It is a not a surprise that there had been a lot of debate surrounding President Adama Barrow’s trip to the UN General Assembly, which has become an annual ritual amongst African leaders. Apart from the general complaint amongst many concerned Gambians about his decision to charter a plane, and fill it up with an unnecessarily large number of people, more than 90 per cent of whom have absolutely no role on the delegation, many others have also questioned the wisdom of some of the issues he highlighted in his speech to the General Assembly.
To begin with, it has been alleged that he went with a delegation of more than 30 people, comprising five cabinet ministers and several government officials, in addition to the First Lady and her own entourage. However, what has irritated most people is his decision to include several militants of his National People’s Party (NPP) in his delegation, which tantamount to sheer waste of tax payers’ money to pay them per diem for the number of days they would spend there. With the economic hard times that ordinary Gambians have been passing through in this country, one would have expected that President Barrow and his administration would exercise some financial discipline in their official activities, but it appears that they are not quite concerned about the plight of ordinary Gambians. His main pre-occupation, it appears, is to score as many political points as possible, regardless of the consequences to the country’s economy.
With regards to his speech at the General Assembly, even though he made some good points, but there were a lot of missteps, especially with regard to his foreign policy pronouncements. For instance, it was a diplomatic blunder to endorse Morocco’s claim to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which, like the Gambia, is a bona fide member state of the African Union (AU). It is therefore morally wrong and quite insensitive for the Gambia to advocate for people of the Western Sahara and Taiwan to be denied their inalienable right to self-determination and independence. If for instance, Senegal had opposed our independence in 1965 and claimed that the Gambia was part of Senegal, just like what Morocco and the People’s Republic of China had done in the case of Western Sahara and Taiwan, we would definitely have not been a happy people. Therefore, why should our government be part of such a scheme to deny that same right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara and Taiwan?
Why should leaders of such poor nations like the Gambia spend millions of hard-earned money and resources every year to go to the UNGA where they often repeat exactly what they say at home? It is therefore not a surprise that every time they get up to address the General Assembly, apart from members of their unnecessarily large delegations and a few others who may not have anything else to do, they end up addressing an almost empty hall. This is apparently because their speeches have very little international appeal to warrant anyone to sit and listen to them. Most of the time, they only talk about their own domestic issues.
Despite all that however, African delegations to the UN are reputed to be the most lavish in their life-styles. There is, for instance, a write up by an eyewitness making the rounds on social media comparing the lavishness of African leaders to their counterparts from wealthier nations. It talks about how African leaders had been showing off their wealth by renting expensive vehicles for their delegations and living in very expensive hotels, as opposed to their counterparts from the rest of the world who rent less expensive vehicles and live in less expensive accommodations. “The most shocking part of it is that African leaders took over 39 five-star hotels in New York, while the same African leaders are engaging European leaders asking for increased financial support for their nations,” the writer said.
Therefore, if our leaders want to be accorded the respect that all leaders deserve rather than being treated like glorified beggars, they should show the rest of the world that they respect their own people rather than being seen to be using such trips just to fill up their own pockets and those of their cronies.