15 DECEMBER 2011


About six years ago, the whereabouts of a Mercedes initially spotted at a Geneva auto fair become a main story at a press briefing. Mishandling by the Spokesman's Office at the time -- and whoever was behind it -- placed Secretary General Kofi Annan in a seemingly awkward position when it could have been handled swiftly and clearly.

In brief, the Mercedes was bought by an undisclosed party, shipped to Africa under the personal name of the Secretary General while its actual location was unaccounted for. A persistent insinuation that a Swiss-based company had presented it to Mr. Annan's son circled regularly at briefings, although in Ghanaian it is obvious that Kojo means Thursday while Kofi is Friday. It got to the point where the Secretary General asked playfully at a Correspondent's dinner in December 2005: "How many light bulbs would it take for a journalist to change the subject?" One friendly response was: "How many light bulbs would it take for a Spokesman to give a clear answer -- and move on?"

We covered the incident in December 2005; an excerpt follows:

"After going through an $80 billion affair, why would a $40,000 car be so difficult to handle? Why make it look like a tug of war between the media and the Spokesman's Office when both should be working together to have better, healthier press coverage?

"Why should the U.N. Secretary General be dragged along for so long in this farcical absurd story of the Mercedes bought in Geneva -- whether as a present or otherwise -- and shipped to Accra, Ghana? When a legitimate journalistic question was asked; a legitimate convincing answer should have been provided. That's it. Instead, for two months now, questions are being asked regularly with the same kind of response -- which normally provokes further questions. "What about the Mercedes" has become a standard joke at the daily briefing."

(If interested in more, please see www.unforum.com headlines of 15 December 2005.)

What is the occasion of raising the question in December 2011?

Because the real "Mercedes Man" managed to stay -- with a promotion! -- at the U.N. and will be leaving only next year; his name was among those recently announced by the Chef de Cabinet to be replaced for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's second term.

Just before Kofi Annan's term expired in 2006, he signed an unusually long-term appointment plus promotion. Abdoulie Janneh, the (UNDP) Resident Co-ordinator in Accra who had handled the Mercedes on the ground, among other matters, was designated as the new Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa. His move to Addis Ababa, entailing a rise to Under-Secretary General level, pre-empted any consideration by the incoming Secretary General for anyone else for that post for at least three to four years -- practically the first term.

Now that Mr. Janneh will be leaving, it is not clear whether he will return to his native Gambia, make a nostalgic return to Accra, or head to Geneva where good old friends including a loyal compatriot would offer him a warm generous welcome.

Knock, Knock, Who's there?
Nobody cares.