Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, says cooperation is the best way forward to solve global health crisis.
  • Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, says cooperation is still the best solution to tackle the pandemic affecting the world
  • Recently, the U.S. moved to withdraw from the World Health Organization, one of the globe’s coordinating bodies for the efforts against COVID-19.
  • Top UN-diplomat chaired the committee that awarded the Mandela Prize to two recipients for their humanitarian work.

President of the United Nations General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande says cooperation is still the best solution for the health crisis facing the globe.

In a world preoccupied with potential missteps made by China in the initial handling of the outbreak and the Trump administration’s moves to withdraw the U.S. from the World Health Organization, Muhammad-Bande urges countries and people to stick together.

“I can’t comment on national issues, but the pandemic is affecting all of us and beginning to dissipate energy concerning questions that will have no impact on dealing with the problem is not good,” Muhammad-Bande told Karma. “The world can do better with coordination. Even if there are problems, we solve them better in discussions.”

Muhammad-Bande, a career policymaker and diplomat, says he grew up in Nigeria in a family that valued public service and went on to study political science at Boston University in the U.S. and later in Canada.

His background has shaped his views on the importance of the UN sustainable development goal that stresses expanding access to education.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the technological divide, as many children around the world are unable to access computers for remote learning, says Muhammad-Bande. This must be addressed, he says, since education is key to the other goals.

“The whole question of giving quality education and even making it a priority would help nations greatly,” he said. “Everything is connected. Economic development is important, but it is supported by education.”

He finishes a one-year term in September at the head of the deliberative body where representatives for 193 member countries decide on policy matters, such as how to finance UN peacekeeping missions.


Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the president of the United Nations General Assembly. (Courtesy of the General Assembly of United Nations)

During his term, Muhammad-Bande launched an effort together with the UN body ECOSOC to tackle corruption, gaps in financing for development and ensure financial integrity in the private and public sector. A panel of technocrats have released a report and will present their findings to the general assembly this year.

“The objective being to see what gaps do exist in mobilizing resources for … public good [so] illicit financial flows can be addressed,” he says.

Muhammad-Bande’s work has been greatly complicated by the coronavirus outbreak. Most dignitaries are working from home instead of at UN headquarters in New York. Policymakers have been busy coordinating the UNGA meeting in September that normally draws thousands of delegates from around the world. This year, the meeting of the world’s policy and business luminaries will be a hybrid of real world and virtual events, says the top diplomat.

Muhammad-Bande says the world has a lot of work to do in terms of addressing the importance of human rights due to the social unrest following the death of George Floyd — an unarmed American man — while in police custody.

“The United Nations is asked to respect human life, due process and principles of non-discrimination,” Muhammad-Bande told Karma. “I think that there is no equivocation about this. Nobody can defend what transpired.”

The protests that erupted around the world following Floyd’s death showed that human rights is a broader, global issue.

”It is not [just] an American problem,” he said. “Why did it resonate with many countries? Because we also have issues in each country. It’s important to underline the necessity for social justice and the connection to peace and development.”

In July, the top-diplomat chaired the committee that awarded the Mandela Prize to two recipients, Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis and Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté, for their work advancing access to health care and promoting human rights.

Muhammad-Bande says the prize is relevant today.

“We do need examples to live by and Mandela is such a towering figure reminding [us] that we can overcome hate,“ he said. “This is in the tradition of excellence in public service. And those selected have shown that rich or poor you can contribute to the community in significant ways.”

Photo courtesy of the General Assembly of United Nations