By Kidane Alemayehu UN Expert (retired)
It is highly gratifying to note that the new Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, unlike his predecessors, including Mr. Kofi Anan, is showing a keen interest in African issues right at the outset of his tenure. Aside from his relatively frequent visits to the region, his focus on complex issues such as the cases of Darfur, the Eritrean/Ethiopian border, the on-going conflict in Southern Somalia, etc. he has now taken on the challenge of the devastating malaria pandemic which is responsible for the perennial death of millions of African people. Mr. Ban Ki-moon deserves to be commended for his effort in giving some attention to the beleaguered continent which is afflicted by huge issues of poverty, diseases and lack of democracy.
After all, despite all its shortcomings, real or perceived, the United Nations remains one of the very last hopes for humanity.
The question is whether Mr. Ban Ki-moons priorities are appropriate? The more apt challenge for Mr. Ki-moon is, in fact, whether he has the moral courage and fortitude to address the real fundamental issue facing the millions of Africans who are suffering under abject poverty not because of lack of resources but mainly due to lack of democracy and the consequent poor governance. It remains to be seen whether he would meet that challenge head on or, like his smart predecessors, hide behind the mantle of the UN mandate! Judging from the very positive start of his onerous assignment, I would prefer to believe that Mr. Ban Ki-moon would side with the masses of poor Africans suffering under their twin enemies of poverty and vicious dictatorships, at times, masquerading as democratic parties.
Despite the fact that his job is made difficult by superpowers who tend to emphasize his being a Secretary than being a General, there is no doubt that he does have the opportunity to bring to focus issues of substance that affect humanity in a significant manner. This is particularly true especially when comparing the United Nations organization with such other entities as the African Union which is an almost totally toothless bulldog that demonstrates a zero sensitivity or impact when it is confronted repeatedly by gross human rights abuses right under its very nose. Recent examples of election riggings throughout Africa (with the exception of extremely few such as Ghana) have not evoked even a peep from the African Union which is supposed to be there to look after the interests of the people of Africa and NOT those of the petty dictators! The fat leaders of the African Union are, in most cases, parading in their limousines and their a la mode fashions while Africa is burning from tyrannical regimes bent on corruption, gross abuse of human rights, and turning virtually a blind eye against devastating diseases such as malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS. African leaders are not ashamed of the fact that the continent has become a basket case while it is endowed with god-given riches (resources) that could make it a bread basket for itself and the world if only it had a democratic system of governance that would give priority to the interests of the African people and not the corrupt few.
Among the black mans burdens (to turn a phrase) that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has to bear in the context of the UN mandate is the fact that corrupt dictatorships in Africa are often supported by self-serving developed, and less developed countries such as China for their immediate interests. The Secretary-Generals dilemma is evident in that he has to bear in mind that it is mostly the permanent members of the UN Security Council, which is his virtual boss, that are siding with the dictators at the expense of the suffering African people. Nevertheless, it is hoped that Mr. Ban Ki-moon would also recognize the fact that it is incumbent upon him, as the leader in charge of enhancing respect for human rights globally, to play an effective role in bringing about a change in the international communitys complicity with corruption and tyranny. He is one of the very few leaders on earth who could and should tweak the conscience of the international community regarding the tragic plight of the African people suffering under the most oppressive regimes.
USA has a declared policy to promote democracy throughout the world. In one of his inaugural addresses, President Bush had stated: All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty we will stand with you. It is in USAs long-term interests to adopt a more potent policy of siding with the people instead of their oppressors. As the sole superpower in the world today, USAs clear support to the UN Secretary-General in the quest for democracy in the developing world would, more than anything else, accelerate economic development ending the grinding poverty and consequent diseases that cause millions of deaths in Africa. One of the beneficiaries of such a sound policy would be USA itself from expanded trade and the prevalence of stability.
A point is often made to the effect that it is only Africans who can liberate themselves from their oppressors and that expecting the accomplices of their tyrants, in this case the international community including the UN, is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, it remains the strong opinion of this writer that the United Nations could and should play an effective role in bringing about a fundamental change in policy towards tackling one of the worlds most serious challenges, namely, the unbridled dictatorships that are the bane of so much suffering for millions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In any case, what chance do poor Africans have when their oppressive regimes are armed and supported by the international community?
Given the constraints under which Mr. Ban Ki-moon is operating, what could he, as a person of conscience, do, in his capacity as the head of the United Nations organization, to alleviate the untold suffering of the African people?
He must face the truth: that Africas primary problem is not lack of resources; its main problem is lack of democracy without which, the international community may continue to pump in billions of dollars into Africa but would have little to virtually no positive effect except to meet certain natural and man-made emergencies and enrich the corrupt few.
There is an urgent need for the Secretary-General to use his considerable moral and political influence to bear upon the gross abuse of human rights and corruption in Africa in a manner that would yield practical results unlike his predecessors, who satisfied themselves with merely hollow expressions of double-talk that were scoffed at by African dictators. It is interesting to note here that Mr. Kofi Anan was more effective after the end of his service with the UN with his masterful performance in Kenya than all the years he wasted as Secretary-General without making a dent in the vicious grip of dictators in his own continent!
There is no doubt that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is aware of the numerous ways and methods by which he could influence events in Africa. What, above all, is needed as a matter of great urgency is to formulate and apply an effective strategy for the creation in Africa of an environment in which dictatorship and abuse of human rights would not be tolerated and that there would be a heavy price to pay by tyrants and corrupt governments. Tyrants should be given a clear notice to make way for democracy!
It would be most important for the Secretary General to be personally engaged in the quest for democracy in Africa to the extent that it would constitute one of his top priorities and eventually become his unique legacy as a huge contribution to humanity during his tenure. Such a courageous policy would not endear him with the dictators and their bosses elsewhere but it would be worth the fight unless he prefers to be an accomplice in the continued subjugation of the African people under a brutal suppression and abject poverty.
The Secretary-General should be wary of the fact that some of his top advisors could be bureaucrats honed in perpetuating a continued debilitating impact on the United Nations and that their advice regarding Africa is likely to side more with the corrupt dictators in that continent on the basis of the so-called UN mandate than taking new initiatives that would liberate the Africans from the vicious grip of poverty and untold tyranny.
Another extremely important aspect that Mr. Ban Ki-moon will have to consider carefully is that the powers that be in the international community are interested in Africa more for the purpose of exploiting its immense natural resources as well as their other latent motives such as the so-called war against international terrorism than the alleviation of dictatorship and poverty: the very factors that breed terrorism in that sad continent.
The new UN Secretary Generals, Mr. Ban Ki-moons recent focus on Africa deserves appreciation. However, it remains to be seen whether he has a clear cut strategy for the continent, focusing on its immense challenges as well as opportunities. It would, in particular, be interesting to see whether Mr. Ban Ki-moon will exert the necessary effort in ridding the continent of the gross human rights abuses and its rampant poverty emanating from the vicious dictatorships from which millions of African people are continuing to suffer.
It is hoped that the international community, especially USA and EU will, in their own long-term interests, side with the UN Secretary-Generals efforts at alleviating the grinding poverty and dictatorship in Africa instead of supporting oppressive regimes for myopic interests.
It is hoped that under the able leadership of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations will for once help in bringing a real democracy in Africa resulting in the efficient utilization of its immense natural resources for the benefit of its people.
*The title is an obvious play with words and a hyperbole but one would not be blamed for wishing the power of a magic wand for Mr. Ban Ki-moon!