Several African leaders addressed the UN General Assembly in New York Wednesday , including Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is a Pan-Africanist and deputy director for the UN Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi, Kenya. He told VOA that unlike the past, African leaders speaking at this year?s U.N. General Assembly meeting are pushing continental African issues.

?What is interesting to me is the fact that in the past, African leaders tended to come these meetings to be led, and what is emerging now is that they are actually bringing their own issues onto the agenda, and I think this is absolutely important. The speeches of President Thabo Mbeki (of South Africa) and President Yar?Adua (of Nigeria), both of which I listened to actually emphasized those. They talked about what they are doing but also within the wider context of African solutions to African problems and Africa?s contributions to global solutions, and I think that is the right way to go,? he said.

On the situation in Sudan?s Darfur region, Abdul-Raheem said Africa must remain united in its demand for President Omar al- Bashir of Sudan to respect the idea of a hybrid peacekeeping force.

?There is basic agreement that both the African Union and the United Nations need actually to be tougher with the government of Khartoum that it is simply not acceptable for a government to be condoning a massacre of its own citizens. I think all the agreements are in place. What is necessary is implementation, and I think in the spirit of genuine Pan-Africanism and in the spirit of global peace and security that both the African Union and UN exert pressure and expedite the implementation of having this hybrid force on the ground to protect civilians against these killers,? Abdul-Raheem said.

 He said there is an African consensus about the need to reform not only the United Nations but also other international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

?Really for the UN to have continued relevance and credibility and legitimacy with peoples of the world, it must be reformed. A situation where five member states will the veto can hold the rest of us for ransom is simply not acceptable,? he said.

President Bush on Tuesday extended by one year sanctions against Zimbabwe government officials, including President Robert Mugabe for undermining democracy in that country.

Abdul-Raheem said change in Zimbabwe cannot be imposed by the West. Instead he said the Zimbabweans must decide for themselves.

?This idea that Western countries can somehow decide for us where to have democracy weakens the argument for democracy, and in the specific case of Zimbabwe unfortunately, I am of the view that the more these people posture on Zimbabwe, the less they are giving room for Africans to actually help this problem in Zimbabwe, and they are giving more ammunition to President Mugabe who regards anybody who questions the excesses of the regime as agents of the West,? he said.

Abdul-Raheem agreed that there is a problem in Zimbabwe the fact that President Mugabe has held on to power for nearly three decades. But he said it is not the West that can bring about change in Zimbabwe.

?It is not (President) Bush that will bring change to Zimbabwe. That change has to come from within, and I think the mediation role that is being played through SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) anchored by South Africa, should be given some chance, because at the end of the day, whether it is ZANU-PF, whether it is MDC, whether it is non-ZANU-PF, non-MDC, peace would all Zimbabweans, and they will still have to live in the same country,? Abdul-Raheem said.