15 February 2005


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.


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 things out."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.