15 November 2004


Marti Ahtisaari, presumed author of report on security of U.N. staff in Iraq, started a new mission as Special Representative of the Secretary general for the Horn of Africa. In mid-October, he visited the drought-stricken region in order "to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis" in that area and review "ongoing measures to address the food security situation." That is all talk of course. No real action is taken. It is just an excuse to give Ahtisaari a senior U.N. position. His Baghdad report was most recently used to seek $100 million in support of the Secretary General's new jobs for "updated" security. Why would a former President of Finland, former High Commissioner for Namibia, former Under-Secretary General for Administration and Management seek such an irrelevant non-appointment? Is it worth being told by a deputy governor of the remote Gash Barka region in Eritrea that "we appreciate your interest" but the solution is elsewhere?


Total command over toilets. That may be the only area left for those courageous leaders to display their undisputed authority. First they shift ladies and gentlemen to the embarrassed confusion of diplomats, staff and hurried visitors. Now they place guards near the entrance demanding clear identification. It was farcical to watch a diligent young guard standing lonely yet firm at the approach to the men's room of the empty North Delegates Lounge during U.N. Day's evening performance by Kuwaiti Television Orchestra. In wide contrast to the ever pleasant yet efficient experienced guards, the unfamiliar young fellow guarding the door would insist on allowing only those producing a distinguished Delegate's pass. That meant excluding more than half of those present. Pressed visitors were obliged to express their comments in more than one form.


Visitors to the U.N. compound have been wondering about new black steel fences that are being set at all three main entrances, from 42 to 47 Streets, as another intermittant wall is being built along First Avenue. Along with security measures and forthcoming proposals, there is an apprehension that the Secretariat will actually fall into a "bunker mentality." In a little while, some staff may start to refer to the blunt structure as the "Annan Wall."


During his October visit to Ireland, where he was treated royally by a solid U.N. country, a journalist could not help asking him after all those recent setbacks whether the Organization, by this time (of his leadership) has become "damaged goods." His response: "We took a hit; we had a setback; we went through a very difficult period. But I wouldn't say damaged goods. I think that's a bit too far."


In an accident of history, the wall where the last Bush-Kerry debate took place in Tempe University, Arizona, was originally designed by the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to be a model for an Opera house in Baghdad! Under the Hashemite dynesty, King Faisal II government commissioned the design. But after the fall of the monarcy in a July 1958 bloody military coup, the King was killed and the design was shelved. It was later altered to accommodate a hall for social, cultural, and artistical activities at the University of Arizona.


First it was female staff who complained about his sexual advances. Now it is delegates from countries friendly to his country. Canadian, Norwegian, and Australian representatives in Geneva criticized him openly for failing to act against three supervisors who in turn had failed to prevent sexual exploitation of Bhutanese women and children in Nepal two years ago, despite a recommendation of disciplinary action from UNHCR Inspector General. Two years ago Ludders dismissed concern about abuse of children in Africa refugee camps, almost blaming the victims for being refugees!


Cheer up, all you unhappy people. 11 October is an officially declared global day against pain. One of its co-sponsors, the World Health Organization, discusses its purpose as drawing attention "to the urgent need for better pain relief for sufferers." It claims that the majority of pain victims are in the low and middle income countries. "Limited health resources should not be allowed to deny sick people and their families the dignity of access to pain relief and palliative care," stated a statement on that occasion. So if you think that no one feels your pain, call Geneva or email to www.who.org.


One of the best kept secrets in international structure is the "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Floral and Fauna" -- "CITES" for short. It meets in hardship tough spots like Bangkok, hospitable home of the famous Thai massage. It has a Secretary General and -- of course -- a Deputy Secretary General who makes revealing statements like: "As illegal trade declines, legal exports will rise accordingly -- in the future." Their current focus is on caviar. The five countries of the Caspian Sea were being approached to ensure their adherence to a 2002 agreement. All confirmed -- as required -- that they have "sound conservation plans" and that their quota requests were based on "realistic estimates of sturgeon stocks." Even Turkmenistan which has "no legal harvest" -- read illegal -- signed on. Fully satisfied, CITES approved further export of caviar, though at a slightly lower level. However, Lisa Speer of the Natural Resources Defence Council, an equally obscure but vigilent group, was very unhappy. The sturgeon has declined 90 percent and there may be less caviar to go around in the years to come. Easy on the lemon.


Those counter-productive letters seem to have taken their toll on their dutiful author. Making the rounds among delegates and staff is a brief "byline" by "Edward Mortimer, director of Communications, executive office of the U.N. Secretary General, New York" to the National Post "flk/a" (what does that stand for?!). In it he doesn't seem to decide where to go. Initially he denies what his boss seemed to be proud of a month ago, namely that Kofi Annan thought the invasion of Iraq did not make the world less dangerous. Ironically, it was in a Mortimer-arranged BBC interview that Annan planted that response just before the opening of the General Assembly debate. The "director" suddenly shifts to an assurance that U.N. staff are working to help with Iraqi elections (how many of them?!); now there is an oblique reference to Annan's reformist credentials; the problem, he seems to allude,is "to persuade governments to take bold action." Coming from the least bold of them all, one wonders what would be coming next. We are then told he is counting on Canada's support. Pity that an initially capable columnist in a prominent paper turns into a ponderous and futile letter writer.


"Women Liberation is the secret weapon for African development. The problem is that you men keep beating them back." James Wolfensohn -- Chairman, World Bank.


And we thought we had the one and only "diplomatic rock star." A favoured description of our media savvy leadership seems to have been shared by the former Iraqi Minister of Oil. That, at least is what Charles Duelfer said in his Weapons of Mass Destruction report -- the part that was overlooked by some compliant reporters. Apparently some government officials and international personalities were so anxious to welcome the former contributor to international corruption that they treated him "like a rock star." At least that man is now out of competition with nothing more to offer. Our inspired leadership is therfore safe -- for now. Who knows what's coming next!


The Financial Times reported on a new peacekeeping training centre in Accra, Ghana. Painted in "startling blue," the centre is named after one of their most distinguished expatriots U.N. Secretary General and is geared toward mission-oriented training for African Union and possibly U.N. troops. Kofi Annan had served for about three years as head of peacekeeping (Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia) before being promoted to his current post. His compatriots may be hoping that, with his name attached to an institution in Accra, he will eventualy find an opportunity to visit his home country. His own perceptions on peacekeeping will certainly be of special value.


Why so pale and wan fond lover; prithee why so pale? Will when looking well can't move her, looking ill prevail?


The World Federation of U.N. Association (WFUNA) has to deal with a problem raised by its Lebanon branch. Their representative in Beirut held a press conference end October denouncing the U.N. Press Officer Nejib Friji and Special Representative Demistura. The U.N. Department of Public Information is caught in the middle. Initially, its new leadership wanted to work with WFUNA to a point of substituting for Information Centres. That does not seem practical, however, as in many countries "U.N. Association" is just a few individuals who use the U.N.'s name more than giving anything substantive to it. The face-off in Beirut comes at a bad timing for everyone concerned.


For over ten days, we kept on picking up dutifully produced communiques that U.N. Representative in Iraq Ashraf Qazi was actually in Baghdad. He was meeting with "Iraqi personalities," even once with Interim Prime Minister. But nothing seems to reported about his movements by Arab or international press. He recently acquired an excellent press officer. But that is not enough. There has to be some action or vision to work with. And, Qazi, lose that "tunnel" talk.


After labeling it "Annangate," columnist William Safire seemed to have shifted gears on the thrust of the Food-for-Oil story. In a recent comment, he seemed more interested in nailing down some foreign governments, almost defending the Secretary General. Heartening news for the 38th Floor. But it is not the outcome of Ed's laborious letter-writing. The likely link is a more discreet one, a fairly well connected "bird of passage," who keeps mainly to himself while performing various missions for the Secretary General. He is a good friend of Safire for over two decades. That may explain his resilience within the internal corrdiros of power; he bothers no other senior official, and does a very good job indeed.


Former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has issued a new book of poetry. The elegant eloquent charmer of the Security Council during the debate over Iraq wanted the first edition to be in Arabic. The translation was done by one of the most talented Arab poets, Adonis. It was a meeting of two creative rivers of thought under the title "The Burning Earth." It refers to the Arab region in which de Villepin sees the puzzled universe and human tragedy. He writes: "Men hide, fatigued by struggle. Their hands united at the edge of a fall. On their dry lips, they carry the taste of exile."


It was a welcome gesture of inter-religious harmony. The President of the Security Council usually gives an official luncheon days after taking over his monthly rotating functions. This month's Presdient, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth opted for a thoughtful gesture towards his moslem colleagues fasting the month of Ramadan. He gave an "Iftar" (something like an early dinner) at 4:45pm, around sunset, time to break the day's fast. Ambassador Danforth is an ordained priest, who was known around the U.S. Congress as St. James. He had officiated at the funeral of late former President Ronald Reagan. As a true man of God, he understands the value of harmony among all the varied faithful.


The first part of the U.N. concert offered by Kuwait at U.N. Headquarters was quite impressive. A national orchestra played soft rhythmic tunes inspired by a blend of desert and sea. While maintaining its basic Arabic roots, the sound was unmistakeably Gulf in flavour. Diplomats and staff genuinely applauded. The second part started well, but became repetitious: too much drums, lots of shouting with no explanation. Again, it was the desert and the sea -- mainly circling round a boat. One, two, three songs gave the message adequately. But it was unfair to the rest of Kuwait music. There are excellent singers -- traditional and modern (like Guitara and Miami Kuwait) who would have provided a welcome balance. Their traditional artists are among the best in the Gulf. So why limit that rich culture to drum drum drum yellers, interesting as some chanting could be. Also, the sight of an all male group holding hands, coyly shaking their shoulders and raising their opposite legs raised some curiosity -- if not a certain interest -- amongst a puzzled New Yorkish crowd. Thank God Kuwait has a female ambassador, Nabila Al-Mulla -- and a great one at that. Dressed in national costume she briefly and graciously introduced the artists. That's the most that she could do. Anyway, Kuwait made a generous offer which was appreciated by all. Only its friends wished the opportunity could have been seized to display a wider representation of its available talent.


Five new countries were voted by the General Assembly mid-October to take over as non-permanent members of the Security Council. Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan and Tanzenia will take their seats on January 1 for a two-year term. One significant role for them will be to participate with the other ten members in proposing a new Secretary General before December 2006. Countries leaving by then are: Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan and Spain.


Retired former Chief of Peacekeeping field operations Hocine Medili was appointed as the Principal Deputy Special Representative in Haiti. A discreet professional, Medili had worked closely with current Secretary General Kofi Annan first in Personnel and later in peacekeeping where he played a pivotal role in administrative assignments. Before his recent appointment, Medili led a multidisciplinary assessment mission to Haiti. He regained his health after a sad setback which he overcame with admirable courage.


In its slippery downward path, the "Secretary General Lecture Series" for November had as its main theme "Why Music Matters." A very interesting topic indeed, but clearly out of touch with current realities in Iraq, Palestinian territories, Darfur, Cote d'Ivoire and other troubled spots around this tragic world. It would have been more interesting if some music was played for rhythmic relief. However, it seemed like a pretext to offer the President of Bard College Conservatory of Music a United Nations podium. It was a far cry from the first lecture, which was standing room only, by the outstanding Toni Morrison who apparently was too much for the insecure and too mobilizing for staff morale. Better have someone who will be most appreciative and could be counted on to read from the same sheet of music.