1 August 2004

Here they were, ready to show that the Secretary General was taking a stand. A trip to Darfur was appropriately announced. The usual accomodators were asked to come along or send proxies. In an accountant's approach, the delegation contained a Western African, an Arab North African, another who wore African garb and outdated pilot sunglasses -- and, of course the imperturbable Fred Eckhard. The first stopover was in Doha, for a day of welcome hospitality by the progressive ruler Qatar. It may have been also an opportunity to pick up a special plane to travel unfettered by limitations of commercial airlines. Qataris are excellent hosts -- correct, hospitable and unbearing. Naturally, Mr. Annan expressed to the local media his admiration for the "astonishing progress" achieved by the dynamic sheikh. In return, an Al-Jazeera late night programme devoted ten minutes to analyzing the meaning of Kofi Annan's visit to its host country. When the invited editor of a local paper, a Lebanese expatriate, did not provide much substance, the helpful interviewer gently listed various options: like Qatar's role as a mediator on the Sudan issue, the active status of the swiftly developing Emirates; maybe even something to do with the Arab Israeli conflict. The editor nodded obligingly, turning his lower lip in a Beiruti expression of giving up.

The flap over the scheduled Sudan visit was reported as extensively as it had been prepared. It was supposed to avert brewing criticism of the U.N. and perceived inaction by prominent African Secretary General. U.S. Secretary Powell who arrived around the same time got the right headlines and seemed to say the right things. Even when they changed camps on him, he swiftly noted that to the press, stressing that what mattered was putting Sudanese officials on serious notice. But when Kofi Annan arrived to visit a pre-destined camp -- accompanied by eager reporters and cameramen, the camp had been moved. According to Jan Egeland, its inhabitants were forcibly dumped elsewhere the night before -- that is after a U.N. advance team had double checked its suitability for an appropriate visit. A Sudanese official made lame excuses. Maintaining his composure, though hiding his undoubted anger behind hip sunglasses, Annan proclaimed that they were "sorting things out." Swiftly, another photo opportunity was offered in a nearby camp. Frustrated cameraman were given ample time to depict an earnest Secretary General as he sat down with a number of destitute displaced women. A descendant of noble traveled chiefs, Annan is a natural for such a gathering. With the compelling media as witnesses, Annan assured the concerned women that "no one will move you out of here against your will." The women praised Allah. They must have sensed instinctively that they could trust only in Him.