Ibrahim Gambari recently returned from his seventh visit to Myanmar, as part of United Nations efforts to promote national reconciliation and democratization in the South-East Asian nation. While critics may say his visits have not resulted in any concrete results, the seasoned diplomat believes that change is underway but will take time.
“It is not fully understood in some quarters that this is a painstaking process,” Mr. Gambari, Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, says in a wide-ranging interview with the UN News Centre as part of its Newsmaker profile series.
In the interview, Mr. Gambari speaks of his education in such processes since his first serious thoughts on the UN during his youth in Nigeria, his being drawn by the words of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld – who referred to the Organization as a ‘dynamic instrument in the hands of governments’ – and how “activism crept in” with his involvement in the movement against apartheid.
Mr. Gambari, who visited Myanmar from 31 January to 3 February as part of the good offices mandate entrusted to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly, acknowledged that the expectations are high each time he travels to the country.
“We have to manage expectations to see this as a process not as an event,” the envoy stated. “You can’t judge it by a few visits. You build on cumulative progress.”
On his recent visit, Mr. Gambari encouraged the authorities in Myanmar to send “positive signals” to the international community on a number of issues. These include the release of all political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the resumption of dialogue between the Government and opposition without conditions and without further delay.
Just days after he returned to New York, the Government announced the release of some 6,000 prisoners including about 23 political prisoners, a move welcomed by the Secretary-General as a “first step” toward release of all such detainees and further progress on democratization.
Mr. Gambari added that the Secretary-General cannot compel the authorities “to do the right thing.
“He can only persuade, he can only encourage and that’s what we are in the business of doing,” noted the diplomat, scholar and author, who first took up the Myanmar dossier when former Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked him to serve as his special envoy, during his tenure as UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs from 2005-2007.