15 JULY 2010


On 1 July, the Secretary General reportedly "congratulated" Somalia on 50 years of independence. That same day in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, an explosion rocked a lectern in the Presidential Palace from which the President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Sharif was supposed to address the Somali people from his isolated mountain perch. It was obviously an inside job. The lectern had just been placed inside the garden only a few hours before. The Presidential guards had been unhappy for not getting paid while politicians pocket whatever "assistance" the "transitional" government gets. That same day, there were several military confrontations in the streets, at least 10 children died. Generally, as we keep repeating, according to U.N. figures, 1.4 million Somalis are displaced in their own country; 200,000 since the beginning of this year alone, in addition to 580,000 spread as refugees in neighbouring countries. The U.N.'s recent role there has been marked with divisiveness and tragic loss. What is the U.N. Secretary General congratulating the Somalis about? An Arab saying advises someone caught in an awkward embarrassment to avoid bragging about it. Don't draw attention. Just lay low. Why did Secretary General Ban volunteer an almost farcical statement?

Another recent example is about Millennium Development Goals in Africa. Mr. Ban, who was visiting Gabon told its National Assembly that he was visiting the continent because he wanted to see for himself "the enormous strides that all Africa is making." Particularly, he added, that Gabon "was showing the world that the Millennium Development Goals were within their reach."!

Being courteous, polite and diplomatic is understood. Overdoing almost a farcical violation of common sense is not advisable to the credibility of someone in the distinguished position of U.N. Secretary General.

It is common knowledge that Gabon, a two-year Security Council member and an oil-rich country, was run single-handedly by Omar Bongo for forty years, sustained by French paratroopers (like Chad, Djibouti, Niger, etc.), and was replaced by his son Ali who had just bought a $100 million pied-a-terre in Paris. Its people do not share any of the revenue. That is a general impression. But what should have prodded our esteemed Secretary General to be more careful in his overblown statement is that U.N. figures, again, indicate that about 10 MILLION people in that region of Africa alone are threatened with STARVATION. The MDG called for cutting poverty in half in the year 2015. Now in 2010, there are no enormous strides. Poverty in some parts of Africa is turning into Starvation. And Gabon is not showing the world anything about the MDG except that they are far, too far from being reached. In fact, Mr. Ban Ki-moon himself in a sober assessment only two weeks earlier indicated, in accepted diplomatic lingo, that the Goals were delayed enough for him to set up an action group to help advance them further or present them better when the General Assembly meets to review them in September.

Beyond common sense, the Secretary General may have aimed to flatter the head of the African Union, a former Foreign Minister of Gabon and General Assembly President, who will perhaps influence African attitude towards Mr. Ban's interest in a renewed term next year. But surely there are other ways of keeping Mr. Ping happy.

It is puzzling why the Secretary General keeps volunteering statements which do not reflect the serious and earnest effort to regain the U.N. role and credibility. Again, it's already too hot in July. Easy on the hot air. It's unhealthy.