Three African leaders will be participating or sending representation to what will be their last official participation in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The UNGA kicks off today and is set to run till next Monday September 25. Whiles three African leaders will show up as ‘newcomers,’ at least three others will not show up again at least in presidential capacity.
The newcomers include: President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; The Gambia’s Adama Barrow and Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo – the latter is reported to have handed the opportunity to his Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Khaire.
Those bidding the UNGA goodbye are leaders whose mandate run out this year or before the 73rd General Assembly scheduled for 2018. They are: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first African female president. Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Ian Khama of Botswana.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia
Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf bows out this year after the country goes to polls to elect her successor in October 2017.
As the first female president of sub-Saharan Africa, Sirleaf , 78, has led the west African nation since 2006, she is in the last days of her second straight term. She has been a regular attendee at the UNGA.
She took over the country at the end of the civil war that saw former leader, Charles Taylor, jailed by an international court for war crimes. She is credited with returning the country to stability over the last decade.
Sirleaf has overseen a rising economy that was badly hit by the outbreak of Ebola years ago. Her critics accuse her of sheilding corrupt officials and also of engaging in nepotism. She received Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in Liberia’s return to peace.
According to an Executive Mansion (Liberian presidency) release, “the President departed the country on Sunday, September 17, 2017 and is expected to be away from September 18 – October 2, 2017.
Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos
Aside the first five years after Angola’s independence (1974 – 1979), the following 38 years has been under the leadership of one man: Jose Eduardo dos Santos – the 74-year-old who officially gave up the title of ‘President’ after the 2017 polls.
Over his lengthy stay in power, he has been part of a group of world leaders who did not always travel to New York for the UNGA. Last year for instance, Angola was represented by Vice-president, Manuel Domingos Vicente.
What is clear is that dos Santos will not be in New York neither will president-elect Joao Lourenco because his inauguration is slated for September 21.
Despite stepping down as president, he maintains the powerful role of leader of the ruling MPLA – a move that many political watchers describe as holding on to considerable power even as he walks into retirement. But unlike Zimbabwean leader, Robert Mugabe, who is famed for making tough statements on the world stage, the UNGA may not even recognize his absence.
Botswana’s Ian Khama
Despite being born in the United Kingdom to Botswana’s foremost independent leader and one-time president, Ian Khama, returned home to serve in the military and then entered politics. Khama became president after then president Festus Mogae’s handed over to him in 2008 but won his first term in 2009.
His presidential term runs out when the country goes to the polls in 2019 but the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has a tradition where the president steps down and hands over power to his vice-president with a year to expiration of his mandate.
Incidentally, Khama, like dos Santos is not a fan of the UNGA, he has missed it several times leading opposition figures to raise issues but the country’s diplomat to the U.N. has recently risen to Khama’s defence. Botswana will be represented by vice-president, Mokgweetsi EK Masisi.
“Not at all. It makes no difference. I must say whether or not our president goes to the general assembly does not affect the implementation of the development programmes here at home which are implemented through UNDP and other UN agencies.
“There is no direct impact and he is not the only leader who is not able to come up there. It is not unusual and it is not an issue with fellow diplomats at all,” Anbassador Ntwaagae told The Midweek Sun.
Kabila and DRC’s political uncertainty
The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo cannot be firmed up due to political uncertainty. All things being equal, President Kabila should be on the list of those attending their last – if he does attend.
But it remains to be known whether the DRC will hold elections this year or before the next UNGA and more importantly whether Kabila will contest in the said polls. He has served his second legal term and a political agreement bars him from contesting when next polls are organized.
The electoral body continues its registration of people across the country but has maintained that an election is highly improbable for this year. Opposition protests are usually dispersed by police crackdown.
Brief about the 72nd UNGA
Instituted since 1946, the U.N. General Assembly is the biggest annual gathering of world leaders as the body put it, ‘to tackle humanity’s greatest challenges. 193 countries will have their leaders or representatives giving addresses.
It is the first UNGA for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who took over last year from Ban Ki-Moon. Ki-moon stepped down after serving two five-year terms.
The Summit takes place between Tuesday September 19 till Monday September 25. The theme for this year’s session is: “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a Sustainable Planet”.
Shaban Abdur Rahman Alfa
Pointe-Noire, Republic of Congo