Courage, clarity, compassion

"The Prime Minister of Barbados decided to veer away from her prepared speech and instead spoke off the cuff, reading from an iPhone in hand."


Last week, as the United Nations General Assembly gathered for its 76th session, world leaders took turns in addressing the country representatives present. One stirring and provoking speech was delivered by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who has led the Caribbean island nation since 2018.

Breaking usual conventions at the UN, Prime Minister Mottley decided to veer away from her prepared speech and instead spoke off the cuff, reading from an iPhone in hand.

Mottley’s impassioned and inspiring remarks at the United Nations are so thought-provoking and worth listening, that excerpts of it deserve to be echoed through this column.

She began, “If I use the speech prepared for me to deliver today it would be a repetition, a repetition of what you have heard from others and also from me. Equally, how many more times will we then have a situation where we say the same thing over and over and over to come to naught? My friends, we cannot do that anymore.”

Then followed a litany of timely questions, “How many more variants of COVID-19 must arrive? How many more before a worldwide action plan for vaccinations will be implemented? How many more deaths must it take before 1.7 billion excess vaccines in the possession of the advanced countries of the world will be shared with those who simply have no access to vaccines.”

“How much more fake news will we allow to be spread without states defending the public digital space? We’ve come together with alacrity to defend the right of states to tax across the digital space but we are not prepared to come together with the same alacrity to defend the rights of our citizens to be duped by fake news in the same digital space.”

“And how many more surges must there be before we ask when the world will take action, that none is safe until all are safe?”

“How much more global temperature rise must there be before we end the burning of fossil fuels? And how much more must sea levels climb in small island developing states before those who profited from the stockpiling of greenhouse gases contribute to the loss and damage that they occasioned rather than asking us to crowd out the fiscal space that we have for development to cure the damage caused by the greed of others? And how many more hurricanes must destroy, locusts devour and islands submerge before we recognize that a hundred billion dollars in adaptation is simply not even enough.”

“How many more crises must hit before we see an international system that stops dividing us and starts to lift us up? How many more times must people come to this podium and speak about the plight of the people of Cuba and Haiti and see very little being done to lift the floor of social development, to give those people the right to pursue legitimate ambitions? How many more crises and natural disasters before we see that all conventions of aid mean that assistance does not reach those who need it most and those who are most vulnerable?

“And how much wealthier must tech firms get? The top five tech firms have a market capitalization of 9.3 trillion I didn’t say billion, trillion dollars. How much wealthier must they get before we worry about the fact that so few of us have access to data and knowledge and that our children are being deprived of the tools that they need in order to be able to participate in online education?”

“The answer is that we have the means to give every child on this planet a tablet and we have the means to give every adult a vaccine and we have the means to invest in protecting the most vulnerable on our planet from a change in climate but we choose not to. It is not because we do not have enough it is because we do not have the will to distribute that which we have and it is also because regrettably the faceless few do not fear the consequences sufficiently.”

“This age dangerously resembles that of a century ago a time when we were on the eve of the Great Depression, on a time when we fought a similar pandemic and a time when fascism and populism and nationalism led to the decimation of populations through actions that are too horrendous for us to even contemplate. Our world knows not what it is gambling with and if we don’t control this fire it will burn us all down.”

“This is our reality. This is not science fiction.”

“In the words of Robert Nestor Marley, ‘Who will get up and stand up who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people? Who will stand up in the name of all those who have died during this awful pandemic, the millions who will stand up in the name of all those who have died because of the climate crisis or who will stand up for these small island developing states who need 1.5 degrees to survive.”

“Who will stand up not with a little token but with real progress? And who will stand up for all in our countries who remain and suffer the indignity of unemployment and underemployment and whose access to food is now compromised by increased food prices and increased transportation prices.

“It is not beyond us to solve this problem. If we can find the will to send people to the moon and solve male baldness, we can solve simple problems like letting our people eat at affordable prices.

“We have been told that democracy is what matters in our country and democracy is fundamentally an issue of the majority and numbers. But why don’t we count who stands up in here and why don’t we take a reckoning for the numbers in here.”

“This is 2021 with many countries that did not exist in 1945 who must face their people and answer the needs of their people who want to know what is the relevance of an international community that only comes and does not listen to each other that only talks and will not talk with each other. It is against this background that I say that our voices must be heard and our voices must matter.”

Topics: Jude Acidre , United Nations General Assembly , UN , Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley , Caribbean island
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