15 October 2004

If those repeatedly bringing out the case of Kojo Annan seek to embarrass the U.N., as is claimed, then those around the Secretary General are playing into their hands. Regrettably, the Secretary General's office hardly responded when the Organization was being savaged, not only on Food-for-Oil but on so many other issues. In fact, some were keeping a distance, insinuating their tacit approval. Except for an appropriate letter from the head of the Department of Public Information, hardly any effort was made. But when Kojo Annan was mentioned, the "Janjawid team" sprung to action. Those repetitive and ponderous letters by Mortimer were counterproductive -- they only invited more attacks and further investigation. The main point made in defence of the Secretary General's son was that he was already out of Cotecna's employment when its lucrative contract was signed. However, a factual article by prizewinning reporter Steve Stecklow in the Wall Street Journal proved that Kojo remained on a retainer by Cotecna a year after the contract. Stecklow is not out to destroy the U.N., nor is he a part of a "right wing cabal." He is an established professional who won an award by the U.N. Correspondent's Association for his distinguished coverage of Food-for-Oil. Instead of exploring the best way to protect the U.N. image and deal with uncontested facts, the response went again into an almost laughable defense."The only new information is that Kojo Annan had been on a retainer by Cotecna through 1999," was the official pronouncement. Well, that was enough admission that all previous defense claims were wrong. The other claim that young Kojo was paid to ensure that he did not compete with his "former" employer sounded pathetically feeble. So is the statement that neither the Committee Chairman nor the procurement officer had any knowledge that Kojo had any link with Cotecna -- although his name was listed. That, we were told, were the findings of USG Joseph Connor when he looked into the matter in early 1999. Any "lingering doubts" will be looked at by the Annan-appointed "Independent Inquiry Committee" headed by Mr. Volcker (maybe later -- like next year). The Kojo item is not new. It has been running through the mill ever since British Lloyd's felt deprived of billion dollars contracts. A brief yet visible front page item in the Sunday Telegraph at the time drew some attention; immediately afterwards, its publisher, now ousted Conrad Black, was invited to address a half-baked media gathering at U.N. headquarters. But almost everyone in Geneva, London, New York and Lagos kept discreet silence out of courtesy to the usually thoughtful -- and naturally loving -- father.

When Kojo's item came up again earlier this year, Edward Mortimer, signing his official title as "Director of Communications, Office of the Secretary General," in a letter to the N.Y. Times dated 22 March took upon himself to explain that the Committee of Contracts awarded Cotecna "in full compliance with U.N. financial rules and regulations" stressing that no one was aware of a connection with the Secretary General's Kofi Annan's son, Kojo, a former Cotecna employee "who remained a consultant to the company until early December 1998." Now it is uncontested that Kojo continued to be paid by Cotecna whatever the reason or pretext.

Many questions could -- and clearly will -- be raised. But that is not the main point here. The basic question is WHY INVOLVE THE U.N. CREDIBILITY IN A BUNGLED DEFENCE OF BUSINESS DEALINGS BY A NON-U.N.-OFFICIAL?!

Kojo Annan is a free man above the age of consent. Despite human bondage between father and son, Kojo runs his own life while his father is extremely busy handling international affairs.

Times are bad enough for the U.N. The last thing the Office of the Secretary General should do is add to the confusion between the Secretary General and his business dealing son. It further harms the U.N. image by deepening the perception that they are one and the same. Yet, even in Ghana, Kojo means Thursday. Kofi is Friday!