By: KENNETH AGUTAMBA
Earlier this week, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe took to the podium at the opening of the African Union’s 26th Summit in Addis Ababa, where he, in the presence of the amiable Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, gave a fairly fiery speech reigniting calls for UN reforms.
Mugabe’s remarks about the UN were clearly not in the official speech prepared for him by his handlers; they were off-head avers inspired by the immediate speaker before him, a representative of the Palestinian State.
But thank God for the off-script moments. They, in the end, provided the story for the media and got the room roaring in applause as the veteran Pan-African spoke from the heart with passion and pre-colonial fury that has shaped his long political career.
He yelled with the voice of a 91-year old. Like many Pan-African leaders, Mugabe is a great orator He struck the arpeggio with a number of his fellow African leaders in the room who responded to the remarks with a brief standing ovation in the early minutes of his speech.
But will Africa ever get a UN veto vote? Or shall the Veto holders abolish the privilege and make all UN members equal, as Mugabe seemed to propose?
In all fairness, the suggestion of giving African countries more clout on the UN security council is a genuine one but Africa must choose its lobbyists carefully because ‘who says what’ in international relations matters as much as the matter at hand.
Winston Churchill once said that ‘diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask you for directions.’ He was referring to one’s ability at political seduction.
Africa must identify a person or persons to be at the vanguard of lobbying for not only UN reforms but also other demands, but those persons, like Harry Truman once said, should have the skill to step on a man’s toes without messing up the shine on their shoes.”
Unfortunately, Mugabe is not that person; he likes to go hard but that is certainly not the way to market hell to a Christian.
During his speech alone, he left behind a mess after stepping on and soiling people’s shoes with racist remarks such as ‘white skin’ and ‘big noses’ ‘tell them to shut up.’
So who is the best placed person to be at the vanguard of Africa’s quest for reforms at the UN and elsewhere? I will leave that to you as Sunday food for thought.
But also note that, ‘if you need something from somebody, always give them a way to hand it to you,” that is good advice from Sue Monk Kidd’s book, ‘The Secret Life of Bees.’
Assuming it was possible to give Africa the ‘veto power,’ which of the continent’s more than 50 sovereign states should hold it on behalf of the others?
One viable option is looking at Africa as a collective entity, under the African Union, which would hold the African Veto on behalf of all the other AU members through a rotational representative who would seek guidance from the AU, before taking a key vote on any matter.
However, this would be to assume that African countries have a common agenda in international politics; this however is not true.
As long as Africa is made up of over fifty countries, deciding who is given the Veto privilege will remain almost impossible.
Besides, the current five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) did not earn the privilege by playing the continental card; instead, they based it on their individual significance in international politics.
In my view, Africa shouldn’t wait to be invited to the UN high table; the continent must force its way to dine with the big five, how it does that is something we can add on our food for thought menu.
For that to happen, Africa must find ways of making itself indispensable in the decision making process of resolving international crises. So far, the continent appears to be comfortable as an observer and cheerleader as big boys play on the international arena.
Moving forward, let countries take African integration more seriously; build consensus on major international issues, advance a common agenda and rally behind it as a union to engage alleged dominant powers with more focus and purpose.
Until that is done, it saddens me to conclude that Mugabe’s impressive display in Addis will be dismissed by those concerned, as mere rumblings of a fulminating African demagogue with no big stick to wield or significance to rue.