15 November 2006


For the first time China gets to head a U.N. specialized agency. Dr. Margaret Chan, Hong Kong's former health director, was elected by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) in Geneva. Before joining that Organization in Geneva in 2005, her name had been widely reported in 1997 when she ordered the slaughter of 1.4 million chickens and ducks to control the first cases of Avian (bird) flu. She had also dealt with the spread of Severely Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which had emerged in China and spread to Hong Kong in 2003. Dr. Chan received 24 out of 34 votes of the Executive Board that recommends a name to the 192 member Assembly. The other 4 short-listed candidates lagged far behind by about 14 votes. She sealed victory in the fourth round of voting after winning a two-third majority over Mexico's health minister. That outcome reflects not only a desire by China to play a more active role in the U.N. system, but an arrangement by other key powers to go along. Senior Chinese officials, including President Hu Jintao had lobbied for Dr. Chan. It was noted that one of the first officials to welcome her selection was the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt who in a statement called Dr. Chan a strong leader, adding he was confident she will ensure W.H.O.'s role as "the premier global health agency." Dr. Chan, who was elected on 8 November, will be filling the post vacated by the death last May of South Korean Dr. Lee Jong Wook. A month earlier, China had voted to support South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon for the post of U.N. Secretary General.


Would we have the first African female Deputy Secretary General? Speculation in corridors circles around the number two official who will be doing much of the day to day support for the newly-elected Secretary General. A well-placed source indicated an ongoing search for a list of prominent women from Africa. Because of the Secretary General's nationality, an Asian is out of the question; otherwise we would have volunteered the name of Nafis Sadik, an outstanding communicator, former UNFPA Executive Director. There are several aspirants from Europe, particularly two Scandinavians, lobbying very hard for that post, but they happen to be men. Surely there are exceptional African women but we'll refrain from naming any at this time. While the focus seems to be on Africa, most probably Northern Africa, some Latin American women are being advanced. All that talk is up in the air until Mr. Ban starts reviewing his options on the spot. He was, however, quoted as saying that he will give priority consideration for a woman Deputy. North Africa is one target, Southern Africa is another. But never underestimate the power of a Latin American woman working on the transition team.


We understand that Ban Ki Moon has requested biographical notes on all Secretariat staff from the level of D-1 and above. That should be a welcome move. It opens the door of serious consideration for everyone without exception, while giving the new Chief a clear idea of his real leadership team. Under Secretaries come and go. It is the staff, led by those D-1s and D-2s, who deliver the work. It also reflects a determination to run the show through knowing the type of people available to him: where would he need to add, balance or eliminate duplication. Interesting times.


While awaiting the appointment of a full-time director of the U.N. Information Centre in Beirut, an interim staffer has been designated to run its operations for three months. A former interpreter Baha Al-Koosi from Egypt arrived in Beirut and started his meetings with other press officers for the U.N. system in Lebanon. He seems to be doing fairly well. Keeping his head low at this delicate time. The post had been announced and the application date closed. A short list is awaited before an internal evaluation to recommend a particular candidate. One point to be considered is whether Mr. Koosi will also apply for that post. If so, it would seem inappropriate to give a candidate an edge over the others, particularly if there were a number of female applicants. Reliable sources tells us he is not in the running. Others in Beirut whisper otherwise. Let's keep it at that, for now.


Correspondents at U.N. Headquarters put on an impressive show at this year's annual luncheon for the Dag Hammarskjold Fellowship Fund. All key diplomats, senior officials and media were in attendance in full force. After a brief welcome by the Fund's Chairman Ricardo Alday of the Mexican News Agency, Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown made general remarks sprinkled with his understated sense of humour. Brief, somewhat nervous speeches were made by the Fellows from India, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Brazil. The four seemed to have bonded together and truly inspired through their work with their U.N. based colleagues. Funds raised this year broke a record. It was so refreshing to see hard-working reporters who habitually rush around searching for upcoming stories join everyone else for the duration of a prolonged lunch. Outstanding reporters like Maggie Farley of the L.A. Times, Edith Lederer of the Associated Press, Colum Lynch of The Washington Post, Betsy Pisik of The Washington Times, Warren Hogue of The N.Y. Times, Evelyn Leopold of Reuters, Talal El Haj of Al-Arabiyah Television, Sylviane Zehil of L'orient Le Jour, Gloria Kins and many others were placed in various tables named after a media activity like "Quotations," "Sources," and "Interviews." An active reporter who worked so hard for the event's success, Vice-Chair Judy Aita of The Washington File was unable to attend. But her colleague Mary was there to look after every detail, keep everyone happy, and everything going. The luncheon concluded with a round of applause for guest Chef Joel Benjamin of Le Perigord.


In his farewell at South Korea's Foreign Ministry where he had worked for 40 years, Ban Ki Moon felt nostalgic at leaving his old job and apprehension about taking over his new one. A day earlier, he re-quoted someone else's description of the Secretary General's task as the most impossible job on earth. A day later he was "somewhat scared and humbled" by what's ahead. "I feel empty and have this sense of loss as if I am being thrown away on a desert island all by myself," he said. Don't take all that literally. Mr. Ban will not feel so helpless once he arrives in Manhattan, crosses First Avenue and gets into the 38th floor of the U.N. building. All will change by January. Maximum by May, he will be so not alone that he would wish he was really on a desert island.


It was very thoughtful of the U.N. Correspondents Association to award an "inspiration" prize to outgoing Assembly President Jan Eliasson at the annual luncheon for the four fellows selected this year for on the job coverage in New York. Introduced briefly and graciously by Brian Urquhart, Eliasson sounded more despondent about his status instead of celebrating his award. He repeatedly pointed to his being out of the U.N. and out of Swedish officialdom after the recent elections there. One guest wondered whether he was asking for a job. He went into detail about the presumed "reform" during his assembly session. He even invoked the great Dag Hammarskjold in trying to say that one returns to the same place but not as the same person. Pity that someone with his experience was in such a sad mood at such an uplifting event. During that relatively prolonged speech, someone passed a note saying that Mr. Eliasson did not need an introduction more than he really needed a conclusion.


  • They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.
  • Nobody believes a rumour here until it is officially denied.
  • The diplomat who can smile when things go wrong is probably getting a job in the private sector.
  • The big guns are those that are not fired.
  • Flattery is fine as long as you don't inhale.
  • His remarks are always candied and he does things the herd way.


An honorary Doctorate degree was awarded to Secretary General Kofi Annan by Washington's Georgetown University, one of the most prestigious academic institutions. Such a tribute in the heart of the U.S. capital two months before Mr. Annan's departure reflects a determination to give him a gracious exit after the last three years of trouble. "We are pleased to honour Kofi Annan for his remarkable leadership at a crucial time in the global community," said Georgetown University President John DeGioia. "It has been a privilege for Georgetown to engage in an ongoing collaboration with the U.N. to promote human rights and foster a more peaceful and just human community."


The description of James Traub's book about Kofi Annan is by London Times' ace reporter and blogger extraordinaire James Bone. "Airbrushing Annan" can be found at www.timesonline.com. Despite receiving unprecedented access to the 38th floor, The N.Y. Times writer did not seem to grasp the reality of the Secretary General's role nor decipher the personality of Kofi Annan. He ended up becoming part of what he himself describes as Annan's chorus, although he seemed to interrupt himself every now and then to inject a few reservations. He must have been determined to remain uninformed and confused, checking only with those to whom he was directed to talk to and making a mess out of an already messy case. Already, one "erratum" is sent out by the publishers. Traub mistakes Annan's outburst at Bone as "an overgrown schoolboy" with a different argument involving Benny Avni of the Sun.


A renewed version of what is Globalization was emailed by a distinguished diplomat:

Question: What is the truest definition of Globalization?
Answer: Princess Diana's death.
Question: How come?
Answer: An English princess
with an Egyptian boyfriend
crashes in a French tunnel,
driving a German car
with a Dutch engine,
driven by a Belgian who was drunk on Scottish whisky,
(check the bottle before you change the spelling)
followed closely by Italian Paparazzi,
on Japanese motorcycles;
treated by an American doctor,
using Brazilian medicines.
This is sent to you by an Englishman,
using Bill Gates's technology,
and you're probably reading this on your computer,
that use Taiwanese chips,
manufactured in a joint venture in China,
and a Korean monitor,
assembled by Bangladeshi workers
in a Singapore plant,
transported by Indian lorry-drivers,
hijacked by Indonesians,
unloaded by Sicilian longshoremen,
and trucked to you by Mexican illegals
That, my friends, is Globalization.


The following conversation reportedly took place between Conrad Black, former owner of the London Daily Telegraph and a billionaire friend in New York when his high maintenance living started encountering reality checks:
* Do you think you can get a group together if the need arises and get me some funds?
- How much do you want from each one?
* About a million dollars each.
- (A pause.)
* You're my best friend. Surely you can lend me $1 mil.
- Conrad, what's my private number?
* I don't know. Why?
- Because if you were my best friend, you'd have it.


No grudge at all. Actually the grudge is on the other side. Initially, we've done our best to help out but that fellow got too greedy too quickly. Like flash in the pan. Nothing personal. We reflect what we factually receive. Ask around real people at the U.N. and you'll find out the facts. What else can we tell you? We respect your feelings and will keep your viewpoint in mind. Thanks for getting in touch.


When visiting Lebanon, Secretary General Annan averted meeting the President of the Republic who considered that the snub was inspired by his local adversaries. In turn, when the Lebanese President Lahoud visited New York to address the General Debate of the Assembly he hade a point of avoiding any contact with Mr. Annan. Both knew each other very well personally from the days when Annan headed Peacekeeping and Lehoud headed the national army. Lost in this squabble was an honourific medal which was supposed to be awarded to the Secretary General at the end of his term, but requires the signature of the President.


We tried to go back to a page in a website which had contained factual background information not very complimentary to a shameless self-promoter. After the click, the response was "Sorry, the requested page could not be found. We apologize for the inconvenience." Instead, we were offered details of an item entitled "Gangsters we can't forget"!


"Sir. Your innuendo about my hot pursuit of movie star Nicole Kidman is outrageous. While it will be pointless to deny her obvious passion for me, I would state that I have other peaks to conquer, other oceans to cross. As Lord Cromwell, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill proved their determination to forge ahead despite daunting tasks, I assure you that I will leave no stone unturned to reach the unreachable star." Yours sincerely, Satur (S.T.) Tashkur.


A letter from Kariuki in Kihera to the Financial Times reminded us of how many similar themes the current Secretary General had picked up with unforum. An advice that "It's Kojo not Kofi Annan" was picked up almost automatically. Also, unforum of September last year highlighted Annan's "Annus Horribilis." Mr. Annan made it his main end of the year comment. This year, a few months ago, commenting on the effective efforts of the Deputy Secretary General, we mentioned it was like the Syziphian task of pushing that stone up the mountain even if it was repeatedly pushed downward. That precisely was the main theme of Mr. Annan's last speech at the Assembly's General Debate in September. It may be just a coincidence of thought if Mr. Annan did not read unforum. Maybe he does.


It sounds Spanish but the brief reference is from a British Monty Python act. It is about a parrot who looks dead and acts dead, but an opportunistic salesman makes every effort to claim that the parrot is just resting. Take your time, amigo.