Honourable Folks, the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (Unga) started on Tuesday this week in New York, USA, and it will run up to September 27.
This meeting provides a platform for heads of State and Government and other world leaders from at least 193 countries to address the gathering on complex global issues and challenges facing all countries worldwide, which are member-States.
But conspicuously missing at this year’s General Assembly is President Lazarus Chakwera, who cancelled his planned trip last month due to “emerging issues” on his desk, according to his executive assistant and State House director of communication Sean Kampondeni.
This is the second time the President is missing out on the Unga meeting. He was, actually, supposed to leave today for the US through Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe.
The first time the meeting took place under Chakwera’s nose was in September 2020, when his Malawi Congress Party-led Tonse Alliance administration was barely three months old in power and he was forced to attend virtually—just like he will do this time around—due to the threat of Covid-19, among others.
Nevertheless, it appears Chakwera is not under any pressure to make an instant mark or impression at this global stage where different leaders—whether friends or enemies—share the podium to ‘market’ their nations to the whole world. We must commend him for that.
Of course, it is mainly due to the Covid-19 circumstances that the whole world is sailing through that many Malawians did not believe that Chakwera’s decision to cancel Malawi’s physical attendance at this year’s summit would be a missed opportunity.
Honourable folks, when the President travels outside the country, he is accompanied by bigger delegations, especially when he or she is going to attend functions such as the Unga.
And, as rightly observed by many commentators, Malawi’s absence at the summit this year will significantly help the country save a lot of money as did the late Tanzanian President John Magufuli, who hardly travelled outside his country. He preferred delegating Cabinet ministers to carry out some presidential assignments at different international high-level forums.
It is, actually, on record that since becoming President in 2015, Magufuli, who died earlier this year, only travelled to a few countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi.
He was also famed internationally for his austerity measures, which included imposing restrictions on foreign travel for government officials in a bid to cut government spending.
Even President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has previously also snubbed Unga, arguing that the 15-minute address that leaders are given during the general debate could not justify the costs of a typical presidential entourage.
During their campaign, Chakwera and Vice-President Saulos Chilima preached tirelessly about their intention to curb public spending and that is why the President must be commended for forgoing this trip, because the decision will surely cut costs.
This, therefore, sounded like a blessing for those who recently accused the Presidency of endless flip-flopping and they expect more of such cancellations in future because it also limits the President’s movements abroad.
It is my hope that in future, even Chakwera will adopt the approach by other leaders to delegate some of these activities to his ministers or government officials, not only to save money but also as part of instilling confidence among his government officials.
Surely, Malawi can also choose to forgo the 15-minute address that each world leader is allocated to make a speech about their countries during the UN general debate because the costs of attending such meetings sometimes are way too unjustifiable to the taxpayer.
This country has too many problems and challenges requiring the leaders’ close attention and once again Chakwera must be commended for choosing to stay home and participate in the Unga debates online.
Of course, it does not undermine the importance of this summit in any way.