ANGELA NDUBA, Lusaka
AT EXACTLY 04:00 hours, it was time to prepare myself to leave for Manhattan in New York, United States of America to be among a mass of journalists covering the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
By 04:45 hours, I was on Queens Boulevard, where I was accommodated, preparing to leave for the UN headquarters.
It was dawn, and as we drove to Manhattan, I kept on imagining how the day would be, with so many heads of State and delegates in one place, certainly with different positions on difficult issues, including climate change, the South Korean question, and a small issue with Hurricane Maria.
And then you have President Donald Trump in the house, not to worry too much since I was not overstaying in his country, and then the likes of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who, for intents and purposes is not too shy to speak his mind about the west.
There was also a line-up of new African leaders, who represented how Africa has democratised and what the holding of regular elections has come to bear. These included President Edgar Lungu.
I was still lost in my thoughts and did not realise that we were already in Manhattan, and near the UN building.
The driver left us two blocks away from the UN building as most of the roads were closed.
There was already a reasonably long queue of journalists waiting for the gates to be opened.
As my colleagues and I joined the queue, I understood why we had to be early. There were journalists from all over the world, with a paraphernalia of broadcasting equipment.
Some television stations such as Fox News were stationed there with huge outside broadcasting vans, transmitting live from the UN headquarters.
In no time, we were being screened and ushered into the press gallery in the auditorium where the Presidents and heads of State were allocated seats. What separated the scribes from these VIPs was a barrier, and some height since the press gallery is above the auditorium.
From the Zambian perspective, President Lungu was accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba, Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe, Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya, Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo, Minister of Development Planning Lucky Mulusa and Zambia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Lazarous Kapambwe.
President Lungu was among the first 13 heads of State and Government to speak during the General Debate.
The theme of the 72nd UN General Assembly was, ‘Focusing on people-striving for peace and a decent life for all, on a sustainable planet’.
Global leaders, including President Lungu, who gathered in New York for the annual round of top-level diplomatic talks (the general debate), shared one thought – a decent life for all.
I felt a sense of pride as President Lungu walked to the podium to give his address.
Clad in one of his blue trademark suits, President Lungu walked confidently to the front to deliver his speech.
He told the General Assembly that Zambia has registered developmental gains and is determined to foster an all-inclusive development paradigm based on the African Union ‘Agenda 2063’ and the UN ‘Agenda 2030’ for sustainable development.
In Zambia’s Seventh National Development Plan launched recently, particular attention will be given to uplifting standards of living in rural areas where a new focus on agro-value addition is being implemented.
President Lungu said through this plan, Zambia aims to reduce poverty to very minimal levels.
He said Government is determined to ensure effective mobilisation of and use of resources and finances, whether locally mobilised or through co-operating partners, for the benefit of the average person in Zambia.
President Lungu also urged the UN not to renege in its duty to persons who have found their security under threat for various reasons.
He said there is need to develop innovative approaches and responses to challenges that include terrorism, climate change, nuclear weapons and HIV and AIDS, among others.
“In this globalised and interdependent world, no country, however wealthy or powerful, can resolve these challenges single handily,” he said.
He added that efforts to raise the standard of living for the world’s poor to meet sustainable development goals are being frustrated by climate change.
Zambia is expectant that the 23rd conference of state parties on climate change will establish mechanisms for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The head of State also called on stakeholders to ensure the Green Climate Fund is adequately funded to deliver necessary interventions globally.
He said as a developing country, Zambia needs assistance to enhance her capacity in scientific research, early warning, and rapid response to address effects of climate change.
Earlier, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres ignited the world leader’s resolve to better the lives of the people when he stated in his address that:
“Our world is in trouble. People are hurting and angry. They see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing. We are a world in pieces. We need to be a world at peace. And I strongly believe that, together, we can build peace. We can restore trust and create a better world for all.”
The UN head’s commitment to reform the organisation was clear in his address.
“We need to reform our world, and I am committed to reforming the United Nations,” he stated.
That was sweet music to the ears of President Trump, who clearly has issues with the UN reform agenda.
In his own words, President Trump said about the UN that it has bloated bureaucracy and is mismanaged, calling for “truly bold reforms”.
“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement, while the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000,” said Mr Trump, in his first remarks at the UN since his election.
The UN has embarked on a comprehensive reform effort to build a development system to support member States in bettering the lives of their citizens; and reinforcing its ability to safeguard people’s peace, security and human rights; as well as to embrace management practices that advance those goals instead of hindering them.
In bettering people’s lives, the UN has also launched a new victims-centred approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse and has a roadmap to achieve gender parity.
Mr Guterres said: “we are here to serve: to relieve the suffering of we the peoples; and to help fulfil their dreams. We come from different corners of the world. Our cultures, religions and traditions vary widely – and, I would say, wonderfully.”
“At times, there are competing interests among us. At others, there is even open conflict. That is exactly why we need the United Nations. That is exactly why multilateralism is more important than ever. We call ourselves the international community. We must act as one, because only together, as United Nations, can we fulfil the promise of the Charter and advance human dignity for all.”
There were also cogent remarks from other African leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma, who said his country is ready to work with the UN in promoting peace, human rights and sustainable development.
Quoting liberation icon Oliver Tambo, Mr Zuma said: We seek to live in peace with our neighbours and the peoples of the world in conditions of equality, mutual respect and equal advantage,” President Zuma said.
He called for political will and commitment from global leaders to address the challenges and obstacles posed by untransformed structure of the global economy, if countries are to achieve the goals and ambitions of Agenda 2030.
He said it is unfortunate that the African continent is endowed with mineral resources, but still has the highest number of least developed countries.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated his country’s abiding commitment to the foundational principles and goals of the United Nations.
He said Nigeria will continue to support the UN in all its efforts, including the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
President Buhari urged African countries to focus on the widening inequalities within societies, and the gap between the rich and the poor nations.
“These inequalities and gaps are part of the underlining root causes of competition for resources, frustration and anger leading to spiralling instability,” he said.
President Mugabe called for peace and global development. But there was still time for the nonagenarian to goad President Trump, who in his speech had assailed leaders in South Korea and Venezuela, and threatened to destroy the Asian country if they did not halt their nuclear ambitions.
“Some of us were embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical giant gold Goliath. Are we having a return of Goliath to our midst, who threatens the extinction of other countries?
“May I say to the United States President, Mr Trump, please blow your trumpet. Blow your trumpet in a musical way towards the values of unity, peace, co-operation, togetherness, [and] dialogue, which we have always stood for,” Mr Mugabe said.
Mr Trump, who spoke for over 40 minutes, way past the allocated 15 minutes, pledged his country’s continued collaboration with nations in maintaining peace and stability in the world.
Before the start of the UN General Assembly, the world asked the following questions; Will President Trump behave like past American presidents have and speak in measured tones about the need for global co-operation on various fronts? Or will he try to break things – degrade the UN, issue threats to other countries, and propose actions that suggest the US wants to go alone on issues like reining in North Korea?
The answer is ‘No’ for the first question, and ‘yes’ for the last two questions.
The paradox of this year’s UN General Assembly was that while President Trump, earlier in June, pulled out of the Paris Convention on Climate Change, the United States and the Caribbean Islands were devastated by two deadly hurricanes in September, one happening during the UN convention. Then again, Mr Trump, strangely, threatened to annihilate a sovereign state at forum for world peace.
After the speeches by world leaders, I sauntered to the Zambian mission offices, a few blocks away reflecting on the day’s proceedings.
Then suddenly, we were stopped at the traffic lights by one of the New York Police Department officers. Then there was a tremor akin to a train passing underground.
The ground shook to near eruption prompting me to ask the officer what was going on.
The officer smiled in the most polite manner and said the sound was as a result of the heaviness of the armoured vehicles approaching.
Then huge black cars emerged. A giant black car was in front, followed by two other ‘beasts’ of cars, with motorbikes in toll. It was President Trump.
Also in the motorcade were three buses with press tags on them, and another three to four vehicles behind with security officers keeping watch through the windows.
What a way to wrap up my day, I said to myself with a wan.