By Moses Walubiri
Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, was last night voted United Nations General Assembly president, becoming the fi rst Ugandan national to take the leadershipof the 193-member world body.
Kutesa, a veteran politician, seasoned lawyer and businessman, has become the 12th African to assume the prestigious office.
Kutesa, who pitched camp in New York about two weeks ago, will replace John W. Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda. The UN General Assembly took the vote by acclamation a few minutes after 3:00pm New York time (10:00pm local time).
Kutesa threafter delivered a speech to the assembly.
Earlier, Kutesa held a meeting with the outgoing president of the UN General Assembly, John W. Ashe, on Monday this week during which the two “discussed the responsibilities and expectations of the presidency of the General Assembly, including the selection of theme and the elaboration thereof”.
According to the statement issued by the office of the UNGA president, Kutesa who was referred to “President-designate of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly” also discussed the importance of engaging with member states, observers, civil society and the private sector.
Kutesa commended Ashe for “setting the stage” for the post-2015 development agenda and expressed his intent to build upon the momentum achieved.
The outgoing president advised Kutesa of the forthcoming high-level stocktaking event slated for early September 2014. Kutesa will preside over the 69th session of the UN General Assembly.
Since the job lasts one year and he is not expected to chair any session until September this year, Kutesa will retain both his parliamentary seat and cabinet position. New Vision has not yet established what Kutesa’s privileges and entitlements would be as UNGA president.
The presidency of the UN General Assembly rotates among the six global regions – Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. But the nationals of the five vetowielding power countries – France, US, Russia, Britain and France – do not vie for this position.
According to Uganda’s former senior diplomat at the UN and a former UN undersecretary general in charge of children in war ravaged areas, Dr. Olara Otunnu, African countries have over the years agreed to rotate their turn to provide candidate for the docket between the regions of East Africa, North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and South Africa.
The last time Africa provided a president of the UNGA was in 2009 with veteran Libyan diplomat, Ali Treki holding the position.
Kutesa was unanimously endorsed by the African Union in 2013 following the decision by Cameroonian foreign minister, Pierre Moukoko, to drop his candidature.
Since then, Uganda has launched a spirited charm offensive in propping up its candidate, with Kutesa himself visiting all the countries with veto wielding powers to drum up support for his bid.
However, Kutesa’s bid has not been without hurdles. It faced resistance from a group of rights activists that include a disaffected US-based Ugandan, Milton Alimadi.
Commenting on Kutesa’s candidature on Tuesday, Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, clarified that not even the Secretary General of the UN had powers to block Kutesa.
“It is their prerogative (UN member states) and it does not involve the secretary general, though, the secretary general will speak at the plenary meeting tomorrow,” Dujarric said.
As president of the assembly, Kutesa will preside over the assembly and direct its discussion. However, the most important debate in his in-tray is the one that will result in producing a blueprint to shape a post-2015 era as Millennium Development Goals come to a close.
The Minister of State in charge of regional co-operation, Asuman Kiyingi, said Kutesa’s position as UNGA president will boost the confidence of foreign investors in Uganda and therefore spur more foreign investments.
One of the challenges Kutesa faces as UN president will relate to Uganda’s stand on gay rights. Ahead of the vote, Dujarric was asked about the matter by journalists during a June 10 briefing. He side-stepped the questions on the matter, saying Kutesa would address them after his election.
When he took over the presidency, Ashe identified “The Post 2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!” as the theme for the 68th session.
KUTESA IS NEW U.N. PRESIDENT