Allow me to extend a hearty “Welcome home!” to President Irfaan Ali on his return from the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28).
It must be a testament to Irfaan Ali’s leadership style that there was so much Guyanese anxiety caused by his 6-day absence. He must be cognizant of this going forward, for even though Vice-President Jagdeo, at a recent press conference, went to great lengths to explain “where the President would be leading when we have a side event at COP, the President has to return to Guyana because of the impending referendum in Venezuela, he would come back here before that referendum, he wants to be here for the referendum, but he will be at COP the first couple of days next week”, there was still consternation caused by claims from political opponents and social media activists that “dem boys beat out”, and were on an unplanned jaunt to Dubai.
What then was so important about COP28? And why did President Ali prioritize this at such a delicate juncture, with a jittery population looking for his comforting style of leadership?
A quick look at the photos of President Ali and VP Jagdeo meeting with world leaders – such as Narendra Modi of India; The Emir of Qatar, Mohamed bin Thani; UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron; King Charles III; regional leaders and influential businessmen such as Mukesh Ambani – at a time when our nation’s border controversy engaged the attention of the ICJ, shows the importance of our leaders’ attendance to press the flesh, press the nation’s case, use the ICJ decision to show we are pursuing a lawful pathway to resolution of our border controversy, and lobby directly for support of major nations all in one place.
COP28 was fortuitously timed for Guyana. Consider the positives of face-to-face meetings at a gathering where Guyana punches above its weight, due to the presence of Bharrat Jagdeo, who gained international recognition for his position on environmental issues within his country and on the global scale, and who was awarded the UN Environmental Programme’s Champion of the Earth for Biodiversity, Conservation and Ecosystem Management in 2010.
This is a rock star in the world of climate activism; a man for whom the room falls silent when he speaks on these issues. What better forum to remind the world’s leaders of Guyana’s worth and contribution to the global fight against climate change and the value in protecting her against an aggressive neighbour?
The alternative approach would see our leaders jetting to different capitals in a time of crisis, a friend in need, a different footing to the status we enjoy at COP28.
The option to travel easily to world capitals still resides with VP Jagdeo, who has a longer stay and agenda at COP, which is his forte.
President Ali demonstrated complete confidence in our Prime Minister, Brigadier (retd) Mark Phillips, when he left him in charge. This is not the first such occasion, as our President is abroad usually about 45-60 days a year on aggregate.
That said, however, the President’s public relations office must do better in disseminating information on H.E’s diplomatic forays overseas, and the value these trips bring to our nation. Let people know that it was better to be there with the leaders of the world, gaining their support, than to be home dealing with the Opposition and its silly scaremongering scenarios of doom and gloom.
Once again, Mr President, “Welcome home!” from the residents of all three counties: Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo.