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MARK MALLOCH-BROWN TAKES CHARGE. ANY QUESTIONS?

15 January 2005

Yes. But maybe later. For now, we have to see if special emergencies require emergency measures. We know, for example, that the newly-designated Chef de Cabinet is -- exceptionally -- from one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Actually, he had served in the international field for so long that, except for his Oxbridge manner of speech, it would be hard to nail him down to the United Kingdom. When he served as Vice President at the World Bank, some thought he was more of a Washingtonian. Word is he was actually born in Africa -- current day Zimbabwe, to be exact. Old hands who know him in the initial New York days as a special assistant to the remarkable Jay Long attest to his early capacity to connect, understand, and cut through red tape. Those who dealt with him in varied tasks found an impressive blend of management, policy, and communication skills. So, the question on nationality could await practical delivery. That is, for now. Even Mark Malloch-Brown may not -- in his heart -- feel that Chef de Cabinet is his ideal posting. He has his own presence. Were it not for his loyalty to Kofi Annan, he would be calling his new assignment another name. It is unlikely for him to cling to a desk in a "Cabinet" ensuring the flow of incoming and outgoing stuff. More likely he will be ensuring that adequate action is taken on policy issues, that a quick response is given to emerging questions and that substantive work is performed in an engaging manner. He is likely to pay more attention to the voice of the staff, whose neglect over the last five years led to an unprecedented demoralization. A talented communicator, he is likely to lend an obvious hand in addressing the media more frequently than in his UNDP post and certainly more openly that his aloof predecessor.

Another question raised was about holding two major posts at the same time. It certainly is an impossible situation considering the extensive demands on both posts, particularly now. Incidentally, a somewhat similar arrangement was made when Chef de Cabinet C.V. Narasimhan also took over as Deputy Administrator of UNDP. Some of us were entertained by the kind of memos our remarkable Indian Guru used to exchange with himself. One C.V. would applaud the other C.V. for "the creative initiative" or disagree with his "untimely approach." Surely, MM-B will have little time for memo exchange. But he will have a pile of memos to handle.

Subtle, swiftly, and effectively, Mark Malloch-Brown will be taking over. If you have any questions, he is likely to respond in "an open and forthcoming manner" as he would say. You may agree or disagree. Dialogue, at least, has become an option. However, there is only one Secretary General at a time. It is up to him to determine the course of his concluding two years and the team with whom he feels most comfortable. Assistants can only assist. Friends can only try to advise. Opportunists could naturally continue to exploit vulnerable points to promote themselves. More "secret" meetings could be held in private homes and leaked to the media as desired. And more official gatherings could be staged for public consumption. Supporters and opponents will keep trying to win the day. In the end, it is Kofi Annan who determines what kind of Kofi Annan we will get.