15 December 2004


On the face of it, the U.N. Correspondents dinner was all fun and pun. But at one point, it tipped on a nervous edge. Secretary General Kofi Annan was certainly trying to quip something about widening calls for his resignation. However, when he said with a deadpan: "Tonight I have resigned myself...to have a good time," there was no amused laughter; only puzzled silence. In a noisy atmosphere, many had missed the rest of the sentence. Some reporters briefly thought they had a scoop. Obviously, the matter had gone beyond an evening's joke. Knock Knock. Who's There?


Iqbal Riza broke out -- or broke down -- at a closed meeting, announcing he was "seething" because of widespread reports about his son's recruitment. He went into a rant about a forum (TV, Website, appetite, etc.) badmouthing someone -- not present -- who had known him since a 1980 incident at Teheran airport and through another investigation in the eighties. Particularly at this sad period for the Organization, it may be about time for the Secretary General to administer to his dour looking Chef de Cabinet the Schopenhauer maneuver. The pensive German who turned pessimism into a philosophical school of thought -- was so gloomy that his own mother eventually pleaded with him to refrain from joining her dinner gatherings out of regard for the guests.


An end of November meeting between Secretary General Annan and his close friend Richard Holbrooke was supposed to be private. It was not listed in the daily schedule which indicates that all unlisted meetings are internal. However, it was inadvertently broadcast on National Public Radio. During an interview about the current predictament relating to Food for Oil, staff complaints, and sexual harassment cases, Ed Luck was responding quite favourably to professional queries as the announcer promised listeners that former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under the Clinton administration and main foreign policy advisor to Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry will be next. At about 11:00AM, however, it was announced that the interview will have to be postponed. An aide had called to say that a meeting between Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Annan ran beyond its expected duration. In his stead, Luck agreed to soldier on for 30 minutes more.


When in real trouble, count on Reykjavik. Mainstream papers around the world were reporting a suggestion by a key U.S. congressman for Secretary General Kofi Annan to resign. New York papers like the Post and Observer wrote painful editorials demanding the same. Tribune de Geneve quoted someone saying that "gangerine was spreading" at the U.N. where "justice is now a joke." The usually supportive El Pais of Spain was predicting that Annan's mandate will be an uphill one. News agencies reported some sort of a rebellion by staff representatives. In the midst of all this predicament came word of good cheer from "Frettebladid" of Iceland. It asserted that while staff committee resolution condemned corruption among senior officials, the fact that Kofi Annan was not mentioned by name was "a partial victory" for him.


It seems our few infamous senior U.N. appointees are not alone in scandalous corruption charges. They are having some tough competition from some senior Latino officials. This season alone, outgoing Panama President Mirega Morosco was stripped of her immunity over allegations that $70 million went unaccounted for. Guatemala outgoing president Alfonso Postillo is hiding in Mexico while his finance minister is in jail. Arnoldo Aleman, Nicaragua's presdient until three years is similarly handicapped. The record goes to Costa Rica where THREE former presidents are being questioned on corruption charges.


Chances for Thailand's foreign minister to run for the post of U.N. Secretary General have lost ground during the recent ASEAN Summit in Vientiene. Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia wanted to have a word with Thai Prime Minister millionaire Thakhsin Shinawatra about his government's heavy-handed treatment of moslem grievances. They were seriously concerned that mishandling of such complaints may spill over to their own borders. Thakhsin threatened to leave the meeting, creating public tension in a normally friendly club like gathering. His Foreign Minister seemed to evaporate into a shadow behind his boss.


People of Southern Sweden are reputed to be very clever. You wouldn't know it from an editorial in Sydsvenska Dagbladet (South Sweden Daily). In the midst of all these scandals of sexual harassment and exploitation among senior U.N. officials in N.Y. and Geneva reported by mainstream dailies around the world, the local paper in Malmo, the Southern regional capital asserted that Kofi Annan is furious about sexual harassment in...the Congo!


When the media reported that a member of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) was accused of soliciting a prostitute while a team was investigating sexual abuse in the Congo, a statement was issued denying that the embarrassing fellow was an investigator but confirming he was an auditor of OIOS residing in Kinshasa. Now we should start worrying not about propositioning prostitution by members of that office but about the money they are entrusted to audit.


"Forty-seven years ago, I married the girl of my dreams. And at this time of my life, what is most important to me is to spend more time with her. Because you know Sally, you will appreciate my reasons for wanting to go home." John Danforth, in his letter of resignation as U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N.


"Five reality checks for Democrats: Dump Kofi, Moore, Dopes" was the heading of a cleverly written satirical article by Tish Durkin in the New York Observer. Having voted for Kerry, Tish suggested putting down the hemlock and the Haagen-Daz, splash some water on your face and tell yourself some awful truths. "Read your lips. Bush is not an idiot. Kofi is not an oracle. Michael Moore is not Everyman. Women are not ovaries with feet. And to be an American is not an embarrassment." A main question posed is: "If George W. Bush is an idiot and he has beaten us twice, what does that make us?"


The long time Executive Secretary had kept to himself for so long that he was almost forgotten. That may have been good for K.Y. Amoako as he would have passed the usual ten year service for anyone at the Under Secretary General level. There were some staff problems in Addis Abebe which required help from friends at Headquarters, like sending a senior envoy to calm the waters after the local police was involved. Generally, special care was taken -- within appropriate bounds -- to ensure that the only senior compatriot of the Secretary General had a free hand. Now that there may be a mounting need for a move from Addis and possibly evolving pressure to keep a senior Ghanian within the system beyond 2006, there is talk about appointing Amoako to the top UNCTAD post. True, the general claim is for an Asian. But a claim could be made on the basis of overall representation among other senior posts. As candidates for UNCTAD were being interviewed in November, a short list was drawn. But nobody knows the score on this one but Kofi Annan. It is interesting, however, that Amoako wrote a prominently placed article in the Financial Times on 23 November entitled "World Trade Liberalisation Still Excludes Africa." Could the highly qualified former World Bank Ghanian be re-introducing himself with an eye on the Geneva job?


A note indicating that 12 November was "Eid Holiday" raised questions among some of the moslems whom the marking of that day was supposed to please. It was a reference to the end of the Ramadan month of fasting. First, the name is "Al-Fitr" day, not "Eid" which means holiday. You can't have a holiday holiday unless you were either confused, misinformed or overworked. Also, the day should have been celebrated on 14 not 12 November. Thus Monday the 15th should hae been the day off. But then a long weekend, by any other name, is a long weekend.


Anyone collecting interesting misdrafting examples would find one by the Office of the U.N. Spokesman under "No comment on reported death of Yassar Arafat." On Tuesday 9 November, one finds the following: "Asked about reports on the death of Yassar Arafat, the spokesman said that the United Nations had seen conflicting reports, and "the matter has not been confirmed TO ITS SATISFACTION." A day later, presumably "satisfied" at the PLO leader's death, a solemn statement was issued.


Actress and special envoy to help refugees Angelina Jolie said that she will be spending the Christmas holidays in Lebanon. No specific reason, she responded when asked by Jay Leno. She just heard about that intriguing place and -- curious as always -- wished to visit. Not a stranger to adventure, Ms. Jolie is a pilot and mother of an adopted Cambodian boy. If she thinks she's crazy about adventure, wait till she meets her hosts in Beirut.


It is a sensitive issue for any Greek. Alexander the Greek came from Macedonia, but Greek Macedonia -- they insist. With the split of Yugoslavia, a federated district of Macedonia was accepted at the U.N. on condition it will be called "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" -- FYROM for short. However, several influential countries want to take a shortcut. After a visit to Skopje, the top European official for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana said that "the country has a name; for the majority of the people here it is Macedonia." The U.S. government also adopted the same position. There were demonstrations in Athens, wary of potential territorial claims on its own Macedonia. Kofi Annan called in Greek Ambassador Vasilakos to find out what's it all about.


According to the Christian Science Monitor, a favourite spot for U.N. staff and peacekeepers in Kosovo is Pristina's "Masazh Bar." As its name indicates, it is a thinly veiled cover for prostitution. So here they are, unable to help the country recover while being busy at night soiling the once proud name of the U.N. There is a Balkan saying that if the leaders are drummers, everyone turns to dancing.


Ten years ago, it was a pipe dream for a handful of U.N. accredited reporters. It has been growing in number of participants ever since. Although this year's event on 3 December was delayed from the usual October date, it proved more popular than ever. The usual banter by Ian Williams, tough talk by Tony Jenkins, and dry humour by Richard Roth accompanied presentation of awards to deserving journalists and internationalists. The Secretary General, who was absent last year, presented awards to "men of the year" like Hans Blixt and Lakhdar Brahimi, while Nicole Kidman was represented by one of her directors. Tough female reporters like Maggie Farley of The Los Angeles Times, Evelyn Leopold of Reuters, Betsy Pisik of The Washington Times, and Raghida Dargham of Al-Hayat appeared in their most exquisite feminine touch. Algeria's Ambassador Abdalla Baali, rotating president of the Security Council brilliantly toasted the journalists without roasting them. And although several ambassadors were not entirely satisfied with their assigned seating, a great jolly time was had by all.


It is certainly a coincidence. But the designation of Condoleezza Rice as U.S. Secretary of State happens at the commemoration of the "International Year of Rice." While those in New York hardly paid any attention, our alert friends in Geneva celebrated in more than one way. Indeed, they produced a Rice Cookbook entitled: "Rice: Around the World in 300 Recipes." An introduction was obligingly provided by Nane Annan. UNICEF is actively promoting the project. Profits, if any, will go to its nutrition section.


Although Terje Reod Larsen is supposed to leave U.N. service end December to head the International Peace Academy, he seems to be interested in having a continued role at the U.N., possibly by remaining as a special envoy to the Middle East despite his full time job elsewhere. That maybe difficult to accomplish, but nothing is impossible given the free hand that Larsen had received under the current U.N. leadership, particularly after the Nobel Peace Prize. Larsen's "farewell" visit to the region was an indication of his creative talent in making a pizza out of any drop of dough. He at least shares with Arab and Israeli politicians the knack for providing the media with stories of interest: some of it factual, others half true but still worth a headline. A U.N. press officer told some Lebanese reporters that Larsen will continue his U.N. role wherever he may officially go. And they may be proven right.


An interesting response from a Pakistani diplomat came when told that there were so many Pakistanis in senior positions. The occasion was a review of those running for the post of UNCTAD Chief, who include current Pakistani U.N. ambassador Munir Akram. When listing the names of recently appointed Pakistanis, the name of Ashraf Qazi came up. "Oh. Qazi is a favour Pakistan did to the U.N.," retorted the man with a knowing smile. "Favour?" To whom at the U.N.?


Tony Hall, World Food Program Chief, wanted to remind diplomats in Rome that 60 percent of the world's population could hardly find a meal a day. On Thanksgiving, his guests were broken into three categories: a limited number was offered normal dinner, a second group was handed a bowl of rice and beans, while the majority was restricted to cold rice.


A delayed celebration of Algeria's national day late November displayed the massive affection by diplomats and staff to that country which in its struggle for independence became a symbol and rallying point for those seeking self-determination. It was also a degree of the popularity of its U.N. Ambassador Abdalla Bali and his dynamic staff whose demanding membership of the Security Council did not divert them from covering all other relevant issues, from economic development to financial budgetary policy. The fact that most guests stayed throughout the allocated 6 - 8p.m. reception was further proof of the Algerian's impressive impact.


It is one thing to disagree and criticize. But we hear that Edward Mortimer, Communications Director at the U.N. Secretary General Office, will be entering a hospital for special surgery. We will herewith withhold any adverse comment on his professional work. His health is more valuable than any disagreement. He has the best personal wishes not just of his friends and family, but all of us who knew him since his journalistic days. Particularly during this holiday season, we pray for his speedy recovery.