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Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Former President Benjamin Mkapa delivering his remarks


A birthday is normally an occasion for celebration. This is also the time for the global community (as we do in our personal lives, and nations do in their history) to make a sober reflection on our journey since birth: What have been the experiences and lessons learnt? And the prospects for the future ahead? The same can be said for global institutions such as the United Nations whose 70th birthday we celebrate this month.

When in the aftermath of the Second World War, 51 countries met in San Francisco, to establish the UN. There were only 4 African countries (Liberia, Ethiopia, Egypt and South Africa). The principal objectives for the new global institution they sought to establish were:

·        To maintain international peace and security
·        To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
·        To step up international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and to promote and encourage respect for human rights and respect for the fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
·        To be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

Today, 70 years later, with 54 African countries as members of United Nations and its specialized agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, ILO, UNCTAD, WTO etc. we should ask the question: “As Africa and Africans, how peaceful and secure is our world today?”

I do not intend to give a details and comprehensive assessment of the contribution of the organization and its various constituent agencies over these past 70 years, but will highlight in a selective way these dimensions of the narrative that have more or less significantly affected our continent, and its people.

Firstly, there is no doubt that through various Councils and Committees, the United Nations has been an important forum for the liberation of our continent from colonialism and imperialism. Tanzania’s own path to freedom is an example of this experience. Yet I will argue that the removal of imperial domination of our continent in every aspect i.e. economic, social, cultural, etc. was achieved primarily through the unrelenting struggles of our own people as well as vision and tenacity of our fathers, be these through negotiations and/or armed struggles. Some may debate this assertion but this is my view.

With respect to the third original objective, the experiences for most developing nation’s to-date is a mixed one. For us as Africans there is no doubt that a lot has been achieved a recent global efforts to eliminate object poverty as the scorecard for achievements under the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). According to the MDG Report 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty has reduced from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 in 2015 that is a decline of more than half. Again, number of out-of-school children has declined by 43% from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015 whilst the literacy gap between men and women has narrowed Moreover, global under-five mortality has dropped by more than half between 1990 and 2015. There has been phenomenal progress in technology which really has been the driver of growth and development in the 21st century. As at 20115, about 3.2 billion people are connected to a global internet of content and applications. For example, the plans under the adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that was declared at the recent UN General Assembly Summit indicate with continued global cooperation in the next 15 years, much will be achieved in the health, education, food security, gender equality and other social sectors.

The agenda ahead clearly also shows that because large inequalities persist, especially in our continent, much remains yet to be done. In my view the role of the specialized agencies of the UN will remain key and pivotal for Africa and Africans. In the area of health, the achievement of the WHO in dealing with pandemic diseases such as Polio, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, etc. have been commendable. Much remains to be done however in strengthening national level delivery system. The international Labour Organization (ILO) has made considerable strides in establishing progressive workers standards. However, weaknesses in national capacities militate against implements action of standards such as the promotion of fair wages, gender equalities in the work place, child labour, elimination of dangerous working conditions etc. These remain major challenges despite some progress.

The FAO has done much in stimulating agricultural revolution in many parts of the developing world. Nonetheless, agriculture remains the Achilles heel for many in Africa. Despite abundant arable land the continent remain challenged in producing adequate food for its rapid expanding population Land tenure systems are a disincentive production units too unfeasible and technology in agriculture remains backwards. Many of these constraints are also considerably aggravated by challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. Finally I believe strongly that if the UN system is to deliver on several of its foundation objectives, many reforms will be necessary in its governance architecture, especially representation within the Security Council of the General Assembly and voting rights in the Bretton Woods Institutions; the IMF and the World Bank Group. The situation at present in these areas makes nonsense of the equality of sovereignty and democracy. The domination of these institutions by very few developed countries based on history is unfair. The dominance of their …………….. Interest and those of their private corporations remains unjustifiable in current evolving economic and political realities. The result often is that their actions and interest promote the greatest threat to peace and security in the world, the first and fundamental objective of the UN.

Much of the political and economic crises in recent decades at the global level can be traced considerably to dominant nation state and corporate interests, for example, as they seek control of natural resources e.g. energy in the Middle East or minerals and other natural resources in Africa. The widespread political instabilities that these interest cause tend to become triggers of massive population relocations as are currently taking place in the Middle East and in Africa. Africa has been the regime of massive population dislocation caused by conflicts started by economic interests in the past five decades, more than three quarter the life span of the UN! We have examples in our neighbourhood – The Great Lakes Region. Tanzania has been a destination for many refugees in Central and Southern Africa regions. I say with pride that even though a relatively poor nation. Tanzania has coped with floods of refugees, integrating millions of them because of compassion, solidarity and visionary leadership. Today as the world watches with horror the plight of thousands of refugees from Sahilian and North Africa as well as the Middle East who are on the move to safety and in search of peace in Europe; the world can learn from Tanzania’s experience. For a long time the world remained relatively silent when it was mainly Black Africans who were on the move some away from civil conflict and others seeking better economic prospects in Europe. Many ended up in watery graves of the Mediterranean Sea. Today we see massive movement from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East across to Europe in face of expanding global terrorism. Yet dealing with this problem has become stalemated because of the persisting lack of democracy in the UN governance. Similarly despite affirmation and recognition of the State of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people, the undemocratic representation, architecture of the UN system has continued to deny them their humanitarian rights and the right to sovereignty. So, ladies and gentlemen, the UN has ev3ery reason to celebrate it 70” birthday. My judgement is that its achievements though commendable in a number of areas present a mixed picture. True and lasting peace and security in the world can only be possible if the global community, all of us together accept some major reform in the governance of its International institutions. It is only then that the key challenges of today and the near future, namely terrorism, extremism, abject poverty and inequalities can be overcome. As we press for climate change in the physical environment let us recognise a principal driver of change will be ………. in equitable political, economic and egalitarian environment. In that spirit let the UN member states wish each other a Happy 70th Birthday.

Thank you for your attention. 

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