1 September 2003

Who is Francis M. Deng? Is the middle initial significant? Where would the internally displaced find him in case of need? What can he do for them? What would a day in his life look like? Would an enterprising reporter care to find out? He is not yet a "diplomatic rock star," but who knows? He may turn out to have a "regal demeanour" if appropriately discovered. Is "Internally Displaced Persons" -- as obligingly capitalized -- an organization? A conglomerate? A party? Is it a particular group, distinct from those millions dispersed in Bosnia, Rowanda, Somalia, Liberia, and Congo, under the watchful gaze of similarly mysterious special representatives. Forget, of course, about the Middle East where the Secretary General himself has been internally misplaced between shifting roadmaps and overlooked U.N. resolutions.

Those looking for anything the U.N. was doing to deal with the tragedy in Liberia found, along with several "discreet" yet "undecided" initiatives, may have found a bold statement by Mr. Deng, noting what the world had been saying for weeks about looting, rape and harassment of civilians by ? of all sides. What was he doing about it? "Of course," the statement said, "the responsibility rests first and foremost with their government." Hello Deng. If their government was in shape, there will be no problem. "However," Deng adds wistfully, "when a government is unable to do so the international community often acting in partnership with regional actors can and should be called upon to play a role." Well then, was he an actor? What role would he play? There is where the buck doesn't stop. He "reiterates the Secretary General's call on parties concerned..." As is protecting internally placed persons, he dodges on "is a responsibility that ECOWAS forces importantly have assumed in the region in the past" -- meaning don't look at me! -- adding carefully that "was" not always done with full respect for human rights or humane standards" -- why, then, didn't he say something about it -- at the time.

Typically, this pontification was not made from the agonised African region, but from the safety of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This surrealistic case is highlighted because it is typical of over eighty honorific envoys (eighteen in Africa alone) designated by Kofi Annan for various considerations since he took over as Secretary General.

If Francis M. Deng or anyone else at the U.N. for that matter is not in a position to provide real help for that destitute African people, the least they could do is respectful silence.