Rwanda News Agency Grands Lacs Hebdo

The Rwanda News Agency website is a newswire based in Kigali. It is neither state-owned nor state-run.

It is a subscription service and you are not logged in, so some content is hidden. Login to access full stories, or register for a free trial.

UN Summit begins amid usual power-politics in smokefree rooms

E-mail Print PDF

Final broadband report presentation: President Kagame speaks at the second meeting of the Broadband Commission, New York, next to Carlos Slim Helú, Mexican businessman and one the world's wealthiest people, 19 September 2010 (Courtesy photo)

New York: Central to the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals which starts today is preventing deaths in childbirth and improving the health of women and babies, but there are plenty of other games in town.

In the starlight room of the Waldorf-Astoria, they are talking over brunch of making childbirth safer. In the dark wood-paneled dining room of the Harvard Club, beneath its book-lined minstrel's gallery, they are discussing the need for broadband  internet connection across continents where clean water is still in short supply. This is New York and the development circus is in town.

The UN summit on the MDGs, from Monday to Wednesday, is theoretically a meeting of the world's leaders, from developed and developing nations, to assess progress on alleviating poverty and improving health and education. But in and around these key policy discussions are woven innumerable meetings, events, breakfasts, lunches and dinners where NGOs, philanthropists and businessmen and women gather and interact with the politicians and hope to make friends and influence the world.

So at the Waldorf-Astoria brunch on Sunday, the day before the summit began, an impressive roomful of predominantly-women leaders and campaigners gathered and were treated to a rabble-rousing speech by Graca Machel. The event was hosted by the Women Deliver movement who are on a roll. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon is marshaling the development world to focus their MDG efforts on the goal that has been until now most likely to fail – cutting the number of deaths of women in pregnancy and childbirth by three-quarters. A major session on Wednesday afternoon, led by the secretary general, will see countries, NGOs, corporations and philanthropists pledge new funds. He wants $26 billion by 2011, rising to $42 billion by 2015. There will include an unprecedented commitment, I am told, by three major NGOs – Care, World Vision and Save the Children – worth $5.2 billion by 2015.

The secretary general's plan is universally welcomed. The big idea – a piece of genius if it can be pulled off – is to help the poorest, who are mostly women, and by saving their lives when they give birth, ensuring their children also survive and get educated and stay healthy... In fact, focus on women and you can tick almost every box.

But there are other things going on too. I went straight from brunch to lunch – this time in a room that was overwhelmingly full of dark-suited men. This was the Broadband Commission, set up by two UN agencies – ITU, which specialises in telecommunications and UNESCO. The Commission, which started its work in the summer, has been investigating how to extend the benefits of broadband to developing countries.

There was something surreal about this gathering in the Harvard Club and it wasn't just the antiquarian surroundings. Chairing the Commission is Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who has recently been re-elected in spite of allegations of suppressing the opposition and the leak of a draft UN report condemning his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, for genocide in the Congo.


The 30-member Broadband Commission is chaired by President Kagame and Carlos Slim Helú, Mexican businessman and one the world's wealthiest people. Serving as joint vice-chairs are Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The team met September 19

Between the crabmeat and the chicken, Ban Ki-moon himself arrived, to be officially presented with the Commission's report. He delivered a veritable panegyric about Kagame.

"Paul Kagame has been extraordinary – a stellar leader, not only in the Broadband Commission, but in peace and security worldwide and in development. He is one of the greatest leaders making this MDG progress move forward," said Ban of Kagame.

Kagame, as somebody whispered, is the darling of the donors. Rwanda is indeed making progress, Things get done. The president even says he doesn't want dependency on aid. Not many in development, which is so full of disappointments, want to ask further questions.

And there were some other interesting guests. The world's richest man, Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, was prominent, having part-funded the Commission's work - to the tune of $100,000, which won't quite break his bank. Is this evidence that Slim is going the way of the philanthropist he ousted from the top spot on the Forbes list, Bill Gates, or is it a business opportunity? Slim told the post-lunch working group that they didn't need public funding to get broadband going in the developing world. Jeff Sachs of Columbia University had a different view. "Those in the poorest places are going to need public money. We need the economics of this clearly understood," he said.

But the biggest surprise for me was the arrival of Gordon Brown, after the post-lunch workshop had begun. Apparently his invitation came about through the good offices of Kagame. Brown was extremely warmly received, applauded by all the others around the large table and made a brief but witty speech when called upon to sum up the proceedings - not all of which he had heard - at the end.

"A few months ago, with the arrogance normally associated with politicians, I might have tried to sum up. I remember the words of Shelley, who said of somebody that they had lost the art of communication but not, alas, the gift of speech," said Brown.

Brown did an enormous amount for development when he was prime minister. Rumour has it here that he is looking for a role where he can do some more. The Broadband Commission, however, seems an odd place to begin when so many essential things from clean water to sufficient food are lacking to so many in the developing countries.

From Sarah Boseley's Global Health Blog, The Guardian


Rwanda: Doing Business


FAO au Rwanda