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UNGA president calls for global cooperation for post-COVID world (IANS Interview)

United Nations, June (IANS) Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the president of the UN General Assembly, has said world leaders must plan for eliminating poverty and strengthening cooperation when the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic that every country has suffered.

“If there was a need or demand for interconnection between human beings, as human beings regardless of their circumstances, this pandemic has made this very clear to us,” he said in an exclusive interview to IANS.

All countries are getting the lessons of interdependency, “and some are slower in getting the lessons than others,” he said without taking names.

He spoke of the importance of South-South cooperation among developing countries that could be a model for nations to work together to tackle global problems.

Muhammad-Bande, 62, a Nigerian diplomat and educator, presides over the General Assembly, the truly representative body of the 193 members, at a time when the organisation – like the world – faces the most traumatic crisis since World War II.

Unable to hold in-person meetings because of the lockdown at the UN headquarters and in New York, he had to quickly innovate ways to have the General Assembly continue to function. Under his leadership, the Assembly adopted new methods of voting and holding elections and transformed its agenda to meet the crisis.

All the countries realised that “even with difficulties, especially with difficulties, they must come together to send a message that the United Nations is important,” Muhammad-Bande said.

The crisis “really brought us to think of a way to continue to work even if at times not physically, to continue to have ideas that we share with countries all over the world in relation to very urgent matters that deal with the fundamentals but also deal with the fallout of the pandemic, which has really brought limitations of the current system very clearly to the fore,” he said during the interview conducted through video-teleconferencing in New York.

He said that while there is an urgency for financing for development which is important for dealing with poverty, there is also a need for “cooperation including (on) technical issues, in terms of learning from others.”

As an educator who was the vice-chancellor of the Usman Danfodio University and director-general of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Nigeria before becoming a diplomat, Muhammad-Bande emphasised education, which has been disrupted world over by the pandemic, and said that technology inequalities must be addressed to ensure universal education.

He said, “Hundreds of millions of children around the world have their education disrupted. In some countries, some means of continuation of education are available and in others not so. And this in itself is an issue of serious importance to the world.”

“The issue of differences in access to technology and the spread of technology for agriculture, for education, for all aspects of life is also important because this is another big issue that this pandemic has brought clearly to the fore,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of giving scholarships, especially by developing countries, for citizens from other parts of the world.

“That creates bonds of friendship and makes it easier for countries to know better the conditions of other countries,” he said.

While there was an urgent need for all types of cooperation including North-South between developed and developing countries, and bilateral, he said, “I think South-South cooperation (among developing countries) is extremely important. Its moral compass is certainly a bit different. We learn easier from our peers and this has worked very strongly.”

He said, “Countries like yours have also shown the ability of countries to push this agenda not only in relation to the region but around the world. Nigeria has done so and other countries are doing this.”

He added, “It is very important that we are able to privilege South-South cooperation and I think the principles are very clearly understood in terms of respect, in terms of the cooperation of South-South countries to help themselves but also to give a model of cooperation that should help multilateral organisations more broadly.”

“I think all countries must show responsibility, those that are able to give support should continue to give support (for each other),” he said.

Muhammad-Bande said it was important for developing countries to work with regional organisations like the African Union, and with others such as the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement.

It was essential to learn the lessons of the experience of others through these channels as well for nations to share lessons from their own experiences, he said.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

–IANS

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