World leaders round on United States
Over the past few years, the United Nations General Assembly has become one of the few platforms through which the leaders of the world’s smaller countries can highlight their gripes with US hegemony and this year’s meeting in New York last week was no different.
The ‘main attractions’ this year were President Chavez and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who did not disappoint as they made it clear they would not cower in the face of US economic and military might and would continue to advance their own national causes in addition to fighting for a more just global trade order.
SADC heads of State Hifikepunye Pohamba (Namibia), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) also got in on the act, pointing out that there appeared to be lack of commitment on the part of developed countries to eradicate poverty in the Third World.
He added that many countries were not adhering to commitments made under the Millennium Declaration of 2000.
President Mugabe was more direct when he said despite the many international agreements on what had to be done to solve the poverty problem, there remained “a wide gap between rhetoric and concrete action on the ground”.
He indicated his frustration with the use of economic sanctions by some countries as a political tool that hindered development efforts and were an unwarranted interference in domestic affairs.
“In my country, for example, on average, a Zimbabwean AIDS patient is receiving about US$4 per annum in international assistance, compared with about US$172 per annum for other countries in the region,” President Mugabe said.
He also called on the need for Africa to have permanent veto-status representation on the UN’s Security Council as a form of insurance against pre-emptive strikes like those on Iraq as well as the recent Israeli strikes on Lebanon.
Africa is the only continent without permanent representation on the Security Council and the AU is lobbying for two permanent seats with veto power and two other non-permanent seats.
President Mbeki criticised some developed nations for consistently refusing to implement agreements made at UN level such as the Millennium Declaration.
He said: “A global partnership for development is impossible in the absence of a pact of mutual responsibility between the giver and the recipient. It is impossible when the rich demand the right, unilaterally, to set the agenda and conditions for the implementation of commonly agreed programmes.
“We who represent the poor, know as a matter of fact that these billions of poor people are increasingly becoming impatient because every year they hear us adopt declaration after declaration, and yet nothing practical is done to assuage the hunger pains that keeps them awake at night.”
President Mbeki explained that “only few and selected” agreements were implemented, with outcomes that were clearly insufficient to alleviate hardships faced by the poor.
Another African head of State, President de Menezes of Sao Tome and Principe told the General Assembly that: “It is time we faced some of the unspoken truths about poverty” and why so many countries remain in what has been dubbed the poverty trap.
He however pointed out that the issue of good governance had to be urgently addressed so that development initiatives could be given a chance to work. He said: “When States do not protect property and people; when national revenues benefit self-interested political insiders who oppose any actions that would lead to more equal distribution of income and resources; when government officials waste funds; when people are hired on the basis of being from the right family or region or political grouping; when nobody monitors government spending; when corruption is noted but never punished; and illegal activities are not restrained by law, the press or democratic opposition, then miserable results follow.”
The Sao Tome and Principe leader added that there had been some “beautiful success” and the target of the General Assembly was now to mend the way aid was extended rather than end it altogether.
Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Nguema Mbasogo said the world’s rich nations were using unfair means to maintain their “economic dominance and political influence”.
He tasked the General Assembly “to put a stop to this crooked path of our international relations” adding that while the actions of terrorists were deplorable, the world should not be amazed by such phenomenon as these activities remained “as the recourse of those oppressed, a reaction of those who oppose the present injustices denounced through the last quarter of a century”.
Iran’s President Ahmadinejad rounded in on the US for interfering with its nuclear energy programme and assuming the role of world police.
He said: “Regrettably, the persistence of some hegemonic powers in imposing their exclusionist policies on international decision-making mechanisms, including the Security Council, has resulted in a growing mistrust in global public opinion, undermining the credibility and effectiveness of this most universal system of collective security.”
Iran’s leader added that as long as the Security Council was unable to act on behalf of the international community, it “will never be legitimate nor effective.”
The Venezuelan leader, who alleges that the US government has at different times tried to depose him or have him assassinated made an impassioned presentation that drew quotations from Greek philosopher Aristotle, famed American academic Naom Chomsky and film-maker Alfred Hitchcock slammed US imperialism, vowing never to sit back and allow Washington to do as it pleases to other countries.
President Chavez said: “Yesterday the devil came here and this place still smells of sulphur (in reference to US President George W. Bush who addressed the General Assembly a day earlier). He came here talking as if he were the owner of the world. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.”
He added that President Bush was “a liar and a tyrant” and that US imperialism was a “threat to the survival of the human race” The 61st Session of the General Assembly, under the thematic structure ‘Implementation of the Global Partnership for Development as a follow-up to 2005 World Summit’ ended yesterday.
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan made his final General Assembly presentation before he steps down from the helm of the organisation at the end of this year after 10 years in charge.
In his swansong, Annan said: “Much has been achieved, but events have also presented us with new challenges ‘ or rather, have given the old ones new form, or a sharper bite.”
He added that three broad challenges remained to be tackled: an unjust world economy, world disorder, and widespread contempt for human rights and rule of law.
“As a result, we face a world whose divisions threaten the very notion of an international community upon which this institution stands,” he said.