African continent by a new power. However, at the turn of the twentieth century, China’s first railroads were built by western companies and financed by western loans to a nearly bankrupt Qing Dynasty. It was under those circumstances that the port of Hong Kong was leased for 99 years. The rest is history. That former victim of western railway imperialism is lending billions to countries throughout Asia, Africa and Europe to construct railroads, highways, ports, power plants and other infrastructure.

Ghana must build roads, bridges, railways, ports, schools and hospitals and must create jobs to keep young people engaged, he said. It is obvious that the development trajectory Africa is on is not working. A different one is being tried and he called upon the international community to help stem the huge flows of illicit funds from the continent. It is in everyone’s interest that Africa make a rapid transformation from poverty to prosperity.

pdf JOÃO MANUEL GONÇALVES LOURENÇO, President of Angola (342 KB) , said that the role of the United Nations was decisive for the achievement of a long‑lasting peace in Angola through the United Nations Angola Verification Mission (UNAVEM III) and United Nations Observer Mission in Angola (MONUA) peace missions, and also commended the work undertaken by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Angola’s experience in peacebuilding and reconciliation between the warring forces has been a positive example for the United Nations, in the sense that it has allowed for the drawing of useful conclusions on how to approach peace processes in other regions of the world.

It is at the United Nations where the best solutions can be found to the current, serious problems and conflicts that may hinder the survival of humanity itself, and are discussed and resolved, he continued. Those include hunger and misery that affect millions of citizens around the world, as well as global warming and its consequences, mass migrations, trafficking in narcotics, human trafficking, religious intolerance and extremism, and the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons, among other issues. The United Nations is still far from achieving the goals enshrined in its Charter.

He underscored that, while it is true that, after the establishment of the United Nations, the bipolarization of the planet into two antagonistic political and economic systems did not contribute to the easy enforcement of principles that work in favour of international peace and security. However, it would be unfair to deny that the United Nations has played an important role in bringing colonialism to an end, promoting human rights, boosting international development and cooperation, and the management and control of the hotspots of instability worldwide.

With the end of the so‑called cold war, there was a momentary emergence of a new political paradigm oriented towards multilateralism, he said. Today, in a time of ever‑increasing globalization, there is no justification for the continued proliferation of conflicts apparently without a solution, with entire populations suffering from their tragic consequences. There have been many voices demanding profound reforms inside the United Nations, including the enlargement and reform of the Security Council. Such changes would ensure better representation of the different geopolitical regions of the planet.

pdf GEORGE MANNEH WEAH, President of Liberia (466 KB) , hailed Ms. Espinosa’s successful election, noting that she is one of four women to hold the Presidency of the General Assembly. Paying tribute to the late Kofi Annan, he said Africa lost one of its most illustrious sons and the world one of its most outstanding diplomats. On his country’s newly democratically elected Government, he stressed that Liberians voted for “a Change for Hope” and a paradigm shift towards youthful leadership, change and transformation as a first in 73 years.

Adopting the Pro-Poor Agenda for Development and Prosperity, he pointed out that this will benefit not just the poor, but all Liberians. It is a policy framework for alleviating poverty and reducing the marginalization of the most vulnerable while being conducive for the middle and upper-income Liberians to grow and prosper. Intending to build a harmonious society, he called on friends, partners and private investors to support the efforts of the Pro-Poor Agenda in giving power to the people, promoting economic diversification, protecting sustainable peace and encouraging good governance.

He deplored the vulnerability of the youth in his country who lack access to high quality education and employment opportunities, adding that he plans to make them productive citizens by providing adequate educational facilities at high school and college levels. He also recalled the Technical Vocational Education and Training programmes for the youth left behind due to the disastrous civil crisis. To connect cities and towns and to power Liberia’s economy, he highlighted much needed investments in roads, energy and ports and called therefore for funding and technical expertise.

Because agriculture is another key priority in alleviating poverty, focus is now on improving self-sufficiency in food production and self-employment, he continued. Liberia also intends to attract labour-intensive light manufacturing by implementing a new Special Economic Zone law. He noted that due to the results of the 2014 Ebola Epidemic costing thousands of Liberians’ and health workers’ lives, he plans to better organize the healthcare delivery system to improve the wellbeing of his people.

pdf MSWATI III, Head of State of Eswatini (565 KB) , expressed support for Assembly resolutions aimed at repositioning the United Nations development system to better support countries in their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals under stronger national leadership and international cooperation. Citing the existence of pockets of tensions across the globe “which require that all Member States speak in one voice when providing peaceful solutions”, he warned that a fragmented approach will render peaceful solutions elusive. Appealing to countries embroiled in conflict to come up with “home‑grown solutions” to address their differences, he urged them to avoid the use of force and employ dialogue. “Where there is no loss of blood, unity prevails, whereas violence begets instability,” he said.

Outlining another major concern, he said the imbalance between rich and poor people continues to widen despite attempts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. Such imbalances contribute to terrorism and social strife, he warned, voicing support for Agenda 2063 and its goal of improving lives and realizing a well‑developed Africa by that date. Expressing support for such programmes, he said the slow progress of development adds to many countries’ burdens and prevents them from meeting the needs of their people. “We need to find ways and solutions to speed up the process of developing sustainable economies […] by removing the stumbling blocks to development,” he said.

Emphasizing that “no country deserves to go for a whole year without investment”, he warned against leaving developing countries behind. The African continent, in particular, still faces challenges including such diseases as Ebola, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and will continue to do so without funding. All citizens must have access to basic services such as clean water, health care and free primary education. Commending countries that have succeeded in providing those, he spotlighted the need to reduce unemployment and care for older persons as additional important global challenges.

Calling for international cooperation as well as alternative means of funding, he noted that Africa continues to absorb more peacekeeping missions than any other United Nations regional grouping. “This qualifies Africa [for] proper representation in areas of peace and security,” he stressed, emphasizing that the continent’s voice must be heard and featured prominently and permanently at the United Nations. As talks on Security Council reform progress, he stressed the need to consider the common African position – namely, calls for the allocation of no fewer than two permanent Council seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of permanent membership, including the veto power, and five non‑permanent seats.

He went on to outline national progress made in mainstreaming the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 into Eswatini’s development framework. Among other things, the country has made strides in localizing and integrating the Goals into its planning processes; finalized the review of its National Development Strategy (1997‑2022); and will soon launch a revised National Strategy, he said, adding that the latter’s theme will be “sustainable development and inclusive growth”. Among other things, he also spotlighted achievements in innovation and research as well as the country’s successful holding of free, fair elections earlier in September.

pdf UHURU KENYATTA, President of Kenya (559 KB) , expressed strong support for the General Assembly’s intention to better enable the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to fulfil their global mandates. However, he said there was a need for broader reforms. In almost every part of the world, there is a growing trust gap between citizens and their governing institutions, due to growing awareness of the scourge of corruption and wastage of public resources.

Pointing beyond individual corruption, he said major corporations are misrepresenting earnings to deny Governments revenues needed for investment in public goods. The corrupt dealings of cartels and oligopolies pillaging Africa’s resources “have over several decades been clothed in the garments of legality”, leading to “popular theorizing of Africa’s resource curse”, he said.

Continuing, he said that citizens all over the world are more aware that a globalized financial and legal system enables the illegal conduct of corrupt individuals, with Africa probably enduring the most suffering. Saying evidence increasingly marked Africa as a net exporter of capital through illicit outflows, he cited conservative estimates that the outflow ranged between $1.2 and $1.4 trillion between 1980 and 2009, roughly equal to the continent’s current gross domestic product (GDP) and “surpassing by far the money it received from outside over the same period”. Illicit capital powers a global corrupt network used by drug cartels and even terrorist organizations, driving a loss of trust in national, regional and global governing institutions, and thus enabling populists and extremists who thrive in chronic instability.

Globally, he said multilateralism is under severe strain, threatening the system of trade and security established after the Second World War under the aegis of the United Nations. Calling for bold solutions, he said the global community must fight impunity and corruption, fraud and abuse of public trust. Kenya has reached out to partners in Switzerland and the United Kingdom to counter transfers of illegal proceeds to their banking and financial systems, but bilateral agreements must come with determined reforms. Saying that one such reform must occur in the Security Council, he called for two permanent seats for Africa to counter the “historical injustice” of its under-representation in the non-permanent Member category. “Global decision-making needs more of Africa, if the world is to respond wisely to the demographic and economic shifts under way,” he said.

pdf EMMERSON DAMBUDZO MNANGAGWA, President of Zimbabwe (934 KB) , said that his country has made substantial progress in the implementation of some of the Sustainable Development Goals. In a bid to improve nutrition and broaden income opportunities, Zimbabwe has extended support to the livestock, fisheries and wildlife sectors. “We are confident that these multi-pronged programmes will accelerate Zimbabwe’s re-entry into the global economy,” he added. Recalling the many developmental and economic challenges caused by the continued illegal sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, he called for their immediate removal.

Peace, security, stability, democracy and good governance are essential ingredients for sustainable development, he said, noting Zimbabwe’s recent general elections. Election campaigning, voting and counting processes were conducted freely, peacefully and transparently. International observers and global media were also invited to observe the elections. “The exceptionally peaceful pre- and post-electoral environment represented the maturing and entrenchment of democracy in Zimbabwe,” he said. Expressing gratitude to the United Nations and other Member States for sending election observer missions and for providing technical assistance, he said the recommendations received will be considered.

The isolated incident of the post-election violence which occurred on 1 August is regrettable and unacceptable, he said. The Commission of Inquiry, comprising of eminent persons of national, regional and international repute, has now begun its work. Their report will help bring closure to the matter and will assist in the improvement of Zimbabwe’s institutional governance. Now that elections are over, Zimbabwe is focusing on economic development. “The Land Reform Programme is behind us and is irreversible,” he added.

It is time to look forward to Agenda 2063 and focus on increasing investments, decent jobs and empowerment and realizing a society free from poverty and corruption, he said. “Zimbabwe is open for business,” he emphasized, outlining steps taken to modernize the country’s roads, airports and other infrastructure. He also urged the need to address the root causes of conflict, which include poverty, inequality and disputes over land and resources.

The United Nations, like all global organizations, must be democratic, he said, calling for the review and reform of the Bretton Woods institutions and other international financial organizations. Trade remains an engine for growth if it is conducted fairly. He further called for negotiations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) which foster inclusive and shared economic growth. He also urged the international community not to turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Palestinian people. It is disheartening that the people of the Western Sahara have yet to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination. The Security Council in cooperation with the African Union must find a just solution to the issue of Western Sahara.