President Irfaan Ali passed with flying colours that now obligatory test of modern world leaders at his first appearance at the UN General Assembly debate last week. While to some extent the event is symbolic, politics – whether domestic or international – thrives on symbolism. And in sharing the space in meetings with his peers from so many other countries, and with global institutions like the OAS and the IDB, President Ali was able to make the connections that are so vital in a globalised world.
Take his meeting with the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo. President Ali had already met him as a member of the Opposition when the former leader visited Guyana in June 2019 on a State Visit. At that juncture, the PNC-as-APNU in Government had attempted to sway the mind of a leader of a country with long historical linkages to our people and country.
A large percentage of our population – including our National Hero Cuffy/Kofi – originated from the Ghanaian Akan tribe. More recently, President Jagan, when he was a student in the US, met Ghana’s First-President-to-be, Nkrumah, in Harlem, and attended Ghana’s independence celebrations in 1957. Nkrumah sent his personal emissary, Professor Abraham, to Guyana in 1964 in an attempt to convince Burnham to accept Jagan’s offer of a coalition to thwart the neo-colonial (Nkrumah’s words) “independence” imposition. The effort failed due to Burnham’s intransigence.
President Ali also participated with President Akufo-Addo in the first African Union-Caricom Summit earlier this month. On the UN sidelines, the two Presidents had been able to discuss more concretely – or arranged to have their personnel meet later – the exploitation of their off-shore oil resources, which are part of the same geological formation. For instance, Ghana’s experience with using the natural gas from their fields to fire their power generating plants and also to convert to LNG can be very useful, since they are a decade ahead of us.
Just as pertinently, Ghana’s politics can be an object lesson for us to understand that ethnic politics has very similar dynamics, even though that country’s populace is all of the same “race”. In Ghana, there is an Akan/non-Akan divide. In Guyana, the question can be asked after viewing the Ghanaian example, “What’s race got to do with it?” Since their historical “free and fair” elections of 1992, Ghana has attempted many of the innovations floated in Guyana to deal with their ethnic challenges. As one study concluded, “Ghana has demonstrated that national constitutions must provide the bedrock for establishing independent electoral bodies free to adopt innovative ideas in the management of the electoral process.”
In the ultimate multilateral forum, President Ali was able to present Guyana’s position on Venezuela’s latest outrageous rejection of the UN process, which resulted in the Venezuelan border controversy being sent to the ICJ/World Court. Speaking after Venezuela, President Ali was able to counter Maduro’s specious argument. It probably led to Maduro’s team not showing up in Mexico for second round of talks with the Guaido Opposition, mediated by Norway.
President Ali also utilised the opportunity to connect with the large Guyanese diaspora in NY – popularly known as “Region 11”, in a wry acknowledgement of the size of that community. In a series of non-stop meetings during and following his meetings with world leaders, the young leader displayed the incredible stamina that he has become known for in Guyana since his ascendancy to the Presidency last Aug 2nd. Noticeably present was his Foreign Secretary, who has been attempting to mobilise the diaspora to play a more significant role in the development of their home country, as other countries ranging from Jamaica to China have done. Hopefully, he will build on the momentum generated by the President to bring home the bacon this time.
All in all, it was a very successful first outing for President Ali on the world stage.