1 JULY 2013


The former head of U.N. Human Resources Management knows the rules and regulations. International Civil Servants do not accept awards from governments of member states. To his credit, Kofi Annan made a special effort to stick to that position when he was Secretary General, sometimes discreetly hinting at the vulnerability of some of his predecessors in that regard.

For some reasons known best to him, Mr. Annan recently decided to accept a medal from the government of France, the only Permanent Member that initially vetoed his candidature and -- to lift it -- he made the continuing deal to give his job at the time as head of Peacekeeping to a French official.

The puzzle was not why he now accepted what he had averted for decades, but why the reward itself was not "a la hauteur" of a former Secretary General, like those given to others before him. "Officier," certainly a highly regarded title, is habitually offered -- for example -- to a head of mission upon completion of duty in France, or an ambassador.

Other recipients of the award included film producer Francis Ford Coppola (of The Godfather's fame) or Hercule Corbineau (don't know him!) or Catherine Brechignac (don't know her either!). U.N. staffers include Ms. Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, former Assistant Secretary General at UNDP in charge of the Arab region. There are higher categories. The highest is "Grand Chanceliers Legion d'honneur;" then "Grand Croix;" "Grand Officers" (Pablo Casals, Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil, former Prime Minister Édouard Balladur, Alain Juppe, Laurent Fabius, Jean-Claude Killy); "Commandeurs" (Placido Domingo, Jacques Diouf former FAO head, actress/singer Marlene Dietrich, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, former U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, singer Charles Aznavour, Make My Day actor Clint Eastwood, Shirin Ebadi, Lebanese former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, Jean Cocteau and, if you wish, Stanislaw Grzmot-Skotnicki!); then "Officiers." Annan's award was either Officier or at best Grand Officier, depending on who you listen to, as no communique was issued.

Another puzzle had to do with media coverage. For a former "diplomatic Rock Star," it was very atypical to refuse any presence of reporters or any photographs to be taken. Also, official attendance was restricted. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius; Ambassador Alain Dejammet, who as Security Council member elected Mr. Annan and one of the most distinguished French diplomats; Ambassador Jean-Bernard Merimee, who had particularly friendly relations with the former Secretary General and was taken to court in France on the Food-for-Oil case; were on the French side.

Intriguingly, on Mr. Annan's side, there was also a "representative" of Sudanese/U.K. businessman Mo (Mohammed) Ibrahim, who enjoys pontificating about indexes against poverty from his villa in Monte Carlo. Our former Diplomatic Rock Star initially chaired Mo's select committee to grant one million dollars to an outgoing African president who had an impressive record of Good Governance; review gatherings were held in such hardship spots like the Seychelles Islands with "sister" Angelique leading the faithful in Chez Mamma, Chez Mamma Africa, "Were, Were Style." A participant told us that when the award was not given to a certain head of state, Mr.Annan stopped participating. Extending an invitation now to Mo who clearly could not make it from the Nice airport indicates a new merger of interests.

With Mr. Annan was his apparent funds handler Michael Moller of Denmark, former holder of a precious list of companies once blacklisted during South Africa's Apartheid regime then mysteriously brought in from the heat, and trusted aide in Geneva (Rue du Rhone and above), particularly in handling a swiftly dispersed million dollar fund on the Greening of Africa. (But there are pending questions for eventual follow-up.) And, not to be overlooked, Ms. Afsane Bassir-Pour, a long-time close associate of the "Annan team" during his tenure, for whom an official job requirement was specially changed to arrange for appointing her as head of the U.N. "regional" Information Office in Brussels. If "pour la forme" a U.N. representative was required, what about the most senior U.N. official residing in France, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Was she invited? Another noted absence is that of the longest-serving French colleague of Mr. Annan: Elizabeth Lindenmeyer, who had worked with him in OHRM, Peacekeeping, and Deputy Chef de Cabinet. Also, if a hint to collaborators in France was appropriate, was the Director of UNIC, Paris (before Annan closed it) Ambassador Hassen Fodha invited?

We don't know for certain. But then you never know with the "new and renewable" Kofi Annan.