It was United Nations Day today. Focusing on the work of the UN, the school assembly presented a picture of an organisation that seemed at variance with the day to day reality of people’s experience of the United Nations. ,
Travelling out of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi one Sunday morning, the full extent of the incapacity of the United Nations to effect real change had become apparent. A convoy of white buses, with black letters painted on the side proclaiming “UN,” were moving slowly.
“What are the UN buses for?” I asked
“Refugees from conflict in DRC.”
“I thought the trouble was further north?”
“There is trouble further north – this is different trouble. The buses are going to fetch people who have fled across the border.”
“Where will they take them?”
“To camps on the other side of Burundi; the UN says they must be 150 miles from the border.”
“Isn’t that almost impossible in Burundi?”
My companion had shrugged.
Sometimes conversations are pointless; what would be changed by repeating facts already known? There would be no reports on the world media about busloads of poor people being taken across a poor African country to live in great poverty even in UN camps.
The United Nations could provide buses for refugees but could do nothing about the civil war that caused them, even in a failed state like DRC.
The assembly brought to mind “P Tang Yang Kipperbang,” Jack Rosenthal’s 1982 television film set in the Post-War Britain of 1948.
“Quack Quack” Duckworth, the shy and awkward fourteen year old who loves the prettiest girl in the school, walks along with Tommy, the school groundsman as Tommy marks the boundary of a cricket pitch. He believes Tommy has been a soldier serving in battle after battle, not knowing he is wanted for desertion. Quack Quack tells Tommy that the soldiers have brought in a new age:
“From now on, there’ll never be any more wars, never again, for the simple raison d’etre that the United Nations will insist there’s no more wars. Any country wanting to invade another, well, hard cheddar . . the United Nations will vote against them, QED”
It seems astonishing, in the light of the United Nations’ record in failing to prevent genocide in Srebrenica, and in Rwanda, and its record in being impotent in the face of countless incidents of military aggression, that anyone should still believe that the United Nations could do anything to protect people. Unless the United States decides to intervene, the United Nations is no more than a talking shop..
The ideal world is inhabited by Quack Quack Duckworth and school assemblies; it’s not inhabited by those for whom there is no protection.