In this exclusive interview with MATHEW DADIYA, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, a scholar-diplomat, and Founder/Chairman of Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development; a non-governmental think-tank on research and policy studies on conflict prevention and resolution as well as democratization and development in Africa, bares his mind on issues affecting the globe and the inability of the United Nations to proffer lasting solution to the reoccurring crisis across the world. Gambari who served as Director-General at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs; Foreign Minister and subsequently Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN, was UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and a delegate at the 2014 National Conference on the restructuring and promotion of national unity in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Being Chairman/Founder, Savannah Centre for Diplomacy Democracy and Development; what informed your decision to establish such an organisation?
The inspiration to establish this Centre came from the two Secretary Generals that I served. First is Boutros Ghali that I worked with but Kofi Annan was the person I first served under and worked with also. Boutros Ghali was the first Secretary General from Africa. He hailed from Egypt which is a very important member of African Union, earlier called OAU (Organization of African Union) supported his candidature.
He was the first Post-Cold War Secretary General; he was then asked at the Security Council meeting at the Summit level (It had never happened that the Security Council will meet at the level of Heads of states and they decided) to task Boutros Ghali to produce a Report on what the world would concentrate on in this PostCold War era, and he came up with a report called an Agenda for Peace which he talked about Preventive Diplomacy, Peace Making, Peace Keeping, Post conflict Peace Building and Resolving Conflict. And he argued in that Agenda for Peace report that there can be no development without peace. It was very well received; one of the most famous and well analyzed reports the UN has ever received. Then the Third World countries said “well, it’s fine to talk about peace, how about development?” So, he produced a second Report called an Agenda for Development which he argued that there can be no durable peace without sustainable development.
Then, Kofi Annan succeeded him, another Secretary General from Africa (this time from Sub Saharan Africa) and he produced a Report called “In Larger Freedom” in which he argued that there would neither be peace nor development unless the people of all the member states have a right to choose a government under which they want to live – Democracy and respect for human rights of all peoples. These are the two people that inspired my thought for the Savannah Centre; that we need a centre that can bring the three together: Diplomacy (by which we mean conflict resolution, and peace) democracy and development. That is the nexus we promote, and other think-tanks deal with either peace keeping, conflict resolution separately from development or separately from democracy. It’s called Savannah Centre because Abuja is in the Savannah. When I now left national and international service, I decided the time has come to actualize this concept. We started very small but we are on the ground.
What have you done since establishing?
Well, the first major report we did which was at the instance of ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) they asked us to conduct a workshop on the impact of violence extremism on social economic condition in the Sahel. Already we have issues and challenges of development in the Sahel, now you have issues of violence extremism in the region all the way from Mali to Niger and beyond as such you have these issues of security challenges, development challenges and democracy challenges. So they asked us to conduct the workshop, we did and was very successful and we had a publication on that.
Then we decided to go into the advocacy and during the election we constituted a Council of the Wise which was led by our Chairman Honourable Justice Uwais who, you may recall chaired a presidential Commission on electoral reform. One of the conclusions of that conference was that we need to domesticate some of the ideas and recommendations by the Global Independent Commission to make it even more relevant to the Nigerian and ECOWAS situation and challenges. We then approached the Office of the Vice President because we don’t have the power to convene a national forum to discuss and domesticate some of these recommendations by the global independent commission.
What is your vision for the Centre?
My vision of Savannah Centre is to be like the Brooklyn Institution, Wilson Center and the Council on Foreign Relations all in the US and in London, the Chatham House where we would be the centre that will receive visiting world leaders who come to our country. Traditionally, those people (world leaders) come, they meet with our President and some officials and that is the end of it. We also aim at producing World Class Reports on National and Global Issues and convene top-level Conferences and Seminars on same. But we feel that we should fish out what it is that they have come for, what is their own agenda and also exposed them to a variety of opinions and point of view in this country.
Nigeria as a country has suffered in terms of negative perception in the international communities and many analysts have attributed that to poor diplomatic relations and image laundering, accusing those saddled with the task of not doing much. Do you think the Savannah Centre has the capacity to complement the task of promoting Nigeria’s image globally? Image of a country cannot be left to a government alone. So we feel that we can complement and we are already complementing the efforts of the government to have positive projection of Nigeria’s image and policies and trying to influence the others to support the priorities of this country.
And there is nowhere that is demonstrated than the Savannah Centre which hosted the newly inaugurated 6th Secretary General of the Commonwealth who was inaugurated on the 4th of April 2016. I feel greatly honoured to be invited to grace the occasion. Nigeria has entered into a multiple Bilateral Agreements with many countries, and the concern of many citizens is that despite these multiple agreements the country has benefited very little or nothing from such because they are skewed one-sided.
Where do you think you are getting it wrong as a nation?
Well, the issue always is implementation. If you reflect several years back about the privilege of working with seven Nigeria’s Heads of state. The first that gave me an opportunity to serve was (former) President Shehu Shagari as the Director General of the Institute of Nigeria Foreign Affairs.
Then Buhari appointed me in 1984 as his Minister of Foreign Affairs and then President Babangida – the military President appointed me Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN and I served unprecedented for almost 10 years and then in between is Chief Ernest Shonekan, General Abacha, General Abdul Salam and then briefly President Olusegun Obasanjo. Therefore, I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t work. One of the biggest challenges all those governments have been our inter-ministerial committee has not always work to par and all these agreements to which you referred and joint commissions are handled of necessity by interministerial because, no one ministry can capture the issues. I think we need to do much better. There is this criticism that the country has been spending huge sum of money to maintain its diplomatic missions abroad year-in-year-out.
Is it ideal for a third world country to spend huge sums to maintain missions in foreign countries other than using such money to develop the state?
We are part of the world and we cannot exist in isolation from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, we are also member of several international organisations; Commonwealth, African Union, ECOWAS, United Nations, Group of 77, Non Allied Movement and so on. So if you are part of the world, then obviously, you have to participate in the work of all the international organisations to which we belong because, issues are being discussed and decided there that affect us, we cannot be absent. So it’s not an option not to be represented; It’s really how you are represented.
Effective representation is what we need, that is where we are getting the best value for our money. Such things are not tangible like influence but definitely you have to be there. Now, our new President has decided that he wants to have a rationalization of all our foreign embassies, so there should be a cost benefit analyses of each and every one of them. Where we feel that we are not really getting value for our money, we should not be shy to say maybe we should downsize particularly in line with our economic realities.
However, it’s a question of rationalization and creativity. Let me give you an example of what a small country like Singapore does, they have been very creative to have ambassadors operate from their country without necessarily domicile abroad. For instance, they have the Ambassador of Singapore to Nigeria but he is based in Singapore. Not just concurrent accreditation whereby may be the ambassador would be in Nigeria and cover neighboring countries they have the Ambassador working from headquarters. So that is one way in which you maximize your resources. He might be a businessman but appointed ambassador of Singapore to Nigeria but resident in Singapore and he comes from time to time and afterward he is accompanied by diplomats to conduct whatever he wants.
So what Nigeria needs is smart mission, lean but effective mission more concurrent accreditation and I believe that is the direction in which this government is heading. Looking at the UN which you have worked with for more than two decades, many global citizens like myself have argued that the United Nations seem to have lost its focus because many countries have been entwined in one crisis or the other, and the UN appears to have no solution to preventing crisis other than going for resolution which in many instances does not last.
What do you think is wrong with the policies of the UN?
Well, the world itself is changing; the United Nations was established about 70 years ago. It was established immediately after the end of the last global war, so you have the post-war United Nations. But soon after its establishment, you have new realities which was the Cold War where the whole world was divided into the Western Alliance, United States’ NATO (None Allied Trade Organization) and its allies, and then the then Soviet Union and the Warsaw and its allies. Most of the third world countries decided, ‘we are not going to be aligned as a matter of routine’ Now, that was the world in aftermath of the World War II and Cold War.
Many countries in 1945 were not represented and I think Africa had only three members: Ethiopia, the then Apartheid South Africa and Liberia. So in the 60s you have many of African countries that became independent and the priority of the UN which was just about Peace and Security has to be adjusted to take account of the priorities of the new wave of members not just from Africa but Asia, and the Caribbean. So development agenda became very important. Then you had the end of the Cold War where there was expectation that the UN would be even more effective. But then, the problem with the postcold war period; there were now more intra-state conflicts than inter-state. Before then, it is conflict between countries that the UN was trying to address. Now, many and very complicated ethnic violence, religious unrest, sectarian conflicts and wars, Bosnia, the old Yugoslavia and so on.
So it’s a messier world. The instruments that were developed to serve the UN in the immediate post world war and even in the Cold War era were now becoming pretty much not very relevant or adequate to address the post where there are more conflicts inside than between countries. The UN has to reinvent itself and adjust for example, between the times that I was in the United Nations; the first few years between 1990 and 1995, there were more peace keeping more than the previous 45 years existence of the UN.
The Budget of Peacekeeping now for example, is about three times the regular budget of the UN and yet what do these peace keeping operations do?
They actually freeze conflicts, they don’t resolve many conflicts. So now, the challenge is that, the UN has to do much better in terms of prevention which its records is not very good and improve on post conflict peacebuilding.