Editor’s Memo

What a crowd!

By Vincent Kahiya


THERE is something anachronistic in titles given to international institutions. The “United Nations” meeting in New York this week are as disunited as ever. In the sam

e auditorium was US president George Bush declaring he is not an enemy of Islam and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has in the past said he “does not give a damn about the UN” in his country’s nuclear research. He has his coterie of supporters in the misnamed and outmoded Non-Aligned Movement (Nam) which in essence is mobilising as an axis against the Western dominance.


At the Nam summit our Mugabe did not attempt to disguise his dislike of the West. “Our small states now live in fear as daily threats emanate from the West to attack or undermine our systems in order to bring about regime change,” state media quoted Mugabe as saying in Havana last week. He was joined in this refrain by his comrades Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and North Korea’s number two, Kim Yong-nam.


An attempt at counterbalancing the anti-West rhetoric came from Malaysia’s premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who said he did not regard the summit as being anti-US or “anti-anyone”.


South Africa’s President Thabo said Nam could be an important instrument in creating a multipolar world. He took a soft dig at the US saying there was “a global imbalance of power”.


“Such is the imbalance that you then get results like the practice of unilateral action without respect for the United Nations,” he said.


Leaders attending the summit were however clear on the need to strengthen the movement to fight Western unilateralism. They saw strength in the growing membership with Chavez even declaring: “American imperialism is in decline. A new polar-world is emerging.” If this is the case, Nam now requires a new name.


But the strength in numbers theory is a fallacy. It is not a guarantee of world peace and prosperity. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told the gathered leaders in Havana that size was not everything. He said governments had a duty to “protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. That includes a duty to protect populations from carnage by allowing the international community to make a positive contribution for change.”


The African Union — another misnomer — with 53 member states is a classical example of size having no bearing on the end result. The continent is tainted with numerous flashpoints especially the Darfur crisis in Sudan. The AU with a 7 000-strong peace keeping force in Sudan, has been told to leave at the end of its mission next week. The Sudanese strongman has also told the world that he does not want the UN to send peace-keepers to the troubled country because they could be agents for regime change (sounds familiar). In other words he would rather see the continuation of carnage in his country than allow international intervention.


The Darfur crisis also debunks the strength in numbers myth in that the whole continent appears powerless to deal with Al Bashir’s regime. Recently foreign minister Ali Ahmed Kerti said his country would not allow African peace-keepers to be re-kitted with the blue berets of the UN.


“The AU force can remain in Darfur only if it accepts Arab League and Sudanese funding,” he said, tongue in cheek. What does the AU have to say about this slap in the face? Nothing, because the body is broke, disunited and awash with members who play truant with impunity knowing too well that African brothers and other dictators around the world can always find kind words to justify the unbecoming behaviour. This is the same AU that is expected to send troops to deal with the strife in Somalia. Ha ha ha! And it was not surprising that the leaders gathered in Havana could only come up with a clumsy statement on Darfur in their lengthy declaration.


Despite the international focus of attention on the humanitarian crisis in western Sudan, just eight lines of the declaration in the 40 000-word document dealt with the conflict there.

There was no reference to UN attempts to send peacekeepers to Darfur. The best the leaders could say was they supported Sudan’s “efforts to sustain and reinforce peace”. What a crowd!