Basketball, public transport reforms, food and medicine were among the key discussions and deals reached by East African leaders attending the UN General Assembly this week.
But those did not mask the continual beef between African leaders and the United Nations “system,” which they think is stuck in the past, and has failed to attain the goals it set.
Kenya’s President William Ruto and Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame spoke at various summits and side events on global issues, met counterparts from across the world and discussed ideas with leading industry captains.
On September 18, President Kagame met with Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical company Pfizer, on strengthening cooperation, on the sidelines of the UN’s Digital Day and the General Debate.
Kenya signed a deal with the National Basketball Association (NBA) to help train local coaches. The NBA will open an office in Nairobi.
Dr Ruto also inked a $60 million deal with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an American development agency.
“The grant is the largest to be implemented with a partner country,” MCC CEO Alice Albright said.
And coming to the UN on the backdrop of continual high food prices, Dr Ruto met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who promised to work with Nairobi for a grain hub in Mombasa for redistribution to poor African countries.
This wasn’t a free lunch, however. In July, Russia, Ukraine’s enemy number one, offered free grain to six African countries: Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, the Central African Republic and Eritrea.
Then it donated some 30,000 tonnes of fertiliser to Kenya. Kenya accepted it with both hands.
The Ukrainian leader said his country wants to continue with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Russia pulled out of in July, and is trying alternative routes. The Initiative was brokered by the UN and Turkey to allow Ukraine to export grain via some of the ports blockaded by Russia. Moscow later pulled out protesting blockades on its own grain by the West.
“Several ships with grain have already successfully passed through these routes despite the difficult situation,” President Zelenskyy said.
“Ukraine food exports have reached the shores of Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Tunisia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Iraq, Oman, Pakistan, Türkiye, Yemen and others.”
Russia invaded Ukraine last year in February, an incident that saw Kenya give a rousing speech in the UN Security Council condemning Moscow. Since then, Nairobi has taken its path in choosing where to stand: President Ruto said he backs the African Union proposal on ending the conflict peacefully.
Back at the UN General Assembly, the East African leaders were protesting the apparent lack of motion on reforming the system to make it work for their countries.
One such area is what to change in the UN Security Council, the UN’s most powerful organ but, which has no veto-wielding member from Africa. Five permanent members — US, UK, France, China and Russia — have remained so since 1945, when they had world’s biggest wealth and largest population.
“If any confirmation was ever needed that the United Nations Security Council is dysfunctional, undemocratic, non-inclusive, unrepresentative and therefore incapable of delivering meaningful progress in our world as presently constituted, the rampant impunity of its actors on the global scene settles the matter,” Dr Ruto said.