Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mugabe vs. Obama: The Talking Match at the UN General Assembly

There is always something to say when the UN General Assembly gets together. Global security is always a huge topic, though not everyone agrees who is the threat and whose responsibility it is to stamp it out. Edson Charikinya gives President Robert Mugabe’s opinion on the matter.

President Robert Mugabe, at the recent 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) delivered a scathing address accusing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) of straying from its founding principles. Mugabe’s address was in sharp contrast to President Barrack Obama’s earlier address which sought to draw sympathy from world leaders on recent attacks against American embassies in the Middles east. The leaders showed divergent views on two important issues: the role of the UNSC in conflict resolution and the identity of enemies to “world freedom.” Mugabe’s contrast to Obama was examplified by his assertion that “the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was as tragic as that of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.” Although one might be tempted to discredit the value of Mugabe’s message, due to his perceived image as a  “tyrant.”

President Obama delivers his address during the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Mugabe did a fine job presenting arguments in support of the Council’s reform, which even his most staunchest critics would find difficult to dismiss. Zimbabwe’s octogenarian leader bemoaned the use – abuse – of the Council as a tool for regime change, especially in settling disputes on the African continent.  Using the way the Security Council handled the Libyan crisis as an example, Mugabe exposed, as Professor Maximilian Forte of Concordia University in Montreal Canada puts it: the hypocrisy underlying UNSC assumed mandates of having the “responsibility to protect,” as well as the short sightedness of those who advocate for military intervention as a form of “humanitarian intervention.” He bemoaned how provisions of the UN Charter that deal with the peaceful settlement of disputes had “on occasion, been ignored by the Security Council” in favour of “war, embargos, sanctions and other punitive actions,” even on matters that could have been resolved peacefully. Mugabe highlighted how the concept of “responsibility to protect” was being abused by USA and NATO as a tool for furthering their regime change agenda on the African continent and not to protect innocent civilians from genocide.

Mugabe’s message is in sharp contrast to that delivered by President Obama to the same assembly. Obama contends that America’s and NATO’s use of the Council to intervene in Libya and assisting in the overthrow of Gaddafi was completely justified despite the action having some negative consequences. As far as Obama is concerned, African leaders should be lining up to thank the West for bringing “a season of progress” to Africa, where, “for the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive, and fair.” If Mugabe’s message shows anything, it is that African leaders do not agree with Obama’s views on how the continent is progressing democratically, especially given high-handed Western interventionist policies.
Slowly African leaders are beginning to realise that the West sees little value in African institutions’ capacity for conflict resolution on the continent. Some suspect France would be in Mali right now, if not for its damaged public image in the region. Nicolas Sarkosy, before he lost his re-election bid, combed the region for a proxy to do the job.

President Robert Mugabe at the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly in New York City.
World leaders and diplomats gather in New York City yearly for the United Nations General Assembly.
(Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images).

Mugabe is not alone in criticising the abuse of the Council’s mandates by America and other NATO members. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has on numerous occasions castigated its use “as a Trojan horse to side line African initiatives in brokering political dialogue and resolving conflicts in preference for military intervention to foist puppet regimes across the [African] continent.” African leaders have been accused of inaction when it comes to resolving conflicts on the continent. Mr. Mbeki thinks otherwise. He contends that the “AU did what was correct when the Libyan problem arose. They [AU] moved quickly to put together a task team of five Heads of State to ensure the implementation of a peace programme.” NATO, showing clear disregard for Africa’s leaders’ conflict resolution initiatives, “prohibited [the team] from flying into Libya.”  Having also mediated in Cote d’Ivoire during its time of conflict from 2004 to 2006, Mr. Mbeki asserts that the AU was well poised to peacefully resolve the conflict. A peace plan put together by the AU was never considered in Libya. In that conflict the “UN stopped the AU delegation from implementing the [peace] process in order to create space for military action…” With these examples to show, it’s no wonder most African leaders see the UNSC as a willing tool for US interventionist policies and illegal regime change in Africa.

The fact that Obama sees no problem with the current UNSC and how it has sidelined African institutions in resolving conflicts on the continent is quite disturbing. There was hardly any mention in his address of reforming the Council to bring back credibility to UN institutions. Both Obama and Mugabe acknowledge that the founding values of the UN are under attack. For Mugabe it is clear that the West and leaders like Obama are to blame for the shift in current UN policies from its founding values. As far as Obama is concerned, extremist religious fundamentalist and corrupt dictators are the major antagonists in realizing the values of the UN. For now reforms appear to be the only way to bring the UN back to its founding values as expressed in the UN Charter.

Edson Charikinya is a Zimbabwean born Chemical Engineer based in South Africa. He is the founder and Operations Director of Innovartis Technology Systems, a Pan-African technology group ​​delivering technology solutions and services to African communities and small-to-medium sized enterprises. He holds an MSc in Chemical Engineering and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stellenbosch.

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