15 February 2005
NOBEL LAUREATES SUPPORT ANNAN:
About 70 Nobel Laureates signed a letter commending the leadership of their colleague U.N.
Secretary General Kofi Annan. He always took a critical look at the U.N. to recommend improvements.
Signatories included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Holocaust historian-author Elie Weissel.
The initiative was sponsored by "Better World Campaign," a sister project of Ted Turner's financed
U.N. Fund. At least that "Campaign" project came out with something useful after all those funds
burned on travel junkets for mediocre staff under cover of the U.N. name.
NO BLOOD ON THE FLOOR:
The frenzy of January fizzled in February. Frantic talk about drastic changes at senior levels was
substituted by drawn speculation on who's in who's out and who will get to replace them. Drawing
blood on the floor will make great headlines. But it is not in the character of Kofi Annan nor the
style of his new Chef de Cabinet. Changes will be made "in due course." But first "let's sort
While everyone else was on holiday until mid-January, Stephane Dujarric was the only main U.N.
Spokesman around. There were awkward news stories almost daily. Reporters seeking difficult answers
to embarrassing questions confronted him. Those angling for follow-up or explanations nailed him
down. Throughout, Stephane remained calm, alert and helpful. He maintained his credibility while
providing sane and logical responses to the best of his ability. Stephane had joined the Spokesman's
office only a few years ago, but his lonely handling of the current flurry of critical reporting
showed him as an experienced professional. He should be publicly commended for his sterling work
on behalf of the Secretary General and the United Nations. Perhaps someone higher up could think of
an appreciative word. It always helps.
RASPBERRY FOR ANGELINA:
In contrast to the Oscars, a satirical sort of awards are given to worst actors. Topping the
"Raspberries" this year will be our own Angelina Jolie for her pathetically unimpressive
performance in "Alexander." Ms. Jolie, who was hailed last year at the U.N. Correspondents dinner, has
been making up for her professional failings by highlighting her international credentials as an
envoy for the High Commissioner for Refugees. However, she's been stretching that role too thin.
During most of her television appearances over the last year, Ms. Jolie has been bragging about
her sexual appetite. That may excite the groper in Geneva or a frustrated yet harmless representative
somewhere, but it does little to help refugees and does more to hurt an image in dire need for
improvement. Sex and the Single Envoy is the last story the United Nations needs these days. Could
anyone tell her to shape up and get to real work.
"LEGACY OF A PEACEMAKER!!":
No wonder the U.N. gets bashed these days for double talk. A blatant example is a statement issued
on behalf of the Secretary General mourning the passing away of Togo's long time dictator
Gnassingbe Eyademo. Hailing from neighbouring Ghana, Kofi Annan knows more than any of us what the
longest serving African despot was like.
Clearly, it is proper to express condolences on the death
of the head of a member state. But as his young son was being imposed, regardless of even a pretense
of a process, it is a bit much to have him described having a "legacy of a peacemaker." Whoever drafts
this stuff should consider at least the feelings of the long oppressed Togolese people, let alone
all that rhetoric about open civic societies. Fortunately, the gaff was picked up by an alert senior
official and a follow-up statement was issued stressing the need for constitutionality and respect
for rule of law.
MARJATTA RASI LEAVES NEW YORK:
A brilliant Representative of an outstanding U.N. country bade farewell to New York. Ambassador
Marjatta Rasi, who served in varied capacities since her Finland's membership at the Security Council,
accumulated consensus support for her person, her function and her country. She quietly yet clearly
blended a professional no-nonsense work with a deeply felt human worth and an unshaken commitment
to U.N. objectives. A workaholic who never lost her social touch, Ambassador Rasi seemed to be
everywhere. While some other reps angled for personalized fruits of labour from the Secretariat,
she selflessly focused on giving Finland the best possible representation. Although she will be
returning to the Foreign Ministry in Helsinki, her many friends hope to see her again, perhaps
during forthcoming General Assembly Sessions. Thanks, Marjatta.
CARLA AND THE BEANS:
For over two years now, Special Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has been threatening to "spill the
beans" if she got no help in arresting certain suspects like General Mladic and Dr. Karadjic. She
got nowhere. Indeed her turf was clipped when someone thought she might get out of hand over
Rwanda; she was relieved of her role there "so she could focus on Bosnia," as the explanation went
at the time. Poor Carla has been venting frustration to friendly journalists. The former Swiss
magistrate has been unable to advance and is obliged to soldier on when any policeman in
Belgrade would know where to locate the infamous Sebrenica general. This time, we are told, she
is really fed up and won't take it anymore. Let's see.
VIAGRA EMERGENCY RELIEF:
If you were literally blown off the water in the Asian Tsunami, what better to lift your spirits than
an emergency packet of Viagra pills? Or at least some Arctic weather parkas to shelter you from 80 degree
weather? How about some fine mineral water bottled in Schloss Bergenschlossen personally carried by
a group of young Austrian scouts; both male and female. As headlines turn away from the disaster
area, it is dawning on many seasoned observers that much of the touted aid brought more problems
than solutions. The daily ego trip by Jan Egeland to briefing room 226 in New York seems to get
more irrelevant by the day. No wonder he is now shifting gears. Hello Africa.
QUOTATION OF THE MONTH:
"We approach our work in the spirit not of tearing down but of restoring and better assuring
the professionalism, the competence and the integrity of an important institution." Paul Volcker,
Chairman of the "Independent Inquiry Committee" into the U.N. Food-for-Oil Program.
A HAIR PROBLEM:
North Korean leaders have issued guidance to keep men's hair short. According to an Associated Press
dispatch, anyone who lets his hair dangle over his forehead could portray signs of confusion and, worse,
lack of confidence. There are now instructions on how to keep your hair from telling on you. However,
if you were a good revolutionary, you may be entitled to comb it slightly upwards to cover a nagging
baldness. No reference is made to the "inspired" Korean leader who counts his bouffant hairstyle as
one of his impressive assets.
Lebanon, a solid U.N. partner has mostly sent some of its best diplomats to New York. One of them
was Sami Kronfol for whom the U.N. flag flew at half mast as he passed away end of January.
Ambassador Kronfol had served in key posts including Cairo, Paris, Tokyo, as well as U.N.
Headquarters. The discreet pleasant and enlightened son of a distinguished Beirut family, he and
his lifetime partner, his wife, quietly charmed their way in the diplomatic circuit and among
Lebanese expatriates. Although New York was not really their kind of town, they never let it show;
they made the best out of it, mainly in the interest of the country they so ably represented. May
his soul rest in peace.
POTATO SPECIAL ENVOY:
Now we learn, courtesy of Athen's "To Vima" that non-stop talker/walker/meeter/greeter Jan
Egeland almost made it to Cyprus, were it not for potatoes. Before his current appointment as head of
a Department at U.N. Headquarters, the former Norwegian official reportedly sought the post of
special envoy to the idyllic island but was vetoed by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash protesting
Norway's freeze on importing Northern Turkish potatoes.
SEND FOOD, NOT MORE ENVOYS:
While several former diplomats are scurrying for the title of Special Representatives and envoys
to the Horn of Africa, the two main countries Ethiopia and Eritrea are starving for food and
nourishment. According to FAO and the World Food Program, 2.3 million people in Eritrea alone will
need basic help this year. That accounts for two-thirds of the population. Why don't you stop sending
envoys and transfer their travel expenses to the hungry.
SECURITY CONCERNS IN BEIRUT:
There is growing concern among U.N. staff in Beirut, Lebanon, that controversial statements and
activities by one of them could backfire on the credibility, image, and reputation of the rest. Having
no say in the activities of the overzealous operative who claims protection from Headquarters, they
are afraid of some sort of counterzealous retaliation in a potentially tough neighbourhood. Their
demand for enhanced security measures around the U.N. building in the city centre was reflected in a
cryptic mention by daily An-Nahar.
THE COLOUR OF INK:
In an interesting new book about governance, Arun Shouria tells an anecdote about a 1999
inter-ministerial consultation process in India to determine whether senior officials could write
memos for the record in inks other than blue or black. The cause of concerns was two officers who
had raised bureaucratic eyebrows by penning their views in other colours. After thorough review a
year later, the official decree came down that "only an officer of the level of Joint Secretary to
the Government of India and above may use green or red in rare cases."
A GLORIFIED HEEL:
A new symbolic novel by Saudi writer Abdalla Nauer tells the story of a shoe heel which happens to
walk in the corridors of power and thus become both admired and feared for being in the right palace
at the right time. The message, obviously, is not local but global (was it think globally, act
locally -- or the other way round? We have yet to find out). Any similarity with someone you may
recognize is purely coincidental.
BUNGLERS WITHOUT BORDERS:
Following are samples given by Car & Travel magazine:
- In Warwick, England, a ticket for an alleged parking violation was issued on a snowmobile
that apparently had never left the owner's farm in rural Sweden.
- In Madrid, Spain, the official responsible for traffic safety was involved in a minor
accident, but failed to produce his license -- which had expired more than a year earlier.
- In Tallin, Estonia, a woman stopped on suspicion of drunken driving tried unsuccessfully
to striptease her way out of ticket. Her torrid though unsuccessful performance was captured by the
police car's video camera.