15 January 2005


Talk about imminent departure of Sir Kieran Predergast is accompanied by questions on his possible replacement. With a Brit as Chef de Cabinet and another as Security Czar, it is unlikely to give a third senior post to another compatriot. Hence the feeling that the next Under Secretary General for Political Affairs will be an American, as it was for several years until the early nineties. The post currently occupied by Ms. Bertini could go back to a European.


The U.S. candidate to head UNICEF is reported to be Ann Venemann, outgoing Secretary of Agriculture. She would replace Carol Bellamy when she concludes her second term in March. The post is usually reserved for an American. Although it is a decision by the Secretary General, it is unlikely for Kofi Annan to decide otherwise, particularly at this time, and after he indicated that the UNDP head will not be from the U.S.


With the announcement at the first days of the year on the appointment of a new Chef de Cabinet and indications of other senior changes, there was some corridor talk that it may be advisable for ALL heads of Departments to facilitate the task of the Secretary General by offering to resign, allowing him to retain or release officials as desired to form his refreshed team. Some felt ready, as they had already explored other outside options, including more enjoyable tasks, while some others balked, claiming that such a move could be misinterpreted. There are, of course, those who will cling to their current jobs for dear life; they could never find such a gravy train elsewhere.


In a long interview with Al Arabiyah Satellite, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reminisced about his growing up in Baghdad, his early days in the Baath party, and his relations with the fallen Iraqi regime. He said his mother is Lebanese, from the noted Shiite Ossairan family. So is his wife. His favourite dish, he added, was the Lebanese Tabbouleh salad. He revealed that when his mother died in Saida, South Lebanon, his political colleagues in Baghdad were preparing to take power on the same day. He had to return quickly to join them. Special condolences were read on the swiftly overtaken Iraqi radio. The announcer, who paid tribute to his mother, was none other than Saddam Hussein. Interesting personal interview. Interesting timing.


"Civilization exists by geological consent subject to change without notice."


Even before Peter Hansen concludes his term as head of UNRWA, there are already those seeking to replace him. The post is usually assigned to someone from a contributing country and the candidate would need the agreement of countries hosting Palestinian refugees. One seeker is Beirut-based Steffan Demistura, who was just recently assigned to replace Ross Mountain in overseeing "UN relief assistance to Iraq" -- an almost fictitious task -- in addition to his post as special representative to South Lebanon. The half Italian/half Swede is reportedly trying to mobilize support by the Swedish government for his candiditure. Another name mentioned is Geir Pederson, a Norwegian who operates within the influential Prendergast-Larsen circle. The UNRWA Deputy Commissioner, an American, may also feel that she is entitled to the post, which she understudied for four years.


Someone should advise U.N. Relief Co-ordinator Jan Egeland on choosing his words. No, it is not about his remark on "stingy rich countries." It is more about his description of the response to the unprecedented tsunami disaster. While indicating that the number of victims was growing beyond 150,000, the former Norwegian official reported that "the good news is coming by the hour." He could have reported "an encouraging positive response" from all countries around the world. But "good news" about contributions in the same breath as mounting casualties was a very unfortunate choice.


By timely coincidence, the song voted by Rolling Stones magazine as the most appropriate of the century was Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Pointing to someone puffed up by a fleeting air of importance and influence, the lyrics ask after the bubble burst: "How does it feel to be on your own...like a rolling stone."


When Palestinian leading candidate Mahmoud Abbas visited militant groups in Rafah, a zealous welcomer closed the door of the armoured car on one of his right hand fingers. Speculation within inner circles varied, some claiming the finger lost, others insisting it was retrieved. Those watching television carefully noticed a full bandage; making it difficult for him to write -- or sign anything in the immediate future.


Earlier whispers about a resignation by Kuwaiti Information Minister, former U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Abulhassan, proved to come true. A simmering dispute with some members of parliament was further complicated by the Minister's decision to shift ownership of a publication despite a court order. Abulhassan's letter of resignation indicated that he wanted to avoid internal conflict. The Prime Minister immediately accepted the resignation. The former minister has recently bought a house in Lebanon.


How many Special Representatives could enjoy the title of envoy to the Horn of Africa? Let us count the names -- at least those officially designated. First, an exchange of letters between the Secretary General and the Security Council on 31 December 2004 confirmed an extension of Mohamed Sahnoun until 31 December 2005. It may be recalled that Sahnoun, a former ambassador of Algeria to Washington, was among the first to criticize former Secretary General Boutros-Ghali in Somalia lending an early helping hand to the campaign against him. The second envoy is former Canadian Foreign Minister Axworthy who was pushed on Ethiopia and Eritrea, but for lack of a specific function, was given wider responsibility for the Horn. The third, by necessity, is Ambassador Lagwela, who is doing a decent and honest job between Addis Abeba and Asmara. Then there is our ever available Ahtesaari, a friend in need who gave his name to that report on the bombing of U.N. Baghdad headquarters. Word is that there are several others keen on exploring the intricacies of the Horn; but they have to await their turn.


Who is Grienberg? He is a former aide to General Jacques Klein who headed several peacekeeping missions and heads the current one in Liberia. His name came up when reports of sexual exploitation in the Congo were investigated. There were, reportedly, two noted key officials. One, a Frenchman who was summarily dismissed. The other, (that is Grienberg), who was SUSPENDED WITH PAY pending one of those investigations. What is going on? The usually U.N.-supportive Independent of London started an embarrassing story from the Congo with Jacques Grienberg "making a fool of himself" in a Kinshasa bar. It comments that the U.N. now has a wider problem of accountability and abuse; "an organization sent to police the world which remains unable to police itself."


All is not well with snake charmers. Word is they feel unprotected after one of their own was abruptly displaced from his strategic posture. Thus, there are discouraging rumours that due to public outcry, snakes are to be defanged before letting them roam the corridors.


A veteran observer of internal backbiting told a story of a visitor to a resort who wanted to swim safely where there are no crocodiles. Reassured by the chief honcho, he splashed in, enjoying the wide solitary space only to be told in time that crocodiles don't approach the place for fear of sharks.


"When women are depressed they go shopping. When men get depressed, they invade other countries."


Between Christmas and New Year, most people forgot about Kwanza. That's the day of light for many Africans in New York who celebrate it with renewed vigour. The main call is for "Harambee" which means "let's get together." Some were looking forward to show solidarity with the Ghanian U.N. Secretary General, but he was out of town. Harambee, maybe next year.


An article by Iraq U.N. Ambassador Samir Sumaidai in the Washington Post puzzled political observers. While Prime Minister Allawi is insisting on having the elections by end January, the Ambassador suggested in a roundabout way that the time allocated did not seem adequate. The election is tied to an impractical and limited time frame, he said, and the need to stick to the political process and its time table need not hold us captive. Some wondered whether Sumaidai was reflecting the official line or placing his own views on the record. He is an active politician and may be thinking of his own image on the Iraqi scene. It could also mean that he was airing his differences with the interim government, in preparation for a future role in Baghdad.


According to the London based Financial Times, Kofi Annan has made up his mind about filling the newly created post of chief of extended $95 million U.N. Security operation. His is Sir David Vessens, described as a senior British policeman and one of Europe's top counter-terrorist experts.


Tsunami notwithstanding, delegates and senior U.N. officials flocked to the palmy, balmy island of Mauritius to review the problems of very small, very poor countries. On the same day, 11 January, The Irish Times, another usually U.N. supportive paper, said in an editorial: "Look up -- and the Airbus boring holes in the ozone layer overhead is laden with U.N. officials flying First Class to the Seychelles to discuss global warming."


Finally, on 10 January, The New York Times ("Who needs the staff when you have The N.Y. Times?") wrote an editorial about the need for "house cleaning at the U.N." While dancing between raindrops, the most influential daily indicated the need for changes, particularly in areas of peacekeeping and refugees. In referring to the "uninspiring" performance of Ruud Lubbers, concluded: "Mr. Lubbers says he intends to finish his term in December. He should be asked to leave now."


Spokesman Fred Eckhart took time out during the holiday season to tie the knot with his five year companion Kathryn Gordon, a publications officer in the Department of Public Information. Fred, who was extended last year after reaching retirement age, has bought a quiet retreat in France. Congratulations.