15 November 2008


With a new U.S. administration, questions arise about the contractual status of the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, who is the most senior U.S. citizen within the Secretariat and presumably a main contact with Washington, D.C. The current administration, which had asked for that particular post instead of the Management Department, had gone along with Ban Ki-moon's choice of one of his former colleagues. It is very likely that an Obama administration would express a distinct opinion, particularly that there are so many New York-minded enthusiasts amongst Democratic party stalwarts. The appointment of Permanent Representative would be the tipping point. But other jobs would offer consolation prizes. They would also include that of UNICEF Executive Director, insignificantly held by Republican Anne Veneman, and that of World Food Program chief. Although those posts require Secretary General's decision, it is very doubtful that he would object. Also, the WFP Rome posting would require an agreement by FAO's Director General, Mr. Diouf. But "Frere Jacques" is already having problems with the President of his own country, Senegal, and would hardly oppose a determination by the first African-American U.S. President.


Before traveling once again to attend a recent meeting of the Middle East Quartet, Mr. Ban announced a special significance for the future because that group will be meeting "for the first time" in the region. Someone should have briefed the Secretary General better. There were several meetings held in that tormented region with the same repetitive result: a promise of another future meeting. This time the November meeting was in the balmy resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in the Sinai peninsula and it once more "reaffirmed" their backing of a two-state solution. The newest individual to the Group, Ban Ki-moon, was entrusted of course with the awkward task of making it look like something was actually accomplished. "While obstacles remained," he understated, the parties to the talks "shared their assessment that the present negotiations are substantial and promising." Yes, "substantial and promising" when even the Palestinian and Israeli governments are in deep trouble! Mr. Ban added, publicly and boldly, that they have put in place "a solid negotiating structure for continued progress in the future." Obviously the current Secretary General does not realize the harm he is doing to U.N. credibility, let alone to his own image.


Only after Barack Obama won did we know about an earlier airplane companionship between Ban Ki-moon and the new U.S. leader. That reminded some observers of another joint airplane ride. When Asha Rose Mugero was announced as Deputy Secretary General, it was explained after she herself expressed surprise with the choice; that the newly-elected Secretary General had indeed met her at length while she was briefly Tanzanian Foreign Minister during a long airplane ride.


Hush, Hush
Nobody Cares
Christopher Robin


A very recently released photograph showed Secretary General Ban Ki-moon grinning across the aisle from the similarly grinning U.S. President-elect, Barack Obama. They had met on a shuttle flight from Washington, D.C. to New York. The only problem is that the unprofessionally clicked photo was taken in February 2007 -- that is about a year and a half before the election. It is understandable why neither the chance encounter nor the photo had been announced at the time. Someone should have advised the Secretary General that a hurried belated release does not reflect coolly on the anxious status nor on the style of our esteemed U.N. leader.


It is an expression in Swahili. Now that Barack Obama will take over as President of the United States and the most powerful man in the world, more internationalists will be polishing their Kenyan angle in the hope of promoting some sort of grass roots connection. As someone who volunteered to help out during the Kenyan crisis last year, former Secretary General Kofi Annan has easily gained a positive marker. Despite his repeated claims that he had no preference in the U.S. presidential campaign, the cautious Annan, always stretching his gentle touch in promising directions is almost certain to have made useful inroads. Others, newcomers to the international operational scene may find out the meaning of a Swahili expression: "Nyama Choma." It means literally, "grilled meat."


  • Some days you may be peace dove; another day you're the statue.
  • It is never a good idea to test water with two feet.
  • He who smiles in crisis has found someone to blame.


In response to reporters' questions, Secretary General Ban expressed appreciation for the interfaith General Assembly session initiated by King Abdullah. Bin Abdel Aziz. He referred to him as "His Majesty," of course, "the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Saudi Arabia." Perhaps someone should advice Mr. Ban -- and whoever circulates his off-the-cuff remarks -- that only ONE of the two Holy Shrines is in Saudi Arabia, in Mecca to be precise. The other is in Jerusalem. And for future purposes, the city of Beirut, Capital of Lebanon, is on the Mediterranean Sea, not on the Atlantic Ocean.


An impressive one hour performance by BBC U.N. correspondent Laura Trevelyan as anchor on Friday November 14. Broadcasting from Washington D.C., she moved with professional ease between a variety of complex current issues. Starting with the meeting in the U.S. capital on the financial crisis, Laura displayed not only a quick grasp of what was at stake, but allowed adequate dosage to cover every point without overplaying it. Blending between U.S. national politics and international policy, an interesting interview offered informative insight on the likelihood of appointing Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Keeping her original beat in mind, she produced a short concise interview with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, stressing the global nature of the crisis and the urgency of taking into full account the Millennium Development Goals and the interests of developing countries. Very well done.


Ambassador Gerhard Pfanzelter produced a superb success for his country with the required votes to place it on the Security Council for the next two years. The amenable hard-working Permanent Representative led a dynamic team of diplomats in a very highly visible and contested race. Iceland, despite its meltdown, had the open support of the Scandinavian group and other powerful countries. That did not prove helpful enough. Turkey had an uphill fight. The strength of Ambassador Pfanzelter's experience and Austria's longstanding role throughout the history of the Organization, including hosting a number of Specialized Agencies and Continental offices, gained the upper hand.


Former U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar will be visiting New York during the week of 16 November. He will be meeting with his successor, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A number of his former aides, loyal as ever, competed in offering their services including hosting lunches and dinners on his behalf. Despite a fully-loaded schedule, Don Javier -- gracious as always -- tried to accommodate. Ireland's Ambassador Paul Kavenagh, who had started his U.N. career as Special Assistant in the Secretary General's office, will be hosting a lunch for a team of former colleagues.


"Thereafter all seasons shall be sweet to thee
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the red breast sit and sing
Between the tufts of snow on the bare
Branch of mossy apple tree."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge


And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.


Washington based weekly The Nation has appointed Barbara Crossette, one of the most accomplished reporters, as its U.N. correspondent. Her sterling work as chief of The New York Times U.N. Bureau from 1994 to 2001 offered an informed and enlightened insight, not only on global issues but also into the inner workings of the Organisation. Earlier, from 1988 to 1991, she was the Times' South Asia bureau chief. She is the author of "So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Kingdoms of the Himalayas" by Random House, "The Great Hills of Station Asia's" collection of travel essays about colonial resort towns that are still attracting, and "India Facing the Twenty First Century". Known for her professional integrity and human warmth, Barbara accumulated friends amongst colleagues, diplomats and intellectuals, as well as with decent, honest folks about whom she wrote with perceptive affection. Her return to cover U.N. work in whatever form is a welcome gain for the Nation and for the U.N.


Upon request, we reproduce the lyrics, partially:
"Winnie the Pooh
Doesn't know what to do
Got a honey jar stuck to his nose
He came to me asking help and advice
But from here no one knows where he goes."


Pity to see an outgoing ambassador from a proud Third World country hanging around New York continuously lobbying for a senior post -- any post. Once a rising star in his country's diplomatic service, including an impressive stint in the Security Council, he went from one personal embarrassment, witnessed by the New York police, to another. His open quest for a job included placing the group of 77 into shifting positions in the expectation that he would be accommodated with a plum post. His service in New York was extended mainly to give him a prolonged chance by a government who did not realize that in effect another wily compatriot in the wings was not as helpful as expected. Anyway, it doesn't matter to anyone else. Forget it.


During five days in New York, Jayantha Dhanapala had a fully loaded program. The former U.N. Under-Secretary General was welcomed warmly by former colleagues, diplomats and friends in the academic community. A reception in his honour by Sri Lanka's new Permanent Representative Hewa M.G.S. Palihakkara -- himself a prominent expert on Disarmament -- assembled a varied full house of internationalists. Dhanapala, who is now Chairman of U.N. University Council and President of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, managed to maintain his momentum despite a grueling agenda. He was also received by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


www.influxproject.org is a new initiative aiming to improve the U.N.'s effectiveness through greater public participation. If the public knew more about what the U.N. achieves there would be more support behind the U.N. and more determination for it to reform and become more effective. The group aims to make the site simple, accessible, and easy to use, and to register individuals according to their interest in the U.N. and desire for U.N. reform. In addition, they aim to provide news and forums in which individuals can express their opinions on world matter. They hope to be able to mobilise the desire for a better world through a better U.N. to achieve a fairer and ultimately more effective United Nations. Their website is in its final stages of development. We welcome them and wish them success.


Miriam Makeba came from South Africa to New York during the sixties Civil Rights Movement. Her creative presence through rhythmic music signaled that the struggle was worldwide; that there were millions in Africa still awaiting liberation. Though her signature song "Pata, Pata" was not political, it mobilized people everywhere to identify with her people in the battle against Apartheid. During her exile, she moved with her husband, former militant Stockley Carmichael, to Guinea until she was invited back by the grateful and gracious Nelson Mandela after independence. She repeatedly said that she will keep singing throughout her life. She did. She died last week while performing in Italy.