Celebrating UN@ 75 “The future we want, the United Nations we need” …the perspectives of a Ghanaian diplomat

The UN was created on October 24, 1945 as an intergovernmental body to promote global peace, security and cooperation. Ambassador William Awinador-Kanyirige, executive council member of the Council on Foreign Relations Ghana and former Ghana’s High Commissioner to Nigeria and Ambassador to Ethiopia speaks with the Ghanaian Times on the relevancy of the organisation and the way forward. Below are excerpts of the interview.

Ques:It’s been 75 years since the UN was established, how relevant is the organisation ?

Ans:  Without the UN the world would have been highly chaotic. The platform for countries to share ideas to cooperate and maintain peace would have been a long journey to achieve.Since 1945, especially coming out of the Second World World; the world that was devastated and divided. The UN has lived up to its mandate over the decades, although it could have been doing much better. But you can’t put the blame on the UN. As an intergovernmental body, it succeeds as much as member states want it to succeed and fails as much as member states want it to fail.

Ques: What are your thoughts on this year’s theme “The future we want, the United Nations we need”

Ans: The UN has identifiedfive mega trends in the world:climate change, population shifts that is aging outside Africa, and the youth bulge in Africa that has its advantages if properly managed, urbanisation, emerging digital technologies, and inequalities. Inequalities are still plaguing us and getting worse due to COVID-19. In a couple of decades, Africa will be the most populous continent in the world, with serious developmental implications. The youth bulge is a huge opportunity for Africa. We need to link up the youth bulge to social entrepreneurship whereby they use the emerging digital technologies as additional tools to our traditional knowledge system to get our people out of poverty. The United Nations Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, works closely with the AU to help in policy options, mobilise resources and build capacity to accompany our development process. The UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), headed by our Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, focuses on preventive diplomacy and capacity building, and political mediation, to help create the enabling environment.

Question: Ghana is marking the day with a local theme “Shaping the future together; Ghana and the UN”, what are your thoughts on the theme?

Ans: UNICEF has a slogan “The Child cannot wait”, borrowed from a Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral. Very powerful! Countries that prioritise child welfare and development are doing much better in their Human Development Index than others. Personally, for us in Ghana, we should embrace the culture of promoting govt in continuity. We must identify core values that bind us so that it doesn’t matter who is the leader at a given time, which political party is in power at given time. While we are disagreeing on certain issues, we should have a baseline foundational values that we do not compromise. Understanding diversity and managing it must be our key points to develop from childhood. Our potential in Africa, Ghana in particular, is huge but we are not leveraging it. Why do we condone Africa being referred to as Africa south of the Sahara and then you have North Africa? This has a heavy psychological impact on us. At the AU we operate as Africa and not as Africa south of the Sahara. Our first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah once said that if before the Sahara once diverted us now it unites us. He concretised it to teach by marrying from Egypt. Let’s do away with the Anglophone/francophone dichotomy. God has given us a lot of blessings; let’s stop un-blessing ourselves so that we can leverage that which we already have as blessings for ourselves and also help the world.

Ques: What has been Africa or/Ghana’s contribution to the UN?

Ans: Africa has brought a lot to the UN table. When our first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah arrived with Ghana at the UN, he continued with what the Pan-African Congresses were doing in Manchester and earlier on, in the US, and eventually got the entire continent liberated. Dr Nkrumah used our Mission in New York, where all Independent countries were represented, to organise the first meeting of all Independent African states.  This is how, for example, the Ghana Mission in the New York played a pivotal role in the organization of the first Conference of Independent African States in Accra.

Ghana and its representatives in the various bodies of the United Nations played a pivotal role in the negotiations leading up to the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 1514: the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Peoples and Territories, in 1960.

 Furthermore, at the time Liberia was burning, the UN was blocked with the ‘principle of non-interference’ in the internal affairs of countries. Nigeria moved in with Ghana to get the region to mobilise an intervention(ECOMOG) in Liberia to save lives and property. This became a precursor of what today we call the UN ‘Concept of Responsibility to Protect’. The human right abuses and genocide in Bosnia, Herzegovinia and Rwanda made the world to wake up at the turn of the century. There was a paradigm shift from the ‘Principle of Non-interference’ to the ‘Principle of Non-Indifference’. When the AU met in Swaziland, now Eswatini, our own President Nana Akufo-Addo, then the Foreign Minister was key in the Ministerial work that prepared the ‘Ezulwini Consensus’ for the AU to make a solid commitment to shift from ‘Non-Interference’ to ‘Non- Indifference’ and that was the position paper we carried to the UN to address UN critical reforms including Security Council reforms. As a country and as a continent we have contributed a lot and this is just an example. Africa is the only continent that is on top of the UN priority issues.

These are just a few examples of Africa, especially Ghana’s contribution to the UN in the past.

Ques: UN is under criticism for some of its decisions in the Security Council, especially the veto powers of the five permanent members, do you subscribe to suggestions for reforms in the UN?

Ans: Yes it is necessary to reform the Security Council to enhance its legitimacy in terms of representation and to address the issue of veto powers. The Security Council had been reformed in the past but not substantially. The UN has the Accountability Coherence and Transparency (ACT) informal group that is focused on how non-permanent members can have a feel of the Security Council. Ghana is a member of the ACT process to make the Security Council, accountable, coherent and transparent. Unfortunately, some regional and bilateral conflicts of interest are making the negotiation process very slow and unpromising.

Ques: What are some of your fond memories of our own late Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General (January 1997-Dec 2007) ?

Ans: He made us very proud; he actualised Dr Nkrumah’s statement that Africa is capable and Dr Kwaggir Aggrey’s statement that we are eagles and not chickens. As Sec. Gen. he was very critical in Africa’s stability and development. Even after retirement he was more relevant. The high point of him in retirement was the role he played in Kenya, I encourage you to read the book ‘Back from the Brink’ to learn about first class mediation. He helped Nigeria to overcome its 2015 challenging elections. It was so touching when he wrote to me a personal letter when I worked closely with him as Ghana’s High Commission to Nigeria. He has left a legacy that others like Dr Ibn Chambas, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar and Prof Ibrahim Gambari of Nigeria, to mention but a few, are emulating.

Ques: We are in the Decade of Action of the agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate all forms of poverty and ‘not leave anyone behind.’ The global COVID-19 has struck us, what are your thoughts?

Ans: We were not making much progress; COVID-19 will worsen the poverty situation. Within the context of the future we want to shape, we must see COVID-19 as huge opportunity to develop our health systems and address our deficit of governance in continuity. We should let our people realise that beyond the talk; we can agree on certain core issues to develop our societies.

Ques: You had served in Ghana’s Mission in New York as Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, did you feel ‘dwarfed’ among the ‘big guys’ from the ‘big countries?’ 

Ans: Dr Nkrumah set the tone and addressed the UN in kente and his speech captivated his audience. As public servants we are trained to appreciate African personality by projecting our culture, because it’s a core principle. And the UN is a large platform to express that! It must be made clear that when engaging with others, they know who you are, appreciate how you speak and the values you project. So you have to exude all that. This way, you let the world know that knowledge is all over humanity and that we have in Africa, a civilisation that started long ago. And that we have given and continue to give to humanity as much as we are ready to take what can complement that which we have already.

By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman

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