The PM’s UN speech

Posted in environment, foreign policy by jrahman on October 7, 2009

There are 192 countries in the United Nations.  Many of their leaders attend the General Assemby every September.  This year has been noted for the first UNGA speech by President Obama.  The Bangladeshi Prime Minister also gave a speech.  As has been noted, Bangladeshi media chose to focus on the speech being in Bangla, even though that’s routine for the country’s heads of government.  This post focuses on what she actually said. 

About 20 para, of which only about half that the world is interested in, of which only one that actually made a strong argument.  Madam Prime Minister, next time do better.

Here is the full text of the speech.  The PM begins with thanking the Session Chair and the UN Secretary General, before mentioning Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s speech in 1974.  Then she claims something strange — apparently Bangladesh had been under ‘unconstitutional rule’ for most of the time between the August 1975 massacre and the December 2008 election, with the exception of some period in the 1990s.   This is followed by reference to Vision 2021, Digital Bangladesh, and the Shonar Bangla dreamt by the father of the nation.

This stuff takes about 3-4 paragraph.  The following 4 or so paras refer to all the great things the government has been pursuing, or her previous government achieved.  Health, education, poverty alleviation — progress is being made in all fronts.

That’s about eight whole paras on stuff that better fits a Paltan Maidan stump speech than the UN General Assembly.   What does the world care about the Awami League’s Vision 2021?

It’s not until a third of the speech that there is anything that the global community is remotely interested in to hear from Bangladesh.  It’s in the 9th and 10th para that the PM mentions food security.  And how does she do this?  The first para is again ‘our government has done a lot’.   Right towards the end of this section does she mention what Bangladesh needs from the world: end of rich world subsidy on agricultural products.  And she doesn’t even mention biofuels that wrecked havoc in the world food market a few years ago!  Nor does she mention that it is imperative for Bangladesh that the global rice market remains open.

The following four paras, on climate change, easily should have been the crux of the PM’s speech.  Bangladesh is one of the most affected nations.  It is also a large developing/emerging economy.  Currently, the global stand off on climate change policy is revolved around who should foot the bill.  The Southern countries say it’s the rich world that has got us into this mess, so they should pay.  The Northern countries say it’s the large emerging economies that are currently doing the most pollution, so these coutries will need to do the heavy lifting.  Bangladesh, as both a large victim as well as a major emerging country, can/should play the role of an honest broker between the North and South.  There is no reason why the PM can’t be a mediator between the US President / British PM and their Chinese and Indian counterparts. 

But our PM won’t be playing any such role. 


Because she wasted half the speech aimed at her domestic constituency, instead of launching into climate change straight away.  And even when she did get around to it, she didn’t say anything particularly forceful or memorable.  The world seems to have completely ignored what she had to say.

Contrast this with the Maldives president’s speech, which was picked up by the major western media such as the Washington Post.  And rightly so: We cannot make Copenhagen a pact for suicides — that’s powerful stuff.  Did anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office take notice?

Then she spoke about the global recession.  Again, what should have been key messages — plights of migrant workers for example — seemed to have been in passing.

Comparatively, the para on the UN peacekeeping mission, which came next, was crisp and concise.  We provide the foot soldiers, therefore our generals should get a sit at the table.  Clear, coherent, strong argument.  One wonders why the rest of the speech wasn’t like this.

The penultimate para urged for the UN to adopt Bangla as an official language.  Now, leaving emotions aside, what is the probability of this?  Next to nothing.  Why then bother with this? 

At least with his claims that ‘swine flu’ was cooked up by ‘evil western scientists’, Gaddafi provided entertainment value.

9 Responses

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  1. Unheard Voice » The PM’s UN speech said, on October 7, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    […] (More at Mukti) […]

  2. Fariha said, on October 7, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    For her to say anything constructive about climate change, her advisors would have to know what’s really happening on ground. She still hasn’t visited the coast after it was hit by Aila.

    She made some statement about dealing with climate IDPs but made no statement about what her government would do to ensure that migration doesn’t occur, because we just don’t have the space in the metropolises.

    She could’ve followed her congratulations to Gordon Brown with a suggestion to invest in more programmes that make ppl more climate resilient (which the DFID-funded GOB supported EEP programme is doing already) and asked the US government to look at launching similar financial initiatives as the one pledged by Gordon Brown.

  3. fugstar said, on October 7, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    maldives are great arent they!

    God bring forward the days when the bangladeshis are lead by a well spoken, talanted orator with his or her soul and intellect tuned to eachother to contribute with the greatest wisdom to complex affairs.

    The days when we confer and recognise leadership and truth from false messianism will appear when our chosen ones talk truth to powers outside and do not internally perpetuate our begging bowl selves.

  4. Reza said, on October 9, 2009 at 7:12 am

    What a wastage of time and money.

    A very poorly written speech. I fully agree with your comments.

    Does she not have advisors who follow what others say at such forums and try to present a concise, effective speech that befits a leader of 160 million people. Granted that she did a better job than Qaddafi but that sets the bar really, really low. Also, I am curious why did she take her daughter along for the official photo with the Obamas.

  5. DS said, on October 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Good stuff! Couldn’t agree more. The fact that the only good argument concerned peacekeeping forces tells you where the real talent lies in B’Desh eh? 🙂

  6. kgazi said, on October 9, 2009 at 11:09 am

    The speech was most likely another ‘demand’ for aid money against global warming. First half of speech was probably warming up to say we havent been sitting idle doing nothing either, we did a lot! we dredged the rivers, dug the embankments, fed the crocodiles. We visited Tipai (that was nice), we grabbed the ship-breaking yard, chased the tender-walla, and we also chopped-off all the trees in a huge green forest!

  7. kgazi said, on October 9, 2009 at 11:26 am

    She said “we dredged the rivers, dug the embankments” – did we really??

  8. Rumi said, on October 14, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    May be our folks in foreign service or the speech writers did a terrible job. The selection system in our government jobs always favors the dumb minds anyway. But what the PM was thinking? Would not she read, approve the speech before delivering it in front of the world? How can this thing be delivered without her approval ? Does not it speak of the mindset of these political leadership?

  9. jrahman said, on October 15, 2009 at 6:58 am

    It’s not the speech writer’s fault. The responsibility lies solely with the PM.

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