15 May 2006

"Friends of Kofi," dubbed "FOK" for ease of reference, huddled on an April weekend in a Long Island manor. Their purpose was to assess Mr. Annan's legacy. A blend of old and new, acquired and required, entrusted each other with that challenging task. The man himself would only visit. He inspires. The "team" conspires.

Surely, many more would have joined had they known in time. Word from across the Atlantic was that Ali Baba, the Rolex Man, had wished to fly in. But then he may have been assured that there were already forty capable hands with proven experience. Our dear Therese would have just loved to come over with loads of her unique incense, burned or sprayed to lend a Francophone flavour. But, alas, she had since retired; and her FOK days are over. The discreet Godfather did not come down from the North. He only handles the big picture; plus, he has a slight handicap these days in downtown New York. However, the original "hit duo" was there, nostalgic of the days when leaking to undercut others went unchecked and purposely shredding went unreported. During those cherished old days of the first term, a good ambush was truly rewarded. Leaving no fingerprints was an appreciated art. "Leaving no stone unturned" was just a refrain in a letter to the editor. Now one has to be careful, very careful. While the usual accommodators are still around, you have a few reporters who haunt the corridors. They actually report. Then you have those delegates who suddenly woke up. The group of 77 and China, for God's sake. That Ambassador from South Africa doesn't understand the power structure. He certainly is no modernist. Subtle complaints about him to Washington didn't work. A visit to his capital and a dutiful pilgrimage to Mandela did not pay off. The required sealed package of Reform was signed and forwarded but not delivered. It was voted down in the Fifth and Plenary. Eliasson was pissed off. That package was his ticket and we were all getting on that train. Instead, it looks awkward that the only Secretary General from Southern Africa is stopped in his tracks by the Ambassador of South Africa. A U.N. chief coming from the developing world is challenged by the whole group of developing countries. And the first one to rise from the ranks faces an unprecedented lack of confidence from his staff. He is in a public dispute with several African leaders, notably Presidents Obesanjo of Nigeria, Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Gbagbo of Cote d'Ivoire, let alone President Kagame of Rwanda, Afwerki of Eritrea and other less vocal "brothers." African newspapers openly question his commitment to Africa; even his independence. It is unfair. Truly unfair. But true. "Pour qui roule Kofi Annan" is not limited to a headline in a widely circulating African publication. Never have the interests of Africa been neglected at the U.N. then under Kofi Annan, claims its editor Blaise-Pascal Talla, who goes further in concluding that big powers wanted someone who loyally executes received instructions. That is why in 1997 Kofi Annan "came out of obscurity to take the post of U.N. Secretary General. Contrary to Kofi Annan, there will be nothing in the history books of Africa of a similar story of educated Africans who chose to betray their continent for a mediocre personal career."

Painful stuff. But then those busy with the "legacy" story seemed to mind only what papers in New York, Washington, and London say. Even there, the $500,000 Dubai reward linked to a UNEP appointment did not help. The New York Post of 5 May, building on a piercing story by Claudia Rosett, concluded its editorial by saying: "Most scandalous, of course, is Annan's continued tenure as Secretary General; he's not slated to leave until year's end. Hardly soon enough for us."

While it isn't clear where the "legacy thing" led, developments went downhill ever since that secretive weekend. It was immediately followed by the bungled handling of the Dubai $500,000 prize which zig-zagged between Teophler Steiner, Ghana and Darfur; the "Reform Divide" where the Group of 77 (over 120 countries) challenged proposals received under Mr. Annan's signature. He seemed overtaken by other players in the Middle East Quartet and almost paralyzed on the nuclear issue with Iran. By 11 May, he was ready to leave New York, not to return before Memorial Day weekend. This time to Asia.

On the bright side, Mr. Annan has just strengthened his Italian flank. Preempting Prime Minister Prodi, he has secured the favour of Antonio Maria Costa whose capacities in Tuscany are hardly negligible. To strengthen his hand further, he just plucked Stephane Demistura from an obscure posting in the mission over Iraq (but not in Iraq) to an equally obscure yet particularly cushy job in Torino as head of a fictitious "U.N. Staff College." The Italian/Swede or Swedish/Italian (depending on the job in hand) knows a thing or two about Saddam Hussein's palaces during the 1998 visit that replenished the Food-For-Oil deal -- a real prerequisite for a real legacy.