The 78th U.N. General Assembly brought world leaders to New York City from Sept. 18 to 26. The annual get-together had many leaders addressing issues such as migrant crises, climate change, and conflicts in Europe and Africa.

Secretary-General António Guterres pointed to the urgency of combating climate change and establishing more green energy sources. The recent flooding disaster in Libya is a prime example of how continued hesitancy in reacting to the climate emergency can horribly affect thousands. “Just nine days ago, many of the world’s challenges coalesced in an awful hellscape,” Guterres said in his address to the General Assembly.

“Thousands of people in Derna, Libya, lost their lives in epic, unprecedented flooding. They were victims many times over: victims of years of conflict, victims of climate chaos, victims of leaders––near and far––who failed to find a way to peace,” Guterres said. “The people of Derna lived and died in the epicenter of that indifference as the skies unleashed 100 times the monthly rainfall in 24 hours, as dams broke after years of war and neglect, as everything they knew was wiped off the map.”

Governmental disdain and neglect are making the world unsustainable, Colombian President Gustavo Petro complained to the Assembly. Immigrants who have fled their homes for political and ecological reasons are often beaten, chased by police dogs, and jailed when they arrive in other countries, he said. “Prisons have even been built at sea so that these women and men cannot tread the Earth of the white people, who still believe themselves to be the superior race,” Petro added. “[They] are nostalgic for this, and through their choices and elections, they revive the leader who [originally] said so and who killed millions as a result.”

Petro called for the creation of two peace conferences: one to end the Russia-Ukraine war and another to deal with the ongoing conflicts between the Israelis and Palestinians. These are not the only struggles currently taking place in the world, but bringing these two conflicts to an end would be emblematic. “What is the difference between Ukraine and Palestine, I ask. Is it not time to bring an end to both wars––and other wars, too––and make the most of the short time we have to build paths to save life on the planet?” Petro said.

President Joe Biden spoke out against the spate of government insurrections taking place in Africa. He said the U.S. remains in support of African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) efforts to counter recent coups in Niger and Gabon. The AU and ECOWAS will help support constitutional rule, Biden insisted, and “show how democracy can deliver in ways that matter to people’s lives.”
Biden said the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment “addresses the enormous need and opportunity for infrastructure investment in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.” “Through strategic, targeted public investments, we can unlock enormous amounts of private-sector financing,” he promised.

President Tshisekedi with Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of AmNews Credit: Bill Moore photo

But the potential, and not reality, of financing may not be enough to sway African nations anymore. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu pointed to the “broken promises of fair treatment and outright exploitation from abroad” that the continent remains subject to.

African nations have looked to the cooperative foundation behind the creation of the U.N. and had faith that one day, African nations would also be assisted in growing their economies. “Today and for several decades, Africa has been asking for the same level of political commitment and devotion of resource that is described in the Marshall Plan,” said Tinubu. “We realize that underlying conditions and causes of the economic challenges facing today’s Africa are significantly different from those of post-war Europe. We are not asking for identical programs and actions; what we seek is an equally firm commitment to partnership. We seek enhanced international cooperation with African nations to achieve the 2030 agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.”

Even as Africa seeks assistance in reaching its development goals, the continent has several nations with the resources to sustain themselves. Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), explained at a press luncheon that his nation has reviewed and decided to renegotiate its mining contracts with foreign nations. 

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, the metal used to make rechargeable batteries, which is vital for electric vehicle (EV) batteries. In December 2022, the country signed onto an agreement to work with Zambia and the United States to develop a production supply chain for EV batteries in “special economic zones” that will see increased investment. 

Tshisekedi said the DRC plans to use the funds from its renegotiated contracts to reinforce new government programs, such as universal childhood education and better health care for the DRC’s citizens.

Brooklyn-based activist Roger Wareham pointed out that former colonialist nations, like France, have maintained control over several parts of Africa. Niger’s new military leaders formally expelled France’s ambassador to the nation in late August, but the former colonial power has said its ambassador won’t leave. France doesn’t view the coup leaders as a legitimate government.

Wareham’s December 12th Movement held a “France out of Africa” rally at the U.N. “France is a ruthless exploiter of African resources,” Wareham said. “The income that is derived from their former colonies goes straight to the French central bank and is then doled out from there by France to those countries, so those countries don’t have control over their own economies. If the African income was released from France, there would be no France. France is absolutely dependent on Africa for the maintenance of the lifestyle that it has.”

Nigeria’s President Tinubu ended his address to the U.N. General Assembly by declaring that: “In fundamental ways, nature has been kind to Africa by giving it abundant land, resources and creative and industrious people. Yet, man has too often been unkind to his fellow man and this sad tendency has brought sustained hardship to Africa’s doorstep.

“To keep faith with the tenets of this world body and the theme of this year’s assembly, the poverty of nations must end. The pillage of one nation’s resources by the overreach of firms and people of stronger nations must end. The will of the people must be respected. This beauty, generous and forgiving planet must be protected.

“As for Africa, we seek to be neither appendage nor patron. We do not wish to replace old shackles with new ones.”