15 July 2005

TO AN EMPTY HALL:

It was a deserted hall. That did not stop Kofi Annan from hailing bold reform, highlighting action on development, international security and human rights. Very few delegates were around to hear him rehash a 1995 speech by a preceding Secretary General pinning hopes on succeeding generations. Even the same "accomplishments" were enumerated, as if the same person had drafted also the 27 June 2005 statement. We kept the peace in so many places, helped elections in many countries; more telling was that reference to "banishing" small pox and polio. (Was it Gillian helped by Ted, or Ted edged along by Gillian; or did someone in a hurry lift it from the record of a similar occasion ten years ago?!). A main difference was a crafty spin about "our collective failure" to prevent genocide in Rwanda in 1994, by the man directly responsible for that peacekeeping operation.

In an obvious afterthought, the Assembly was hurriedly called to commemorate the 60th anniversary of signing the U.N. Charter in San Francisco. No official bothered to go to the West Coast, as everyone did in 1995. An obsession with ceremonial gatherings, like the forthcoming one next September, led to participant's fatigue, even by accommodating diplomats. So here there were -- a podium of three with no audience to address. Poor Monsieur Ping, outgoing Assembly President, closely shaven and elegantly dressed, waiting in dignified patience for an appropriate photo opportunity between the experienced Secretary General and the shameless sherpa. Even the guest gallery was deserted. Senior officials who usually compete to pack the right side were otherwise engaged. A closer look revealed the lone presence of the dedicated and dutiful Nana Annan listening intently and carefully to every word. Otherwise, a sparse spread of mobile delegates reflected a disappointing failure to properly prepare for such a historic occasion. The official in charge of mobilizing for it, Shashi Tharoor, was happily seated on the podium oblivious to the fact that he should have served his Secretary General, Assembly President and U.N. Charter better if he made a special effort to arouse interest in the occasion, rather than devote his energies to the launching of one of his own books on 14th Street the following day.

WE ARE DELIVERING!:

Even the remaining believers could not believe their ears. Addressing a gathering of European leaders in Brussels over Iraq, Secretary General Kofi Annan boldly claimed that the U.N. "will continue to implement its mandate to the fullest extent possible," then exclaimed: "We are delivering." That sent amazed and amused looks amongst the well-informed audience. Despite unanimous requests by everyone, including Iraqis, the U.N. has done almost nothing in Iraq except a recent discussion about helping in drafting the constitution and technical advice for further elections. When a chuckling observer enquired about the extent of "delivery," he was told that U.N. Special Representative Qazi was extremely busy chairing a sub-meeting in the European capital. For that, of course, you would need an Under-Secretary General, two Assistant Secretaries General and a team of "co-ordinators"!

NO TAKERS:

It must be an awkward time when a U.N. Secretary General would float an article for publication but gets few takers. Timed to coincide with a meeting in Brussels on Iraq, the message was to stress a "pivotal" U.N. role there. But, possibly due to lack of credibility on this score, there were no takers. One byline appeared in the Duluth News Tribune. Another in Al-Hayat next to other, more critical, contributors. In pursuit of a different audience, Mr. Annan submitted a special piece to the Wall Street Journal rhetorically entitled "United We Stand." It was aimed to please a generally skeptical audience, which apparently was not entirely persuaded. A reader wrote asking the influential paper: "Do you publish Kofi Annan's comments for his humor?"

SOROS ET AL:

A normal press briefing turned suddenly into a dual of wits, or a duel of Brits. Chef de Cabinet Mark Malloch-Brown came down to announce the appointment of new Spokesman Stephane Dujarric de la Riviere (Stephane to everyone) who took over from Fred Eckhard 1st July. London Times irrepressible and sharp-witted James Bone popped up the question about MMB's rental arrangement with financier/philanthropist George Soros. Clearly irked by a prevailing atmosphere upstairs, his equally talented compatriot responded with an angry query on who would have leaked the story to embarrass him. MMB should have known that moving "from the suburbs to Broadway" would carry with it a certain baggage -- and a lot of intrigue. He is also smart enough to look around, focus on some of the characters who smile profusely in his face then use their media connections to do to him what they did to their other colleagues -- smile and undercut. More to the point, he may need to have a clear agreed version with Mr. Soros and his other U.N. contacts. Get it?!

HOT AIR HIGH:

Editors of selected major media organizations were treated to an overly optimistic view of things to come by a senior Secretariat official. During an off-the-record briefing on 28 June, he assured them that reform was in hand and revival was around the corner. More relevant to visiting journalists, including a Japanese media executive, was the possible restructuring of the Security Council. Oh, that, they were assured, would be done sooner than later; indeed by the end of this year. Comparing notes afterwards, those experienced editors wondered about that overly reassuring pose. Was the man pumping pep talk; was he on a self-induced high; or was it that recurring disconnect with the real world? Out of courtesy to their host organization, the journalists agreed to overlook that wave of hot air and find out more for themselves.

JUST ASKING:

Which is more important: the 60th anniversary commemoration by the General Assembly of the U.N. Charter, or the launching of a book by Kofi Annan's aide Shashi Tharoor? Why would the head of the "U.N. Department of Public Information and Communications" hardly bother with mobilizing delegates in time for an official celebration, but make every effort to ensure that every delegate had received notice of his signing a new book on Union Square, New York? Does Mr. Tharoor's book represent the position of the U.N. Secretary General, as rules and regulations stipulate, or is it his own free wheeling set of views? How come the head of one of the largest departments has time to produce so many books, and isn't that done at the expense of staff management and staff morale? Is he entitled to use his U.N. title to promote a personal venture? How come the launching coincided with a DPI gathering of editors of main international newspapers? Did he clear the material of the book with the Department of Administration and Management, Office of Human Resources, as stated in staff rules? Is there any accountability for failure to deliver a work program while advancing one's own agenda? Questions abound. But then, whom would you ask?

"JUSCANZ" EXPLAINED:

The ever alert Evelyn Leopold, head of Reuters U.N. bureau, uncovered the real names behind the acronym "JUSCANZ." It took her years to find out that it is the Non-European rich countries: Japan, U.S. Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes they are joined by Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. Evelyn, who was equally baffled by the name, pursued its meetings with due diligence. Still, what they really do when they meet for half an hour in a basement room is anyone's guess.

UNFCU:

That's easy. Any U.N. staffer looking for a loan knows the Federal Credit Union. It doesn't even bother to explain its acronym. It's there, take it or leave it. It used to give excellent interest rates. Not anymore. Now, it lives up to its name.

STAFF RAISE STEPHANEDES CASE:

The Staff Committee received a request by staff representatives of the Department of Political Affairs to raise the issue of Joseph Stephanedes who has been fired by the Secretary General on claims relating to references in the Volcker report. The former Director of Security Council section has contested the decision and indicated he has supporting evidence to back his claim that he was acting on the guidance of Council members and with approval of his Under-Secretary General. Growing sympathy for Stephanedes focus on the fact that other more involved senior officials seem to have gotten off relatively lightly, while the fellow who admittedly never benefited from the Oil-for-Food program received the harshest internal punishment.

PRINCETON OFFER WITHDRAWN:

An academic who had worked on the 38th floor had arranged for an offer to be made by Princeton University to former Chef de Cabinet Iqbal Riza upon leaving office end December. However, after the Volcker report indicating Riza's shredding fever, the offer was withdrawn.

WHERE IS VOLCKER'S REPORT:

Earlier references to a Volcker report in June faded as the month passed; now there is talk about a report in August although the main bet is on a substantive one immediately after the General Assembly Summit in September. All that speculation is creating an impression that investigated facts may be taking a backseat to political maneuvers and dealings in a high level to co-ordinate timing with other projected moves.

WAITING FOR THE MOON:

A new book by former Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali mainly covers his personal life with his wife Lea. It is entitled in Arabic Waiting for Bad Al-Boudur, literally translated as waiting for "a full moon," although usually it refers to someone you particularly prize. It could also convey an air of affectionate sarcasm. In the book, Dr. BBG relates that Egypt's Ambassador Nabil El-Arabi had advised him not to seek the "folkloric" post of Francophonie's Secretary General after the U.N. He also describes how he overheard some diplomats at a diplomatic lounge outside a Francophone conference in Hanoi wondering how long did he insist on hanging on to the post. Despite the outstanding intellect of the former Secretary General, it is clear from the latest book that his time at the U.N. was much more memorable than his stint at the Francophonie. Indeed, he seems to notice that people he met remembered his fight with Madeleine Albright or his report on Qana in South Lebanon but never on anything to do with his devotion to the French-speaking countries.

WHO PROTECTS "CALLIXTE?":

The case has been raised so many times, to any avail. Callixte Mbarushimana, a Rwandan accused of participating in the massacre of his U.N. colleagues in 1994 is still at large, not even extradited or seriously investigated. The former UNDP staffer was even helped to find an international U.N. job in Kosovo, obviously with the help of someone with enough influence to move a local recruit to another peacekeeping field post. Who was -- and maybe still is -- sheltering Callixte? No senior official seems to make a real effort to find out, although his current address is not difficult to trace.

WHAT DIALOGUE?:

The election of a new President in Iran raises the question of the "Dialogue among Civilization" initially proposed by outgoing Iranian President Sayyed Mohammed Khatami. The subject is clearly not a priority for Mahmoud Ahmedi Nejad who is likely to leave the handling of international affairs in the hands of those who helped elect him. Secretary General Annan had appointed Giandomenico Picco as his Special Representative to deal with that question, mainly meant some consultations every now and then and a seminar in a capital eager to display some credentials of tolerance; with less to do, the Secretary General added more to represent him. Now his former Chef de Cabinet, shredder par excellence, Iqbal Riza, has joined forces to explore further options.

PAUSE:

"I have to return to many places
To meet myself with no witnesses
Except a happy orange moon"

ANOTHER PAUSE:

"I existed from all eternity and, behold. I am here; and I shall exist till the end of time, for my being has no end."
Khalil Gibran -- The "Prophet"

ANGELINA'S TATTOOS:

During a visit to Lebanon as a U.N. refugees envoy during last Christmas season, actress Angelina Jolie fascinated her admirers by displaying a number of tattoos. One of them, on her right arm, in Arabic, declares "Al-Azima" which means "determination" -- although it could be pronounced to mean "the great woman." Apparently, the single actress with a public love life has 12 imprints over her appealing body, in the belief that lovers fade away quicker than tattoos.

TURK OR NO TURK:

Pity that Danilo Turk sulked noisily when he did not get the job of Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs. Good for Lublijana that he is returning to teach at its university. (Our regards to Professor Bohte, if still there.) Unbecoming, however, to publicly protest the appointment of Ibrahim Gambari by giving obviously wrong reasons. He claimed that the Nigerian diplomat was an outsider, yet Gambari had joined the Secretariat in 1999 before Turk. Both had served their respectable countries well as Permanent Representative, although Gambari has a longer diplomatic seniority, having served as ambassador (and Foreign Minister) since 1990. Also, while at the same Department for Political Affairs, Gambari held the rank of Under-Secretary General while Turk was Assistant Secretary General. The fact that there were powerful inside forces pressuring for Mr. Turk's designation should be a cause of satisfied personal accomplishment, not public frustrated complaint. Ambassador Turk has made many friends and admirers while at the Security Council and elsewhere. It would be valuable for him to maintain these hard won relationships. They may come in handy when he wishes to try and resume his role with the U.N. as he has somehow cryptically indicated. Does that mean he intends to run for Secretary General? If so, would he not need some African support?

GAMBARI HITS THE GROUND RUNNING:

Newly-appointed Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs took over on Friday 1 July, only three weeks after his designation was announced on an earlier Friday. He hit the ground running, reviewing policy, contacting diplomats, examining proposals for enhanced programme delivery and, briefly, indicating his style of experienced leadership. The former Professor, Foreign Minister, and Ambassador is working at all levels to seek effective collaboration in a participatory effort to move the U.N. prospects ahead. Appreciative of the decision by Secretary General Kofi Annan streamlined by Chef de Cabinet Mark Malloch-Brown to entrust him with a most challenging task at a very difficult period, the dynamic Nigerian already started drawing on his worldwide connections to explore how best everyone could be mobilized to lend support. An intelligent approach by a man of proven experience.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?:

A good question asked by the newly-appointed Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management. Christopher B. Burnham, who took over beginning of June wrote to all his staff asking them to indicate what would each of them do to improve the work. An enthusiastic response reflecting a dedicated interest waiting to be mobilized. It also indicated confident leadership.

WHERE IS JAN?:

When young Jan Fischer joined the U.N. after passing the "national exam" in Denmark, he seemed a rising star. Starting with assisting in supervising the work of Information Centres, he left to work along the Iraqi - Kuwait - Bahrain - Gulf checking points during the observation period, then return to Headquarters where he was given a substantive assignment in the administrative field area. For the last few years, however, Jan is hardly seen or heard in the glasshouse, although he is a hardworking, experienced and dedicated international civil servant. Whatever he is actually requested to do now is certainly way short than his capacity to deliver. His case may not be an exception these days. Hence the low level of staff morale.

FOOD FORCE:

An excellent initiative by the World Food Program. As an alternative to violence games, it created "Food Force," a video game that entertains and will truly help children -- and their world -- even when they become grown adults. Well done, WFP.

BEST ANNAN APPEARANCE:

It took one minute, but it was more impressive than all those concocted entrance and exit statements. It was off the cuff and seemed more sincere than those drafted by Ed and even Ted (who is becoming repetitious). Maybe it was because he was on his own -- no Riza to figure out how many jobs could he wiggle out of it, no Shashi to milk it to the last drop in his own favour and, recently, no Mark to ensure that all is well. Instead, all was very well as Kofi Annan, without his Brioni necktie, stood in the midst of crowds in London during a Live Aid concert against poverty. For a minute, the Kofi we knew came alive. When will we see him again?