The United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) is the main deliberative and unique policymaking forum for multilateral discussion of international issues including peace and security. All member nations, including Malawi, have equal representation, and have powers to oversee the budget of the United Nations, appoint members to the Security Council, receive reports from other parts of the UN and make recommendations. As such its importance and relevance to the Malawian socio-political context cannot be overemphasised.
The first session of UNGA was held on January 10 1946 in Westminster, London. Since 1952, the annual general assembly has been held at UN headquarters in New York, USA.
The 71st session of the assembly has just ended, and once again, Malawi was ably represented at the highest level through the attendance of none other than President Peter Mutharika.
The UNGA is a one stop forum for heads of state from around the world to meet, debate, learn and deliberate on a myriad of issues confronting the world. It is an annual opportunity for the world to converge to create roadmaps for solutions on various challenges facing the global village.
For Malawi, the UNGA represents a chance to meet decision makers from the donor community and other movers and shakers from around the world to canvass for aid for our social and economic development. It is a chance for the president to set up meetings with fellow heads of state and engage multilateral partners in a single UNGA session, giving him an opportunity to kill many birds with one stone.
The UNGA is a perfect cost-cutting measure as it saves forex and lowers down travelling costs. The forex that the country would have blown in presidential travels for several rounds of bilateral talks to several countries are pretty much taken care of in just one single UNGA ‘talkshop’. It generally eases the headache that comes with planning for trips involving the president and his team.
Apart from offering a platform to every president to articulate their perspectives on topical issues to a global audience through speeches, the UNGA is also an opportunity for innumerable side meetings for government technocrats and business captains from the private sector, to court investors and close investment deals. These investment opportunities can be a positive attribute for this country through employment creation and even the generation of the much needed foreign exchange.
The UNGA is also often a perfect platform and an opportunity for various non-state actors in this country such as the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) of Timothy Ntambo and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) of Gift Trapence to lobby policy makers for the implementation of various protocols on issues such as human rights and HIV and Aids.
As a member of the United Nations, Malawi is a signatory to various chatters and has ratified many UN Human Rights Conventions and also made binding international commitments to adhere to standards stipulated in various universal human rights documents. Not long ago some local NGOs utilized these instruments to report the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government to UN-affiliated human rights bodies over alleged human rights abuses.
These NGOs had full confidence knowing Malawi is signatory to several binding UN chatters that can be utilised to hold the DPP government to account on the alleged lack of adherence to human rights frameworks. The central breeding ground for these chatters or where all these documents and protocols are originated is mainly the United Nations General Assembly.
These are some of the positives brought about by UNGA that Malawi as a country cannot ignore. And as a stakeholder plying the world stage, this country needs to continue exploring the UNGA forum to learn best practices and find its middle ground on a variety of global issues that positively or negatively impact its social and economic development.
As is always often the case, however, politics dominate public discourse, and the situation is not much different in Malawi. Over the years, our politicians have given UNGA a bad name due to their penchant to use the forum for political ends. We have seen larger than life entourages of chiefs and party aficionados going to UNGA only to make merry around the pubs of New York.
We have seen whole government officials travelling to UNGA with girlfriends for shopping sprees. All this time it was the taxpayers who were forced to pick up the tab. Perhaps these are some of the things that are fuelling calls for Malawi to halt participating at UNGA, because people are not seeing the real benefit of UNGA trickling down to make an impact on their daily lives.
One of the world’s most famous theoretical physicists, Albert Einstein, said “the world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Granted, it is difficult to link the UNGA with any meaningful political or economic development that Malawi has made or is making, especially in the context of continuously erupting poverty.
Stopping our participation at UNGA is, however, not a solution. It will be like sacrificing an important world stage at the altar of our own incompetence. Our problem as a country is not UNGA; our main challenges are very much closer to home. What we need to do is an exhaustive introspection excise to help sort out our leadership problems. The moment this country will be able to curate selfless and visionary leadership with the concerns of people at heart, it will also be the time that the benefits of UNGA will also come out in full and in colour.
There is no bottom in the well of knowledge. The UNGA still represent a knowledge platform that we still need to utilise. Yes Malawi is poor and rapidly becoming famous for high grade leadership ineptitude, but to turn our back on UNGA would also be creating our own ‘smallvile’ or a cocoon which we certainly cannot sustain as country. This is not time to become a pariah state; we need to soldier on as we quest for a leadership that will succeed in utilising the UNGA opportunity to benefit this country.
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