15 September 2007

Admittedly, we have to adapt to a new culture. But we wonder in what culture would you wish to compound one failure with another?

After announcing repeatedly that Darfur was a priority, the new Secretary General proceeded to prove how serious he was about it. From day one, he went straight to Saudi Arabia to gain Arab pressure on the Sudan government; he met and gently yet firmly nudged President Bashir into almost agreement to a hybrid U.N./African force and he contacted neighbouring countries with vested interests and historical involvement like Chad, Libya, and Kenya. He did the right thing by making a field visit which gave him a sense of the violent atmosphere and entangled groupings complicating potential proposals for a peaceful outcome. "I have never put much stock in grand rhetoric, dreams of the future, 'visions' that promise more than can be delivered," he told those assembled in Khartoum's Friendship Hall. "I am a realist, a man of action," he explained; "I believe in results."

It must have been such a practical attitude that drove him to accommodate the regional governor of Darfur who refused to hold a substantive meeting at the airport, insisting on moving it to his governmental office -- to gain international recognition; the same flexibility that allowed him to handle protesters upset because his NGO meeting was limited to three. He applied the same persuasive tactics during a working dinner with President Bashir to lift the ban on noted activist Darfurian Suleiman Jamus, a move "that" will create an atmosphere conducive to peace negotiations," and recognized the value of a conciliatory move to visit Silva Kiir in the South. He urged everyone to express their views not outside the framework but at the negotiating table.

In brief, Ban Ki-Moon seemed to be doing extremely well, indeed edging towards "results" until out of the blue he announced the designation of Ashraf Qazi as his Special Representative in Sudan.

In a conflict-torn area where over 2 million were already displaced and 200,000 dead, they take these things very seriously. They are very poor and helpless. But they are not stupid. Why saddle them with a proven failure in another war-torn country if you really sought to help them? Why give the Sudanese government one more person to toy around with; they already have Jan Eliasson whom they have been taking round in circles for the last eight months!

Such an appointment takes away from the serious credibility of the Secretary General. Most of the parties on the ground had tolerated the self-important yet clueless Eliasson out of deference to the Secretary General with whom they would honestly wish to establish meaningful, fruitful relations. Perhaps Ban Ki-Moon had to designate a former president of the General Assembly and Foreign Minister of Sweden after he felt very despondent after losing both jobs. At least Eliasson could obtain an indication about political winds in Brussels or Washington. But what does Qazi bring to the table? His salary alone would feed a whole refugee camp in Darfur!

There is already a U.N. team on the ground headed by a very experienced dedicated and very well-informed Acting representative. Taye Zerihoun had worked his hard way up the ladder in Special Political Affairs. We have not seen him or heard from him in years. But we know that he held the local and international team together during the most difficult period. Why not offer him the courtesy of allowing him to do his work uninterrupted?

Mr. Ban's personal leadership is needed on Darfur. He will have to maintain the momentum -- personally; repeat, personally -- and directly. Otherwise the tricky situation might inadvertently slip out of hand. It will be a great pity if a potential success turns into a tragic failure.

One of the shortcomings of Kofi Annan's tenure was his agreement to appoint Special Representatives for political expediency -- to please an influential government or a persistent former official rather than to solve a festering problem. We know that Mr. Ban has announced as his motto "Continuity With Change." We very much hope that he does not fall for unhelpful advice that would turn it into Continuity With Farce.