Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 7 August 2020

State of the world is better than headlines may suggest, says UN assembly head

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, UN General Assembly president, says global co-operation rose in the past decade, but he fears a new arms race

President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, speaks to The National. Antonie Robertson/The National
President of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, speaks to The National. Antonie Robertson/The National

The global situation is not as grim as recent events would suggest, with indicators such as life expectancy and education on the rise, according to United Nations General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande.

He gave a forthright assessment of the world’s progress on issues central to the lives of billions around the world last week, painting a mixed but largely positive picture.

In an interview this week with The National, he said that life expectancy, education and government have broadly improved over the past decade, and so has co-operation on health, fighting terrorism and money laundering, and promoting human rights.

Read more: Who is UNGA president Tijjani Muhammad-Bande?

But, he said, the focus on corruption has lessened and he fears a new arms race – a direct threat to the UN’s primary mission of world peace.

Mr Muhammad-Bande said the UN’s creation 75 years ago has been central to avoiding a potential third world war, although conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere remains.

He arrived in the UAE as hostilities broke out between the US and Iran, which he said appear to have been contained.

Mr Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria holds the yearly presidency of the General Assembly and will set the agenda and oversee the work of the collective platform for the countries of the world.

In the UAE for a meeting of the International Renewable Energy Agency, he sat for coffee at Dubai Mall on Thursday with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan received Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, who is currently visiting the UAE. Wam
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed received Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, who is currently visiting the UAE. Wam

The pair discussed humanitarian and developmental work, countering climate change and sustainable development, state news agency Wam reported.

Mr Muhammad-Bande told The National that “the global community has made progress in many areas related to life. For example, life expectancy education and transportation.

“There is more sensitivity to rights.”

The potential for war has been reduced, with conflict at least “not on the scale we have experienced in the First and Second World Wars”, he said.

“These are huge achievements. We, of course, worry that there are new tensions, including the possibility, if we are not careful, of a new arms race.”

While there is general agreement on the need to get rid of nuclear weapons, “the point where they are no longer available to any country is a long way off”, he said.

A former politics professor, the approach of Mr Muhammad-Bande emphasises connections between the world’s seemingly different ills, outlined in the 17 Global Goals that world leaders agreed five years ago to achieve by 2030.

They include eliminating poverty and hunger, providing everyone with quality education, gender equality, access to water and sanitation as well as achieving sustainability and clean energy.

A major part of his job is to promote these goals.

In his meeting with Sheikh Mohamed, the two men discussed the UAE’s policy of tolerance in relation to the fight against terrorism.

Mr Muhammad-Bande said the two men “shared ideas on the best way to approach terrorism through education, training the imam, engagement with all sectors, and how the experience of the UAE is something that people could look at, in terms of making sure that everyone appreciates the value of tolerance.

“You cannot have a safe nation for a long time if the whole neighbourhood itself is in trouble,” he said. “So, the idea is also to exchange with the region and also the globe tolerance that has to be built and nurtured.”

But terrorism cannot be traced to extreme ideologies alone, he said, pointing to economic and social conditions, themselves afflicted by climate change, action against which has been hampered by corruption.

He said the activities of terrorist groups have been undermined by increased sharing of information across borders, although “new media has made easy the spread of hateful ideologies”.

Mr Muhammad-Bande was careful about placing blame on the media alone, rejecting a tendency to dismiss as “fake news” any facts that some may find unpalatable.

But, he said, the media by nature tend to focus on certain topics and ignore others where progress might have occurred.

He cautioned against celebrating the weakening of ISIS, saying the factors behind terrorism are complex.

“The fight against terrorism is not coming to an end because of the lessening of activity of ISIS or others,” Mr Muhammad-Bande said.

“It is a big fight still. You cannot easily find one cause. There is the social system and the economic conditions, and they vary from country to country.”

In some cases, he said, climate change may be involved, “where people’s source of living has been blocked”.

“In other cases, it is the wrong education, where we have people confused about their place in the world and the place of religion, and they are amenable to recruitment. But they may also feel excluded.”

He said the fight against terrorism was “big and long term”, requiring that “the global community must not only continue to share ideas but also information”.

He said there was a tendency across the world to blame domestic ills on external factors, when avoiding wars and reducing terrorism significantly depends on governments simply becoming better. “There is some link between corruption and conflict, especially in cases where we are dealing with extraction of natural resources – diamonds, wood or timber,” he said.

But Mr Muhammad-Bande is optimistic about “many parts of the world where there is improvement in the way governance is structured”.

“In some places there is a loss, but more broadly government are more transparent now than 10 years ago because of movement of youth, because of new technologies and new rules and regulations on financial integrity,” he said.

“In the past, you had jurisdictions that kept money without asking questions. I would invite you to reflect how easy it was 10 to 20 years ago to steal money and go to other places. It is no longer that easy.”

Updated: January 12, 2020 01:22 PM

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