Accomplished diplomat and academician is Lynn’s newest scholar-in-residence

Former Under-Secretary General has thoughts on the UN’s future and international conflict

Published Sep. 10, 2013


Lynn University’s new scholar-in-residence, Ibrahim Gambari, is a retired United Nations (UN) official. While at the UN, Gambari oversaw the organization’s operations in Darfur and represented its interest in numerous other hotspots for more than a decade including South Sudan, Myanmar, South Africa, Cyprus and Angola.

Gambari has a unique perspective on current international conflicts, the recent accomplishments in Darfur and thoughts about the current and future role of the UN in global affairs. He will be teaching and studying within Lynn's College of Arts and Sciences for the fall 2013 and fall 2014 semesters.

Gambari and the UN

Gambari joined the UN in 1990 as an Ambassador from Nigeria (Africa’s most populous nation)—the longest serving in his home country’s history. He also took on many other roles at the UN. As Chairman of the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid he coordinated international efforts to end the official policy of racial discrimination in South Africa. He also served as head of the United Nations Mission in Angola where he supervised the ending of the long and destructive war in that country.

Gambari’s work gained the attention of then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who, in 1999, appointed him to the role of Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on African Affairs. In 2005, he was “given an offer I could not refuse” and was named the Under-Secretary General of the UN for the Department of Political Affairs by Annan. 

“As far as I know, I am the only person from a developing country to hold this high of a position at the United Nations,” Gambari said. “It is usually reserved for diplomats from the major powers.”

He was also appointed as the Special Advisor on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues and in 2010 was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon as the Chairperson of the African Union Commission as Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur. This role put him in charge of the largest UN peacekeeping mission in the organization’s history, involving 30,000 people, including 16,000 troops and 6,000 police. 

Gambari feels that by bringing together the various interests of the UN, the African Union and the Arab League, the effort has made real progress. He cites real improvements such as the decrease in number of killings and increase in the number of people returning home from the refugee camps. However, more work remains to be done. He points out that not all the factions fighting have signed the peace agreement, security could still improve, many of the refugees still need access to good housing, education and healthcare—and none of this is possible without sustained economic development in the region.

the Crisis in Syria

Although Gambari emphasizes that he is now a private citizen and his opinions should be taken as such, he does have thoughts about the current crisis in Syria.

"Ultimately, when the Security Council acts together,  the chances of resolving a conflict is enhanced and the cost to the individual countries is much less because they are sharing the cost and responsibility," he said. "When that does not happen as now, it becomes a problem because whoever goes in alone or with a few allies will bear the risk and cost alone.”

Despite the risk of action, Gambari also points out that doing nothing is not an option either because if Syria did use chemical weapons, the international community is obliged to act. He said, “there are no really good choices” but there should be renewed regional and international efforts toward a political settlement of the conflict in Syria.

The UN and its future

Gambari feels that the world’s problems, including terrorism, global warming and international criminal organizations, are transnational and complicated and the world needs to work together to find solutions.

“Issues that seem to be in one country, take on regional dimensions. The UN is indispensable if you hope to solve these problems,” Gambari said. “If the UN does not exist, it has to be invented because no single country, however big, however rich, however powerful, can resolve the world’s problems alone."

Gambari also feels the United Nations needs to be reformed if it hopes to maintain a relevant role in world affairs. For one, the Security Council’s permanent membership is based on the powers that were victorious in World War II, but this does not reflect evolving power shifts and regions of growing importance. For example, Ibrahim points out that India, the world’s second most populous country, does not have a permanent seat on the council. Additionally, Germany and Japan are now major economic powers with global interests and good world citizens, but they are still not admitted. He also points to his home content of Africa. It has 53 members in the UN but not a single permanent seat on the Security Council.

"The membership of the Security Council has to be changed so that new, important powers have a sense of belonging and a stake in the decisions being made,” Gambari said. “This will go a long way to ensuring the decisions are more legitimate in the eyes of the world.”

More on Ibrahim Gambari

Professor Ibrahim Gambari's roles have given him educated and unique behind-the-scene perspectives on international conflict resolution, peacekeeping, economic development and a myriad of other international issues. As an academic and trained diplomat, Gambari can discuss the art of diplomacy from the viewpoint of both an academician and practitioner. 

Gambari is an expert source on: 

  • current geopolitical situations and the United Nations' role in finding resolutions
  • regional issues including the situations in Darfur, Iraq, the “Arab Spring” and Myanmar 
  • global issues such as global climate change and economic development
  • the various UN agencies such as UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other global institutions that are active around the world
  • the important role the United States has in international issues