Namibian Presidency: A Missed Opportunity at the United Nations

The election of Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting of Namibia, as President of the fifty-fourth General Assembly, presented the United Nations with an excellent opportunity to showcase one of its greatest success stories. The reference is to the UN's leading role in the emergence of Namibia as a sovereign and independent nation and as a Member State of this uniquely universal Organization.

Many had hoped that, with the tenth anniversary of Namibia's independence coinciding with that country's Presidency of the General Assembly, the Secretariat would use the occasion to highlight the UN's successful cooperation with this particular Member State, whose recent history tells the story of United Nations efforts in spearheading the decolonization process, to enable peoples everywhere to exercise their fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom and independence.

Here was a chance for the UN to publicize its special relationship with Namibia by utilizing the talents of the General Assembly President, on radio and television, in outreach activities, and on the Internet, to tell its Namibia story. With an African, Kofi Annan, as Secretary-General, and an African, Theo-Ben Gurirab, as Assembly President, this was a chance to focus international attention on the positive links between the United Nations and Africa. More attention could have been focused on the issues that confront Africa and the efforts undertaken to provide solutions.

Yet, the Secretariat gave no thought to marking this historic milestone, and the resources needed to draw attention to the significance of this Presidency were non-existent. The cultivation of a cult of personality in the Secretariat, and the predominance of the Security Council over the other Principal Organs, meant that the Secretariat had no time to devote to a marginalized General Assembly and its President.

A great opportunity, sadly, has been missed to tell the UN's Namibia story to the world, particularly the youth, as well as tell the story of the man who is presiding over this year's General Assembly session. And what a story it is.

The struggle of the Namibian people for independence became an international cause, and the United Nations gained renown for its involvement in the struggle to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa and to achieve independence for Namibia. The United Nations persevered, in the face of intransigence and dilatory tactics, and guided Namibia through its transition to independence in March 1990, more than a decade after the adoption of Security Council resolution 435 (1978) containing a settlement plan.

As for the man himself, it is no exaggeration to describe Theo-Ben Gurirab is a "child of the United Nations". His association with the UN spans almost four decades of his 61 years - as a United Nations Fellow at Temple University in Philadelphia in the 1960s; as an Associate Representative of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) to the United Nations and the Americas while pursuing his studies; 14 years as SWAPO's Chief Representative to the United Nations and, later, as its Permanent Observer, during which time he played a key role in negotiations leading to Namibia's independence; and, today, as President of the United Nations General Assembly. Throughout his career in the field of international diplomacy, he has known and worked with three generations of world leaders and five UN Secretaries-General, and well deserves the title of Dean of African Foreign Ministers.

Gurirab's knowledge of the United Nations is invaluable. It is, therefore, most regrettable that greater use has not been made of his talents, to promote the goals and objectives of the United Nations. Events that would have taken advantage of his vast experience would have been a credit to the UN itself.

It is true that the President has issued a host of statements and messages to commemorate the international decades, years, annual days and weeks, as well as other special events proclaimed by the United Nations. But his Presidency presented a unique opportunity whereby he could have furthered, through outreach, the goals and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, had the resources been made available. Such an occasion may not come again