At least once, in a life time, a Moslem is supposed to travel to Mecca. It is one of the pillars of their Islamic faith.
In Mecca, they reconnect with fellow Moslems from different parts of the world. The hajji, as these travels to the holy city are called, are a great moment of reflection. They are times when Moslems seek to commune with Allah.
Muslims believe that if one performs hajj in a manner that is required by the Lord, Allah promises to forgive his sins and admit him to Paradise on condition that he does not spoil this action by committing any major action that would invalidate it and earn the anger of Allah.
Willing Christians also travel to Jerusalem, the old city, where Jesus spent days most of his life.
Presidents too, have their form of Hajji, to attend. At least once in a year, they are supposed to travel to the New York, for to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Call it the presidents’ pilgrimage to the New York. It is one of the pillars of their presidential faith.
Oh, if a president performs a pilgrim to the New York, the United Nations (UN) Headquarters, in a manner that is required, his political sins would be forgiven, the sin of not representing his people to the world well.
If you are a president and you have never travelled to the UNGA, you make news. The UNGA has been there in history and the first was held in 1946, in Westminster Central Hall, London.
Malawi has been at the UNGA for decade of years. It has been the traditional practice of Malawi to fly out and in of the country for the UNGA. It has been the traditional practice to see the Malawi presidents off to UNGA and welcome them back mostly with dances and songs.
President Kamuzu Banda, used to be there. He sometimes went with the whole village, with his Mbumba. If are a Mbumba ya Kamuzu and you never travelled to UNGA with Kamuzu, you just knew, you are not among his most loved ones.
Presidents Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and Joyce Banda also used to go to the UNGA. In Malawi, the ceremonies for the president’s departure for the UNGA, are Africanized. It resembles a ceremony of sending out and welcoming boys from the bush initiation camps. So, there is something African about the UNGA. It is a traditional annual practice such that if you are a committed member of the ruling party, and that year, you have seen the president off to the UNGA, you almost feel empty.
This year again, global leaders descended on New York City for the 72nd edition of the UNGA. President Peter Mutharika was there.
The UNGA serves as the main deliberative, policy-making and representative organ of the UN. It is made up of 193 states.
The 2017 UNGA was convened at the UN Headquarters in New York, on September 12, 2017. The general debate opened on 19th September with the theme, “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a sustainable Planet”.
The other items on the agenda, according to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, included education, environment conservation, social development, trade, gender and human development, globalisation, technology and innovation and water and sanitation. There were also a number of parallel sessions to take place at the UNGA. These are the very topics that Malawi as a country is struggling with.
Although the decisions at the UNGA are not legally binding, meetings at the summit can set the agenda for crucial UN Security Council actions. The tradition practice is that more than 100 heads of state join the talks, and delegates and foreign ministers fill the place of those that fail to make to the trip.
Presidents who countries are caught up in major economic and humanitarian crisis are allowed to stay away. For example these year, it was President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela.
All the 193 heads of states or representatives are given the rare opportunity to speak to the world, say in 15 minutes to air out their grievances or reinforce their political positions on certain important political matters. The longest UNGA speech on record was delivered by Fidel Castro and it lasted four hours.
For example, President Peter Mutharika reinforced his position on Malawi abiding to keeping global peace by not supporting states that have gone into the madness of developing and testing nuclear weapons.
Delivering his speech, “Malawi Commitment in Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a sustainable Planet” Mutharika told the world what Malawi is doing in eradicating poverty, climate change, empowering the youths, improving education, health and trade.
And he aptly said it that: “There is no country that too small to contribute peace agenda of the world.” Indeed, Malawi is not too small to be absent at the UNGA.
But why should your president attend the UNGA?
The UNGA is a public forum where the presidents engage with each other in a critical discourse to pan out new ideas for development in their respective countries. In this critical discourse, for example, they discuss the relationship between the economic base and the ideological superstructure.
It is really important to engage in these debates because we are living in a globalised world, where one economic recession or boom affects the other. And it is also good to learn from friends and share failures and successes.
In addition, the UNGA offers a public sphere, in which the presidents critically assess the challenges facing the whole world today. Thus the presidents engage in critical assessment of their societies as a whole in contrast to the traditional assessments done locally in their respective states.
For example, at this UNGA, Presidents Donald Trump of the United States of America (USA) and Emmanuel Macron of France, presented contrary speeches with regards to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. That’s what engaging in a critical discourse means.
But of late, in Malawi, the UNGA, has become a suspicious assembly associated with the presidents going to reverie in a fortnight wild party, in the city of New York.
It all started with the 2015 UNGA, when President Peter Mutharika was criticised on, ‘taking the whole village’ to the UNGA. The UNGA now, sounds like the name of world celebrity who throws wine parties to the 193 delegates that comes to New York City. This is because, we now tend to view it differently, not as important forum for discussion on global development.
Since then, when the season for UNGA comes, there is the media frenzy of attempting to reveal the number of delegates to the UNGA. Little concern is given to the issues that the UNGA will discuss in relation to the Malawi economic situation. Yet, the most important issue, would be to present our issues to the president on what he tell the world about Malawi, before he flies off.
As a nation, lets feel proud with the opportunity of our president at participating in the UNGA. Let us learn to give attention to important matters about the UNGA. Let us also learn to respect it as the only public sphere where send a big delegate in form of president, where he speaks for us and shares with the rest of the world our feelings, hopes and fears.
And so, when the president returns from the UNGA, why not congratulate him for performing a successful pilgrimage and acting as our good representative to world?