Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was the fifth world leader, Tuesday, Sept. 24, to address the 74th United Nations General Assembly’s General Debate. His address came after those of the presidents of Brazil, United States, Egypt and Turkey in that order. The theme of the General Debate this year is: “Galvanising multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action and inclusion”. Before the honour done to Buhari, Nigeria had one of her own, professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, elected the president of the ongoing UN General Assembly in June. He is Nigeria’s current permanent representative in the UN. A rare double indeed!
This year’s theme stresses “multilateral efforts”. Incidentally, the year marks the first anniversary of the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace. Buhari noted that while multilateral action served the world well in the post World War 11 era, today it is being threatened by negative tendencies. “Multilateralism, symbolised by the UN system, has brought immense benefits to the peoples of the world. It has saved lives, prevented wars, restored peace and stability as well as generated economic and social progress in many countries”, he said. Regrettably, today, “we are witnessing a backlash against multilateralism in the shape of rising tide of racism, xenophobia, resurgent nationalism, populism and tendencies towards protectionism and unilateralism. The pristine principles of the United Nations appear threatened.
Buhari refrained from pointing fingers. However, promoters of those tendencies undermining multilateral action, such as the United States’ President Donald Trump must have swarmed uncomfortably in their seats. The Nigerian leader noted that after World War 11, the United States was “one of the greatest” proponents of multilaterism. The US, “in one of the greatest selfless undertakings in history, decided to revive Europe through the Marshall Plan and uplift and restore Japan economically. This generous policy catalysed a great economic revival globally. This action of the United States not only benefited Europe and Japan but the United States as well through vastly improved trade and cross investments.” However, today that country has turned full cycle, from multilaterism to crass nationalism. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa whose compatriots last month unleashed waves of xenophobic attacks on immigrants, conveniently avoided this year’s UNGA.
The next issue Buhari took up was the imperative of poverty eradication. He lamented the widening gap between the very rich and the abjectly poor. “We must admit that as the world grows richer, there are regrettable signals in the World Economic and Political Order. Millions in Africa and around the world remain in abject poverty”, he said. He sought the help of the rich world to take Africa out of poverty. “A developed Africa will not be antagonistic to industrialised countries but will become friends and partners in prosperity, security and development. A prosperous Africa will mean greater prosperity for the rest of the world. A poor Africa will be a drag on the rest of the world. Is this what the international community wants? A coordinated multilateral effort should be set in motion to utilise and maximise use of the enormous resources on the African continent for the benefit of all nations. Investing partners will be able to recoup their investments manifold over time.”
Buhari observed that “current attempts to help develop Africa by industrial countries are un-coordinated and plainly incremental. We have the skills, the manpower and the natural resources, but in many instances, we lack the capital – hence my plea for industrial countries to take a long-term view of Africa, come and partner with us to develop the continent for the benefit of all. Africa charges you with the singular task of initiating the effort we are calling for. The United Nations has in place processes for promoting collective action to combat global threats. No threat is more potent than poverty and exclusion”.
A good case for Africa and ably made by a leader eminently qualified to put it across. Those pessimists who had predicted Buhari would fail in his UNGA outing must be rubbing their heads in shame.