Almost 2 weeks ago, I was in New York covering the 64th summit of the United Nations General Assembly. As is routine, one expects the quarrels of the Americans and the stubborn nations like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria to dominate the headlines.
But this time round, a man by the name Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, also managed to garner space within some leading media outlets. Not for his speech that thrashed all and sundry in his UN debut, but rather for compensating all the time he has missed the UN corridors.
He spent 90 minutes on a speech long on rhetoric and short on substance, instead of the usual five minutes allocated to each Head of State.
But the speech - one of the longest statements in recent memory - did not find its way into the UN record books.
The two record breakers for sheer verbosity are Krishna Menon of India, who addressed the Security Council for eight long hours on in January 1957, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who spoke for four hours and 29 minutes before the General Assembly in September 1960.
My impression about the UN General Assembly is that this gathering is simply an old fashioned summit whose discussions only fulfill protocol demands.
Who gets to implement or let alone follow up what the 182 leaders from UN member states have to say?
In fact, a Head of State travelling to New York to address the UN without any other major engagements is simply wasting his nations’ tax payers’ resources.
Therefore, the most outstanding element about the UN week is not the UNGA summit, but rather the networking and different engagements that surround the summit.
In normal circumstances, the US President is the busiest man during this time. Every meeting on issues of climate change, nuclear standoff, food security, peace keeping, terrorism, financial crisis---wants his presence, leave alone a queue of Heads of State and government waiting to meet the world’s most powerful man.
Our very own, President Paul Kagame, is no far from this scenario.
Take an example of the UN summit; if Kagame was not addressing a special sitting on climate change, he’s addressing one, on behalf of Africa on food security.
If he’s not giving a keynote speech on Africa’s transformation to a think-tank, the President is the only male Head of State addressing a special session on how women emancipation can be attained.
And here, we are not talking about the different bilateral engagements, meetings with internationally re-knowned figures, engaging with business leaders to do RDB work, and setting time aside to take advice from his Presidential Advisory Council (PAC).
Amidst this heavy schedule, were the awards, arguably the most captivating moments and most rewarding in terms of selling the image of this nation.
President Kagame alongside some five other extra-ordinary individuals, were awarded by the Clinton Global Initiative for making an indelible impact on the world.
In their work, Clinton said, they use innovative approaches to solve global problems and achieve social progress. And in so-doing; they distinguish themselves as true agents of change.
This special list of individuals had only one President. It had one individual credited for turning around a nation whose future had almost been written off.
It had one man credited for “freeing the hearts and minds of his people,’ if I may borrow President Clinton’s own words.
What mattered most were not even the glamorous awards, but rather the audience in attendance. Leading philanthropists, Hollywood celebrities, renowned civil rights activists, CEO’s of multilaraterals, Capitol Hill politicians, and former Heads of State.
Their eyes all transfixed on one individual---the towering African President, standing side by side with leading Hollywood superstars, a man that former President Clinton spent the evening talking about.
“I think the great victory of Rwanda was not in the economic growth, the great victory of Rwanda was not even having more than half of parliament as women. The great victory of Rwanda was a victory of the mind and the spirit. And Paul Kagame freed the hearts and minds of his people to think about the future,” Clinton told his audience.
He repeated this phrase almost three times.
As I watched President Kagame mingle and speak to the likes of Usher Raymond, Alicia Keys, Quincy Jones, Ben Stiller, Demi Moore ---America’s big celebrities, I wondered the character in him that comfortably puts him in control of any situation.
When I saw America’s re-knowned civil rights activist, reverend Jesse Jackson, struggling through the crowd to have a handshake with the President, I asked myself, in what books of history will Kagame be written?
Here’s a man whose history was not kind enough. He was born in poverty, grew up within a destitute refugee life, forced into two armed rebellions, inherited a mess that no other leader in modern times has come across but has beaten all odds to take on the world stage.
As I left this gala, Clinton’s remarks kept bouncing back. And I concluded, given the kind of audience that was in attendance, and given the respect Clinton commands not only in the US but across the World, his remarks on our country and particularly its leadership, can never be equated to even a billion bucks of aid flow.