The Distinguished Lecture Series is a flagship programme of the CFR-Ghana that provides a unique and dedicated platform for high level International Diplomats and Civil Servants, Politicians and Government Officials from different parts of the world to discuss contemporary issues in international affairs. In 2019, the Council hosted high level personalities who presented on varied thematic issues. These individuals included H.E. Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas (Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel), H.E. Jyrki Katainen (the European Union Vice-President), Ms. Baroness Valerie Amos (British Politician & Diplomat), and Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (The President of the UN General Assembly). The lecture series attracted participants from the diplomatic community, Parliament, Judiciary, Government, academia, educational institutions, media, political parties, international organisations, NGOs and civil society organisations.
Baroness Valerie Amos (British Politician & Diplomat)
The first speaker for the distinguished Lecture Series on the topic: Does the Retreat from multilateralism create new opportunities for the African Continent on 22nd March 2019 was at the Accra International Conference Center. It was chaired by Mrs. Agnes Aggrey-Orleans, a former Ghanaian diplomat.
She opined that the Africa region had the opportunity to learn lessons from what was happening elsewhere and go beyond its own challenges to shape bold innovative models, partnerships and cooperation for the future. Africa can learn from the mistakes of some European Countries and should remember to put the people’s interest first. Tackling domestic challenges is key because it gives a consensus lead to play a significant role in global affairs.
She praised the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which seeks to build a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united, based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance. With this key policy framework, Baroness Amos called for an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law; an Africa that is strong and united.
On the implications for Africa should Britain withdraw from the European Union (EU), she argued that Brexit would of course have some impact on development on the African continent but the impact may be small due to Britain’s low investment in defence and foreign policy priorities over the years. As Britain turns inwards, its global influence would continue to wane. Other countries like China who have positioned themselves as global powers would take advantage of the situation to pursue their interests. But she said Ghana had strong bilateral relations with Britain and that would continue to grow stronger despite competition from other countries.
H.E. Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas (Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel)
Dr. Chambas Presented on An Agenda for Building Partnerships for Peace in West Africa and the Sahel: Challenges and Opportunities at the Kofi Annan International Conference Centre, Accra on 18 April, 2019. He started with an overview of the ecosystem of peace and security. According to him, the very foundation of this ecosystem are governance deficits that revolve around a historical disarticulated relationship between state and society, and a resultant lack of inclusiveness and accountability. This is often manifested in inter-ethnic disputes, violent extremism and antagonistic political tensions. Formal democracy is also not yielding the anticipated development dividends, leading to popular disenchantment and resistance from below.
A spiralling demographic surge, climate change and associated pressures on land and water resources have also led to a spike in radicalisation and intercommunal tensions and violence. Conflicts in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are the main drivers of this surge in violence. Nevertheless, there are some positive dividends with the acceptance and realisation by countries that transparent and credible elections remain the most viable, legal and legitimate form of accessing power despite the obvious shortfalls.
On partnerships, he noted that a comprehensive approach is needed at the national, regional and international levels to address the challenges in the ecosystem as peace and security are a shared responsibility. In this regard, efforts to sustain and build peace can only be guaranteed through partnerships at the communal, national, regional and global levels. Citing the case of UNOWAS, he mentioned that the organisation has been able to build strategic partnerships with continental, regional and national institutions and authorities, civil society organisations, and community-based groups while managing increasingly complex negotiations on subsidiarity and complementarity. For sustainable peace therefore, countries being a community of states on the one hand, and communities and states on the other, tied together by a consultative and inclusive social contract which must not only be legal but also legitimate. He concluded that the quality of partnerships were inter-linked at various concentric levels, and these multi-layered and multidimensional partnerships represented a major and essential pathway to peace.
Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (The President of the UN General Assembly)
Responding to global challenges in a fast-changing world: the case for strengthening multilateralism, Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, was at the Accra International Conference Centre on 10 May 2019. She began by looking at the confluence of crises facing the world namely, planetary (climate change), economic, social and political challenges and their implications for the health and future of the international system. On climate change, she noted that the UN’s Global Assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystems in 2018 warned that nearly one million animal and plant species were at the risk of extinction.
The ecosystem on which our lives and livelihoods depend are deteriorating rapidly. Human activity has significantly altered a staggering three-quarters of all land, and two-thirds of our marine environment. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we have just 11 years to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. At the same time, we need to address long-standing challenges such as extreme poverty – 80% in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Another issue is the rapidly-changing communications platforms which offer great potentials as well as challenges in terms of privacy, disinformation and hate speech. Digitization, automation and Artificial Intelligence offer benefits in terms of productivity, job creation and innovation but they come with risks of job losses. She also highlighted the challenges of demographic explosions and unplanned urbanisation. According to her, between now and 2030, half of the global population will be under 30. And 42% of these young people will be African. Finally, she turned to the weather transitions in the global political landscape and indicated that power is mutating horizontally and vertically between states and regions and to stakeholders such as cities, companies, and, to a lesser extent, civil society. The world is becoming more multipolar, but also more polarised. We are seeing a rise of nationalist sentiment, in extremism, in unilateral approaches, in attacks of international laws and norms.
These challenges present a huge agenda for the international community. For climate change, there is the need to focus on the most transformative, scale-able steps immediately to tip the scale back. With regards to the economic challenges, there is the need to promote evidence-based action, rather than policies driven by ideology. There is the need to build a new international financial order that creates a better safety net. She further opined that the world needs multilateralism more than ever to address contemporary challenges. Any erosion of international cooperation, can lead to war which could wipe us out through nuclear weapons. Multilateralism has actually worked because since the creation of the UN, great strides have been made especially in education, development, health and security. Through the UN General Assembly, the world’s most democratic and representative forum, international laws and standards on almost every aspect of human endeavour and planetary resource have been created. Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés concluded by encouraging Africans to build their efforts and power of ideas to strengthen the voice and impact of Africa on the UN’s 75th anniversary this year.