Our Readers' Opinions
September 30, 2016
Putting SVG in its place

by Lisa Deane

The General Debate of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 71) began this September, affording 193 member-state world leaders the opportunity to speak on the international stage of utmost prominence. Headliners – that is, leaders who attracted the most mainstream media coverage, were mentioned most often on social media, and racked up views in the thousands and beyond on YouTube (abysmal for reality stars, but worthy of mention for upstanding political and academic celebrities) – included US President Barack Obama, whose September 20 address was his last, as well as maiden-voyage orators British Prime Minister Theresa May and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.{{more}}

All speakers were governed by the theme of the General Debate, as announced by UNGA 71 then president-elect Peter Thomson, namely “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform Our World.” Emergent sub-themes included, broadly, inequality, intolerance, division and integration, compassion and aid, and democracy and authoritarianism.

Vincentian Prime Minister Dr the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, in his September 23 address, joined President Obama and others in encouraging a fairer, freer, more tolerant and compassionate approach as the best and most sustainable development plan for a world looking collectively towards the future. Unlike his counterparts, the reach of Dr Gonsalves’ words may have been limited by his nation’s geographically and historically determined socio-economic meekness, as compared to the prowess of relative lions such as the USA, UK and Canada.

His engaging progression, moving, poetic imagery and strength of delivery, had they been the sole determinants, would have earned him a more influential position in the public domain; however, many from antiquity to the present would agree that recognition is a base motive for political service, and due to several ideological similarities, elements of his message are successfully funnelled through more famous faces on the global stage. Locally, though, we are paying direct attention.

Dr Gonsalves intersected solution themes crucial to securing less conflict, crisis and hardship. In a region where we are accustomed to hearing ourselves as SIDs spoken about, it is refreshing and empowering to have been so well spoken for. Sections of the Prime Minister’s speech served as a first person narrative of the experience of the marked inequalities entrenched in the global order in which we, along with our offspring, exist, and to which we should all find an ease of relation, if not espoused in such a formal setting, and perhaps not so eloquently.

Dr Gonsalves stated in an introductory phrase that could have been individually applied that “voices from the periphery, no matter how loud or plentiful, appear unable to rouse the core beneficiaries of a flawed system from their affluent apathy.” Constrained by a universal 15-minute slot, he reinforced the need for reparation to post-colonial nations and supported President Obama’s and Prime Minister May’s ideas in asserting that economic sharing via foreign aid is not only right, but smart, as one of the means (albeit insufficient if manifested as unmet pledges) of securing the concurrent, interdependent development of lagging regions in an increasingly small world.

As citizens, residents and well-wishers of a developing country that desires to benefit from the positive application of these ideas, the most transformative of which are foreign aid towards socio-economic elevation, respect for and inclusion of minority cultures, and, because, as President Obama said, “Mosquitoes [and diseases, in general] do not respect walls,” dissemination of scientific advancement and support for sustainable public health infrastructure – we must do our parts to put our nation, St Vincent and the Grenadines, in its place.

The paths to this are clearly lit, though not smooth. Here’s to committing to civic engagement. Let us contribute mindfully and meaningfully from the bottom up to a synergy of expertise and ordinary work. Here’s to practising tolerance. Let us reject the urge to exclude and punish difference as an immediate offence in and of itself, eschew fundamentalism and extremism in even their most mundane forms, and, as an exercise of the heart, as well as a commercial endeavour integral to the health of the tourism sector, let us understand that upholding nationalistic tradition and religion does not preclude recognizing the inalienable dignity and freedom of others to simply exist as they will, without causing harm.

Here is to the future.