Antonio Guetteres, Secretary General, UN

If you don’t already know, the UN has a new Secretary General. Yes, the UN unlike some home countries has term limits and so Ban Ki Moon is going into retirement. He did not argue that he was the sole visionary leader of the United Nations nor did the President of Antigua and Barbuda come with a resolution to make Moon, a sole candidate. Actually to my surprise a male candidate was selected. The next secretary-general of the United Nations, most everyone agreed, was supposed to be a woman. To be exact, a woman from Eastern Europe.

Now it is clear that it is António Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal. Guterres is not from Eastern Europe. And he’s certainly not a woman. Essentially, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) find someone they can all live with. If even one member says no to a candidate, the candidate is out. They then tell the rest of the Security Council, and ultimately the 193 states represented in U.N. General Assembly, to live with that choice. Invariably, they do. So it is more of a flawed democracy. This time, as the search for Ban Ki-moon’s successor and the United Nation’s ninth Secretary-General began, there were calls to make the process more transparent and more consultative with the rest of the member states. The process was transparent and consultative, but mostly, cosmetically. The western model of democracy perhaps has its ills.

The door, maybe, is not shut as tight as it once was. Light, as well as sound can now seep through more than ever before. But at the end of the day, the process for selecting the secretary-general of the United Nations has remained the same. By all indications, however, the choice that has been made is a good one. Although the U.N. has never had a woman leading it during its 70 years of existence, and even though António Guterres, at 67, will become the second-oldest person to hold the office (Boutros Boutros-Ghali was 70 when he became U.N. Secretary-General), there is much to like about this choice. Now perhaps, let us examine his career of service.

During his term as UN high commissioner for refugees, he acted in accordance with socialist ideology by pressuring Western states to open borders and accept a large influx of immigrants from Islamic regimes. Despite the evidence that open border policy facilitated transnational jihadism and the mass murder of Western innocents, Guterres continued to shame governments that protect their citizens with secure borders. Guterres was president of the Socialist International at its 22nd congress which resolved that: “the goal of the SI must be to parliamentarise the global political system” by the establishment of a “UN parliamentary assembly”. There is nothing sinister about the dream of a peaceful world order led by powers invested in global security and democracy. Guterres will be the first person to hold the office after serving as the chief executive of his country. Experience and a political sensibility can add much heft to the office. As prime minister of Portugal (1995-2002), and much more as the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (2005-2015), he has demonstrated a resolve to tackle tough problems.

Over the past two decades, the UN’s organisational mode shifted from liberal internationalism to transactional transnationalism in an attempt to accommodate the influence of wealthy but illiberal regimes. In 2007, as UN refugee chief, Guterres addressed the League of Arab States. He credited Islamic law as an “invaluable foundation for the legal framework” used by his office. He acknowledged that the majority of the world’s refugees were Muslim, but focused on “developed societies”, citing “racism” and “xenophobia” as the primary cause of refugee victimhood instead of holding to account the Islamist regimes refugees flee. Guterres encouraged Islamic states to become “more involved in the UNHCR’s governing body”. Today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is Jordan’s Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Guterres is highly critical of Western states that strengthen borders in response to jihadist attacks, stating: “Let us be perfectly clear: Refugees are not terrorists, they are the first victims of terror.”

That is a false dichotomy. The jihadists who entered Europe thanks to the EU socialist bloc’s porous border policy and murdered hundreds of European citizens are both product and cause of Islamist terror. Islamist ideology produces Islamist terrorism which in turn creates refugee crises. The UN routinely denies that reality. It is actually sacred to talk of Islamist terror and this is a major talking point in the current US elections. As UN high commissioner for refugees from 2005-2015, Antonio Guterres played a central role in the UN’s accommodation of Islamist regimes and Europe’s porous border response to the Muslim migration crisis.

Guterres as a person is part an ideologue, part pragmatist, part diplomat — the ideal combination for a UN Secretary-General. But he is not a realist. What the world needs now are leaders capable of impartial reasoning with the courage to exercise realism. Guterres falls short.

What are Africa’s expectations?

African governments and civil society should have both institutional and substantive expectations of the next UN Secretary General. Institutional expectations should focus on feasible reform of the United Nations itself. This would mean African governments de-emphasizing the demand for improved representation on the Security Council and structural reforms in the voting process  The complex politics surrounding these two issues make change unlikely during the five-year term of the next secretary general. Instead, Africa should prioritise the need for the UN itself to become more accountable.

Key to note will be on the issue of refugees and classification; whether as economic migrants or otherwise. Gutteres will also be expected to lobby for more funds to enable countries like Kenya, and Uganda to ably host refugees, the issue of taking back refugees to their home countries will also need to be addressed. Key in point is the proposed closure of Dadaab Camp in Kenya. The major issue is going to be migration and having a former commissioner for refugees at the helm is comforting, at least. Countries may need to re-examine the open boarder policy as it has showed signs of wreaking havoc before. The other substantive priority is the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are connected to both Africa’s migration and refugee challenges and to global security. Africans risk their lives fleeing persecution, violence and poverty. They will only remain at home when they feel their countries can offer them the possibility of a life with dignity and opportunity. It is not war alone that creates refugees, economic hardships also do. The issue of economic migrants will be key on the united Nations Agenda.

Lastly on the issue of peacekeepers, they have in the past been accused of sexual assault, looting minerals and other crimes, but largely due to immunity they enjoy, these gun welding gunmen are allowed to walk scot free. Gutteres has a huge challenge of restoring a human face to Peacekeeping and the United Nations as whole. Our African leaders need to be told that they have not created enough conditions for the citizens to stay home.

Roland is a lawyer with a keen interest in Global relations and international law.


This article appears in our digital magazine, The Deuteronomy, Vol 7, Issue 2 of October 14th, 2016 under the title, What Antonio Guetteres Election as Secretary General UN Means for the Great Lakes and Africa

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