15 April 2006

Anyone observing that jolly dinner crowd would not have guessed that the wining and dining was to raise awareness on demining. For $500 per head, it looked more like an intimate celebration than a solemn remembrance of 20,000 people killed per year. Yet here they were, at U.N. Headquarters, graced by the U.N. Secretary General, co-sponsored by the U.N. Association of the United States to mark the first International Day for Land Mine Awareness. Most of the tables were subsidized. Many of the guests, if not most, had not paid personally. And, most likely many, if again not most of them, had not experienced the vicinity of a real land mine. No disrespect intended, but the lethal risk of a land mine is that its victim is never aware of its presence. It is planted precisely to surprise or trap to maim or kill. All the victims were certainly aware of the risks. Anyone with any level of literacy in a conflict zone knows full well what a land mine can do. It is those who plant them that need to be made aware of the fatal consequences. Jolly dinners amongst jolly friends scratching each other's back while exchanging superlative compliments will not do. Perhaps clear courageous political stands confronting autocratic as well as democratic powers could help. Otherwise, "awareness" could be merely a public relations exercise in a 4th floor dining room overlooking the East River.

That must be obvious to such a crowd of obviously intelligent individuals, some of whom have taken most of us for more than one ride around the universe.

Perhaps the real purpose was not the officially announced one. "Dining for Demining" as our Reuters' colleague Evelyn Leopold put it, was in fact a welcome opportunity these days to invoke the blessings of old Dr. Feelgood. How else could one interpret the upbeat assurances of our usually cautious Secretary General that "a world without land mines appears achievable in years not decades!" The implementation, of course, should be left to his successor. On such occasions who could do better than actor Michael Douglas? To those who were puzzled why the actor who has mostly depicted "greed, connivance and mean" could be a U.N. special envoy, the answer came as joyous and bubbly as the occasion. Presenting Mr. Annan with some kind of a reward, Wall Street's Mr. Gekko (Greed is Good!) announced: "Tens of thousands of lives have been saved and millions more improved as a result of the decision and commitment of this man and the institution that he leads."

Applause was exchanged all round, particularly by that woman who believes she runs the U.N. through the Turner Fund. She always could be counted on for two to three financially sponsored tables to get the event going.

The Scheherazade of "A Night of a Thousand Dinners," as the venture is labeled, was African singer Angelique. She hails from Ghana's neighbourly country, Benin. Kidjo, yes Kidjo, was her second name. Real Feelgood.