Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria is the current president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). A professor and diplomat, Muhammad-Bande is most concerned with resolving the development challenges Africa faces, tackling poverty, eliminating terrorism and reducing illegal migration.
In his capacity as chair of the current UNGA session Muhammad-Bande participated in the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa
How would you assess Egypt’s chairmanship of the AU?
I listened to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s speech in which he addressed Egypt’s efforts and contributions to the AU, especially those related to the Free Trade Agreement which I believe is the most important contribution, along with efforts to eradicate terrorism and to focus on continental infrastructure projects.
Discussions between participating political leaders concluded that it is difficult to embark on development or integration efforts in Africa if upgrading the infrastructure is ignored.
It is a very important file as was clear from the political discussions of the participating leaders.
There was a consensus about the difficulties of carrying out any development or integration in Africa in the absence proper infrastructure, or efforts across the continent to combat terrorism.
A number of joint summits were held during Egypt’s chairmanship of the AU, with the UK, the EU and China. How do such fora impact on African development?
It is not particularly useful to itemise these efforts. Egypt did a good job on African files. The results confirm Egypt’s success in this regard, the proof being developments in a number of files. What happens at summits is often superficial. The real work goes on beneath the surface.
Despite continental and international efforts to combat terrorism threats are on the rise, particularly in Libya, the Sahel and Sahara. How can terrorism be fought more effectively in Africa?
We need to agree that this is an urgent challenge. African leaders and the UN confirmed that eradicating terrorism is a priority, not only because of its humanitarian repercussions but also because of the way terrorism, climate change, migration, conflicts and human rights are intertwined.
It was clear by the end of the AU summit in Addis Ababa that enhancing coordinated efforts to combat terrorism is crucial, though of course we cannot ignore the underlying reasons for conflicts. The international community needs to understand the dangers associated with these conflicts and realise that they are a global challenge.
Your presence at the head of UNGA has promoted AU and UN efforts in resolving conflicts, the Silencing the Guns initiative and development in Africa…
The 74th session of the General Assembly focused on ways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Support is needed to achieve these goals, especially when it comes to defining trends, participatory relations, development aid and building a consensus around the ideas we want to implement.
Peace, security, mitigating the effects of climate change, inclusive action, as well as the 2030 and 2063 agendas for sustainable development are all African and global development plans. Coordination is important, the evidence being the powerful team from the UN that travelled to Addis Ababa. The AU also has a strong observer team in New York to follow up on updates and conducts talks. The UN secretary-general has a deputy whose main job is to offer advice on African issues in New York, and there is another deputy in Addis Ababa. There are many active platforms for cooperation and coordination between the two sides.
Talk about UN reform and increasing Africa’s representation at the UN is growing. Will these issues be discussed soon in the UN or is this wishful thinking?
I think the answer to this question is a combination of the two options. This is a problem that can’t remain unresolved. Efforts are being exerted towards this end, but they are being conducted at a slow pace. I don’t believe the beat will remain slow and one day the UN Security Council will see reforms that meet the minimum requirements of international expectations.
What will be the UN’s focus in cooperating with the new president of the AU?
Development and peace will be at the forefront because these two issues are more pressing than any other.
The interviewer is chief editor of the daily Arabic Al-Ahram.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.