Everyone in this world is entitled to 15 minutes of fame– is a legendary quote mis-attributed to the American pop icon Andy Warhol.
Over the years, the United Nations has laid down its own 15-minute rule for world leaders addressing the UN General Assembly. This year is no exception, as the UN readies to host over 150+ world leaders at the high-level segment of the 78th session of the General Assembly, beginning September 19.
In a message to Ambassadors and heads of missions in New York, Movses Abelian, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management says: “I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that, in accordance with existing practice at the general debate, a voluntary 15-minute time limit should be observed and the list of speakers has been prepared on the basis of a 15-minute statement by each delegation.”
But as tradition and protocol demand, it is member states, including political leaders and ambassadors, who reign supreme at the United Nations, not the Secretary-General or senior UN officials.
And no president of the General Assembly, the UN’s highest policy-making body, has the right to interrupt or curtail the prerogative of a president or prime minister to speak uninterruptedly—at his or her own pace.
In a bygone era, the UN installed a light on the speaker’s rostrum that kept flashing when a head of state or head of government went beyond the 15-minute limit.
President Ranesinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, who was apparently alerted about this, pulled out his handkerchief, covered the flashing light and continued to speak.
The following year, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, known for his long-winded speeches, pulled off the same stunt with a dramatic flair waving the handkerchief –as delegates cheered him and greeted his gesture with loud laughter.
The two political leaders had momentarily outsmarted the UN bureaucracy.
The all-time records for speech-making at the General Assembly have continued to be held by Castro, Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, Sékou Touré of Guinea, Muammar al-Qadhafi of Libya and President Soerkano of Indonesia.
The longest speech was made by Castro at the 872nd plenary meeting of the General Assembly on September 26, 1960. The time listed was an all-time-high of 269 minutes, according to the archives in the UN’s Dag Hammarskjold Library.
Other long speeches at the General Assembly included:
• Sékou Touré, President of Guinea, 144 minutes on October 10, 1960;
• Nikita Khrushchev – USSR – Chairman of the Council of Ministers, 140 minutes on September 23, 1960;
• Dr Soekarno, President of Indonesia, 121 minutes on September 30, 1960; and
• Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 96 minutes on September 23, 2009.
The flamboyant Qadhafi, made a rare historic visit to the UN in September 2009, accompanied by political fanfare—and his usual team of female bodyguards.
In its report, the London Guardian said he “grabbed his 15 minutes of fame at the UN building in New York and ran with it. He ran with it so hard he stretched it to an hour and 40 minutes, six times longer than his allotted slot, to the dismay of UN organisers”.
“Qadhafi fully lived up to his reputation for eccentricity, bloody-mindedness and extreme verbiage”, said the Guardian, “as he tore up a copy of the UN charter in front of startled delegates, accused the Security Council of being an al-Qaida-like terrorist body, called for (US President) George Bush and (UK Prime Minister) Tony Blair to be put on trial for the Iraq war, demanded $7.7 trillion in compensation for the ravages of colonialism on Africa, and wondered whether swine flu was a biological weapon created in a military laboratory.”
Still, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest statement ever made at the UN was delivered by Krishna Menon of India. His statement to the Security Council was during three meetings in January 1957, lasting more than eight hours.
According to AsiaNet, Menon, “one of the best statesmen India has ever produced”, made that marathon speech, blasting Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The transcript of the speech ran to 160 pages.
During the speech, Menon collapsed midway and had to be revived. But he returned to the Council chamber and continued to attack Pakistan for another hour.
But in recent years, there were no such dramatic moments either in the Security Council or the General Assembly.
At most international conferences, the host country has the privilege of being the first speaker on day one.
However, a longstanding tradition gives pride of place to Brazil followed by the US as the second speaker for the opening day, this time it would be President Joe Biden.
During an official visit to Brasilia, I asked one of the senior Brazilian officials about the origins of the tradition. And he told me “Even we don’t why we continue to be the number one speaker”.
In those days, most countries were reluctant to be the first to address the chamber, according to a published report. Brazil, at the time, was the only country that volunteered to speak first. Some say that the tradition dates back to 1947, when Brazil’s top diplomat Oswaldo Aranha presided over the Assembly’s First Special Session.
Nigeria’s Currency Crisis: Time to deploy Amotekun, By Chinedu Chidi
I have thought long and hard about just the right solution to the downward spiral of the Naira, and confidently believe I have come up with the perfect response. It is my humble proposal that the time is right to deploy the dreaded Amotekun to arrest this situation. I’ll explain why.
Since it is now clear that the Naira’s salvation is not in the hallways of the CBN or the gold-plated policy rooms of Bretton Woods, but in the battle grounds of the nook and cranny of Nigeria, all patriotic Nigerians must now rightly ignore suit-wearing technocrats and search for militant solutions with real promise. As a patriotic citizen, I have risen to this challenge. I would humbly like to thank the patriotic Nigerian leadership, from the CBN to the Executive, for leading us into this new era of mortal combat.
Only a few days ago, we were greeted with the live action scene of security operatives combating BDC operators in the nation’s capital, discharging live ammunition in broad daylight in an open civilian space like fearless patriots at the battle front. The EFCC and accompanying security operatives charged forward and backwards as the enemies of state dared challenge them. It was almost like a combat scene from Gibson’s Braveheart. I was touched. I’m not too sure, but I may have heard the humming of the national anthem from these fearless patriots as they battled the savage saboteurs. What a touching moment! Someone who was at the scene mentioned that these patriots recited the pledge before the onslaught. I can’t confirm this for sure, but if it did occur, it would be consistent with the new nationalistic fervour of the Tinubu administration as reported in the news recently that citizens would be required to recite the pledge at events. I also hear the operation is going on in different parts of the country. All these, coming only days after Sahad Stores, a retail supermarket in Abuja, was forcibly shut down for “economic sabotage”, fill me with great joy. Some unpatriotic citizens had shockingly opposed the move, claiming Sahad Stores was one of the good ones, and that deploying force would not resolve the inflation crisis. Cowards and co-conspirators! They’re too distracted by textbook ideas to see that we’re in war. Shame.
Normally, I would have recommended the army for this most important national assignment, but they’re overstretched. They’re battling terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, secessionists, their welfare; just about every violent aggressor around. The police would have been my second option but they too are preoccupied and, as some mischievous people claim, have a special DNA for compromise. For these and some other reasons which I will explain, Amotekun has my blessings.
I know Amotekun is also seriously engaged with battling bandits in the South West, but they must be pleaded with to spare some personnel for this all-too-important national emergency. Their stealth, daredevil disposition, and my favourite—charms from the gods— will come in handy.
I have heard rumours that some of the BDCs hide their stockpile of dollars in forests. This is the domain of the Amotekun warriors. Through their local intelligence gathering and tactical navigation of the forests, they can uncover these dollar chests and win for the country a huge deliverance. Their spiritual protection against wild animals and attacks from dark forces will be very useful here.
I am also confident that what has for so long appeared to be the near-impossible goal of finding the dollars some loud-mouthed people claim are hidden by politicians, bank executives and— I struggle to even contemplate it— CBN officials will be spiritually detected by Amotekun. We desperately need this.
It was with great joy that I also received the news that our gallant security personnel are now stopping truckloads of food from leaving the country. What took them so long! How can any patriotic businessman think of trade and profit at a time of economic crisis? This beats my imagination. I am even more infuriated by the argument of their unpatriotic defenders that we don’t have food scarcity, just food unaffordability, and that we can’t seriously let them abandon their goods in warehouses while the vast majority of Nigerians can’t purchase them. This is so inconsiderate and sad. Their argument that the exports bring in needed forex at this time of forex crisis is also another textbook nonsense. Shame on them.
I am particularly touched by Cardoso’s sincerity and humility. Realizing that the air-conditioned policies have hit the brick wall and that the fight has morphed into street combat, he did not try to deceive the populace about it. This is uncommon (apologies to Akpabio) pragmatism.
I want to enjoin the President to rally leaders in the South West towards mass mobilization of Amotekun for this national assignment. We can’t afford to fail!
Chinedu Chidi is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via: email@example.com
The problem of DRC’s beautiful wife, maize it planted by roadside, By Charles Onyango-Obbo
Watching the upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, one is tempted to invoke the African proverb that “the man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows maize by the roadside have the same problem.”
The police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and UN offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.
The protesters claim the West supports Rwanda, which they and their government accuse of backing the M23 rebellion, whose advance could see them seize the strategic border city of Goma in the east.
This is a new phase of what has become an entrenched tradition of the Congolese oscillating between blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems, and demanding that other people solve these problems, including fighting for them.
In recent years — rightly — the Congolese have railed, then attacked, the long-running and ineffectual United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) for not ending the rebellion in the east.
In late 2022, DRC’s kin in the EAC dispatched the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to separate the warring sides. Before long, Kinshasa and the people had risen against them, hounding them to go out to the jungle and fight the rebels for them. At the end of last year, EACRF left DRC with its tail between its legs.
Because the Congolese are our brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to love them, we also have a duty to tell them uncomfortable truths that will help them overcome.
So, we will return to our proverb. African proverbs are complicated. First, one needs to know that they passed into society through the mouths of men who were not feminists, so too many of them tend to portray women in bad light.
This one paints a heroic hard-working farmer (although it is mostly women, not men, who work the land in Africa) whose maize is stolen by passers-by, in contrast with the beautiful wife who betrays her husband and falls to the charms of other men.
However, African proverbs are also layered, so there is what they say, and the many things they mean. In this case, that people will covet a good thing — a good crop, a beautiful woman and, if we may add, a handsome, enterprising man. The “problem” here is how to keep your maize, beautiful wife, and enterprising husband. If you are better than all the men who hit on her, your beautiful wife will stay faithfully by your side.
Having your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend run off with someone else can be very hurtful, but if you have a cantankerous truth-telling African aunt or uncle, they will also whisper to you that a partner whom no other man or woman has ever or will ever want is probably not worth having.
In real-world Congo politics, then, the reality is rebels will have friends and allies at home and abroad. Even Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as despicable as a rebel group can ever be, had friends outside who backed it.
The thing that should terrify everyone is a rebel group that no one wants to touch with a 10-metre pole, both in the day and night. The opposite is also true of rebels fighting to overthrow a government. If it is a government that doesn’t have a single friend even in the cynical world of geopolitics, then it’s probably worse than a cabal of cannibals.
For Congo, what is left is how to solve this “problem”. To stay with the farmer and the beautiful wife, what the Congolese are doing is like the strapping young man in old Africa who spent all his time attacking his parents, relatives, neighbours, and their friends because they failed to give him cattle to pay a bride price for a wife and build a hut for him to live in with her.
The scale of surrender of agency by many Congolese, including the political class and the government, is unsettling.
It’s partly understandable, too. The unusually brutal Belgian rule; the exploitation of all sorts of vultures for its vast minerals lasting over 100 years now; and an unbroken long spell of corrupt and cruel rule, have broken its self-confidence. The way to come to terms with the scale of failure and remain sane is to externalise all the problems to evil forces.
It has led to national paralysis, a belief that they can’t do much on their own to overcome.
DRC’s neighbours to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, offer good lessons. When President Yoweri Museveni took to the bush with his small band of rebels in 1981, the odds were stacked up against them. The British had a big programme with a special police force; the Tanzanian army that helped overthrow military dictator Idi Amin was on the side of the government, and hardy North Koreans soon got into the fight against them. They still won.
The prospects were even worse for the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front when it crossed from Uganda and took to treacherous hills in 1990. Apart from Uganda, it was alone against the world, including one of the world’s superpowers at the time, France, which was in bed with the government in Kigali. They suffered setbacks, picked themselves up, and won.
Congo can win, but first, it will have to plant its own maize and fight its war for its own beautiful wife.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3
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