President William Ruto's maiden speech at the United Nations General Assembly was impressive. Not even his ardent critics can deny that.
While arrangement of the speech could have been improved to ensure thematic flow, it was otherwise superb in content and was expertly delivered. One can tell the distinctiveness of the speech from international media's analysis of the events of the day at the General Assembly.
Other than US media which tends to only gush over their own president's speech and ignore everyone else, respected stations like the BBC and Radio Deutsche Welle gave inordinate coverage to President Ruto's speech, barely mentioning the 13 other African president's speeches given on the same day.
Several key issues defined the speech. For us nationals, the President weaved his ideology on economic transformation into the speech, giving significant profile to the bottom-up approach as the panacea of economic ailments that Africans suffer. But it was in his critique of the failures of multilateralism that the President excelled. Poetically decrying that the last time the world focused on Africa was during the 19th century Berlin Conference that parceled out the continent among its colonisers, the President pointed out the contradictions of the UN, whose primary objectives included promoting democracy and good governance, while it was itself grossly undemocratic.
This theme had been broached earlier that day by US President Joe Biden calling for an expansion of the membership of the Security Council which still retains 15 members including the permanent 5 with their veto power. In a world where the balance of power has changed fundamentally since the Second World War, it makes no sense to retain the 1945 architecture of this key global body. In the President's words, the UN institutional design was no longer fit for purpose.
The lopsided nature of the multilateral system has been a constant complaint by members of what is commonly referred to as the "two-thirds world" the bulk of which are in Africa. Apart from the UN, bodies like the WTO are structured to favour the West.Even the multilateral criminal justice system, represented by the International Criminal Court, exhibits the same inequities. Since its inception, all the 41 persons indicted by the court are from Africa.
The President's call for a global approach to the impact of climate change in Africa, reflected the concern by the continent that while Africa's contribution to climate change is negligible, the negative impact of climate change on the continent is devastating.
While one must support the President's call to action, it must also be accepted that Africa has also failed to stand together to resolve continental issues in ways that inspire respect from the global community.
On the triple issues of the economy, climate change and the criminal justice system, there is still much that the continent can do even as it demands partnerships. It does not make sense that Africa still retains numerous non-tariff barriers within the continent that makes intra-Africa trade onerous. On the criminal justice system, the ICC has become the ally of the suffering citizens because many African justice systems are deliberately compromised.
On climate change, Africa has been slow to invest in research or application of indigenous solutions to the continent's climate crisis, preferring to borrow from the West's menu of expensive and sometimes inappropriate solutions. That said, President Ruto did us proud in calling out the multilateral system for its betrayal of Africa and demanding its transformation into a force of good for the entire global family.