15 October 2005
"DISASTER TOURISTS" REPLACED DOCTORS:
The U.N. failed to co-ordinate the Tsunami relief and was unable to unify its own agencies, let
alone others. That was the stark conclusion of a report written by independent experts commissioned by the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Despite unprecedented availability of budgets, competition for
visibility and show off meant no sharing of information, let alone strategy. The director of the British Red Cross is
quoted by Steve Birds in The London Times as backing the suggestion that the U.N. better train its staff in
reporting and sharing information. According to the report some local emergency services "became furious at disaster
tourists taking the place of doctors. The needs of women were often neglected "because many of those assessing their
problems were men." For example, the Indonesian region of Sumatra (Bander Aceh) was inundated with surgeons and
field hospitals competing for very few patients (only one patient was mentioned in the report!), while the desperate
need was for midwives and nurses. There was praise for the Government of India which delivered relief supplies
and water, prevented the spread of disease, reconnected electricity and built temporary coastline. Generous individuals,
however, misjudged the needs by offering unwanted clothing which blocked roads, wasted relief workers time and proved
to be a hazard to livestock which tried to eat it!
There was duplication of aid, operation areas overcrowded with "relief workers" who never worked in Indonesia and
Sri Lanka. Just anyone wishing to be there was there, hiring helicopters, renting boats and assumingly drafting relief
proposals. An Asian specialist with Christian Aid, Anjali Kwatra noted that hundreds of agencies using abundant money
to duplicate one another in the absence of strategic planning on how to rebuild the devastated area. Iolanda
Jaquement, a journalist, said: "Instead of being a facilitator, the U.N. became an obstacle."
WHICH SPECIAL REP?:
It was announced that the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for children
in Armed Conflicts was out on the third floor racks. Intriguingly enough, the name of that Special Representative was
not mentioned. Come to think of it, we have not seen or heard from the known Special Representative for a while
now. Is it still the same person, a new representative or an interim one? Que pasa?
Bono and U2 may not have accounted for competition from their Iranian counterparts when they launched
their song: "How to Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb." Those monitoring Teheran radio and television in the Middle East
noted a recent musical campaign to support the country's nuclear capacity. One of the songs, entitled "Eastern Sun is
a Nuclear Flag," sung by Ali Tafrichi applauds the greatness of the country that "destroyed the arrogance of the
superpowerful." The other, entitled "Nuclear Knowledge" by Riza Sherazi extols listeners to defend independence
through sciences. It concludes with the not so imaginative refrain: "Nuclear technology opens the road to new
horizons." Although the songs were rhymed along familiar national martial music, they did not get to the Top Ten in
the listener's choice. At any rate, they did not seem to persuade Iran U.N. Ambassador, the sophisticated Javed Zarif, to
stay on the nuclear negotiating team, from which he just resigned.
Letter to the Editor of The Financial Times:
Out of 1000 pages of revelations in the most recent Volcker report, your U.N. correspondent was driven to spotlight
an item relating to Ms. Wagaye Assebe (FT Sept. 8). Anyone inside the Organization with institutional
memory knows that Ms. Assebe has been the personal assistant to Kofi Annan in different capacities over the last
twenty years. Having known her (and him) since she was his secretary as head of Personnel in the mid-eighties, I have
no doubt about her unflinching loyalty to Mr. Annan as well as her meticulous adherence to proper clearance of any
relevant action. While it pains me to observe a U.N. Secretary General in such a beleaguered state, I feel it was
unfair of Mark Turner to single out a helpless dedicated junior staffer who happens to have no influential friends
nor adequate political backing.
Samir Sanbar, Former Head, U.N. Department of Public Information
* There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself: Do trousers matter?
- The mood will pass, sir.
From P.G. Woodhouse
During the recent Assembly Summit, Thailand's Surakiart Sathirathai distinguished himself as the
most pushy candidate for any international job. And he wants to be numero uno. While the candidates were discreetly
holding side meetings, the inexperienced and unknown Thai must have though that he was keeping a high profile by
injecting himself unduly anywhere he could appear (he must be receiving advice from another self-promoter who thinks
he is an audience charmer). Anyway, when South Korea's Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon indicated his interest to succeed
Kofi Annan, Surakiart went immediately to the blower to request that all Asia should stand behind one candidate --
a reasonable request indeed were it not for the claim that he should be that candidate. By a stretch of arithmetic,
he announced that he already had "expressions of support" from 109 countries. Going from 1 to 109 is an amazing
stretch indeed. It looks like those Third World authoritarian elections where he already got 99.99% of the vote.
Apparently there is very little for those special envoys to do, so they compete on who will be first
in receiving the head of state of their country of designation. There were some embarrassing moments during the recent
summit when a U.N. representative to settle certain issues sneaked ahead of other senior officials in the corridor
leading to the meeting with the Secretary General so he would be the first to extend a welcome, in a symbolic claim
of a special stature. One would have hoped that the envoy made as much effort to help settle the problem as he does
in displaying his importance.
THREE TO TANGO:
One of the least controversial provisions adopted at the recent United Nations Summit in New York
was also one of the most promising -- in fact, it could help end some of the world's deadliest armed conflicts,
Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, wrote in The Washington Times. He described
the pursuit of peace is an often hesitant dance; experience has shown it can take three to tango. Third-party mediation
is an increasingly crowded field, with governments, regional and nongovernmental organizations, as well as some
well-known individuals getting involved. The United Nations has no monopoly. However, the U.N. -- representing, as
it does, the international community most broadly -- can provide the task unparalleled legitimacy. Gambari proposed
developing an in-house base of knowledge about peacemaking, and a better system for selecting and training mediators
for the real challenges they will face in the field, whether for the U.N. alone or in partnership with others. Hence,
"We need to be ready when our dance card is called."
QUOTE FROM GOOGLE:
"We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of
Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.
- Robert Wilensky
That's in Swaziland. It's the tassel worn by young women to indicate their commitment to five years
of virginity. In a sudden gesture of reform, just before the G.A. Summit, the 37-year-old King Miswati issued
instruction that it should be removed forthwith. His majesty wanted to meet every young Swazi woman -- one at a time.
Mucho Macho for Umcwasho!
As we received queries about our reference to getting into Hozenga, we apologize to those who know the
story while we explain. A polished and self-accomplished visitor to his old country wanted to mix with the people
in the bush, the real country people. He descended upon them from a shiny limousine with his designer suit surrounded
by assistants feigning absolute admiration. After unbuttoning elegantly his shirt, he started his prepared
speech. "I am here because I am one of you," he announced. "I care for your welfare and prosperity and will make every
effort on your behalf to the world," he went on, to shouts of "Hozenga, Hozenga." Inspired, the man went on: "Your
freedom is my freedom. Your fate is my fate. We are one," as the crowded unanimous response of "Hozenga" grew louder
and wider. Satisfied that he had done his image thing, he graciously suggested to walk around the place. The local
chief welcomed him to do so, suggesting that because of roaming bulls and cows he should be careful not to step
on Hozenga. We have deliberately avoided a reference to a special region, precisely because any resemblance to any
senior U.N. official is unintended and purely a coincidence.
SEX WITHOUT THE EMERGENCY:
"Diamonds Take Forever," a debut novel by U.N. staffer Jessica Jiji, will be published next month by
Harper Collins. Although its opening words describe a physical act that remains illegal, though somewhat widespread,
U.N. senior officials can rest easy. Unlike a notorious memoir by others which caused a stir last year (entitled
"Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures"), this light-hearted romp makes no mention of the U.N. nor its
peacekeeping missions. Not even its randy diplomats. Well, maybe just one. Let's wait for Jessica's upcoming novel.
TIME WOUNDS ALL HEELS:
While time heals all wounds, it is also our view that eventually time wounds all heels.
March on. March on and fear not the thorns or the sharp stones in life's path. To go forward is to
move towards perfection.
-- Khalil Gibran
MEMORIAL FUND RAISER:
NBC's Brian Williams confirmed to diplomats, journalists and other guests at the annual Memorial
Fund luncheon what they already knew: No one can say "no" to Raghida Dergham. In this particular case, that
meant helping to raise over $100,000 for the Hammarskjold fund created by U.N. correspondents in a tribute to the
former Secretary General. It was an accurate reflection of Raghida's approach. Pleasant, charming and attractive, the
chief diplomatic correspondent for Al-Hayat is always committed to professional excellence -- and to
producing results. As her many friends among politicians and senior U.N. officials recognized: friendship does not
preclude aggressive reporting. She worked with an equally determined team of distinguished women correspondents to
ensure success. Evelyn Leopold of Reuters, Edith Lederer of The Associated Press, and Judy Aita of the Washington
file had unassumingly orchestrated the impressive outcome. There were also former U.N. Correspondent Association
members like its former President Iftikhai Ali who had lent his services to the U.N. in Tehran and Kosovo. The
President of the General Assembly, Jan Eliasson, Ambassadors of Italy, Sweden, Denmark, France, Qatar, Yemen, Algeria,
to mention a few together with Chef de Cabinet Malloch-Brown and Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari blended with
Al-Jazeera's Abdel Rahim Fouqara, New York Times Warren Hogue and Los Angeles Times Maggie Farley.
Contributors from the private sector were there including a director from Italy's energy giant ENI. Everyone
welcomed the three young Fund Fellows for this year, from Lebanon, the Maldives, and Nepal. As master of ceremonies,
Raghiba Dergham managed to keep events flowing while getting the voluntary services of a special chef for the
occasion. A very pleasant and productive event.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson intends to ensure practical follow-up on the recent General
Assembly summit. He plans to establish a network to champion concerted action. Initially he has in mind inviting
"reform-minded" leaders from (alphabetically, to avert offending anyone): Britain, Canada, Egypt, Gabon, India,
Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine. While he hopes to have the group meet next year
to keep the momentum, his well wishers would advise not to close that circle nor raise expectations. It may be helpful
to include other "reform-minded" countries with potential impact and possibly some insiders with practical knowledge
of how a rhetorical platform could become more real.
LATVIAN LAUDS U.N. STAFF:
Latvian President Mrs. Vaira Vike-Freiberga was one of the leading women to address the special summit.
As a reformer in her own country, and one of the Secretary General's five envoys, she made a precise statement within
the allocated time limits that combined her practical experience with her country's commitment to the United Nations.
After dealing with the Human Rights Council, Democracy Fund, Terrorism and expansion of the Security Council, she came
to the concluding point: "The United Nations has recently gone through some difficult times. We must never forget
the many years of devoted service and even sacrifice on the part of the majority of U.N. workers. Unfortunately, we
have also seen cases of graft, theft and embezzlement in the U.N.'s administrative structures. We have heard horror
stories of women and children being raped and abused by individual blue helmet peacekeepers. That is why we must take
some hard and responsible decisions, and that is why we must implement some resolute measures to ensure that such
major transgressions do not occur again. We must do what is required to strengthen and reform this organization, for
despite its imperfections, the world needs the United Nations. Now more than ever before.
Guess why Japan has not yet paid its dues of $607,089,989 in full for this year? Could it be that
it has to do with its failure to get a permanent seat on the Security Council? If so, it would explain why Japan
has not succeeded until now: a blatant financial approach which is indeed unworthy of the discreet subtle Japanese
culture. But what to do when such matters are handled by the same clique in the Foreign Ministry over the last 30
years? Even Yamaguchi syndicate has changed its leadership, but not that same group in Tokyo that has been
promising the Japanese people a seat on the Council since 1990 -- and is not accountable to anyone.
It may be of some interest to the isolated yet still active clique lurking in an "advisory" role.
Yamaguchi, the most influential syndicate in Kobe Japan has changed its leadership for the first time in many
years. Its unquestioned senior management had become either too cranky or too embarrassing or both. Word was
passed around that now Tsukasa (Latinos pronounce it Mi Casa) has taken over. He is known affectionately as "Shinodo."
He is also known as an unflinching sake drinker -- and a generous tipper!
GROUCHO AND JAN:
General Assembly President recounted in a Financial Times interview one of his favourite
Groucho Marx movie scenes. Groucho orders a tough guy to do what he tells him "as a matter of principle." When the
bulky bloke responds with a threat to blow him away, Groucho "deftly amends his position" suggesting that if that
principle was offensive, he had others. Talking in code signals, eh? Times must be tough for poor Groucho.
In a new book about his role as F.B.I. Director, Louis Freeh describes a condition he perceived
of former President Clinton's final period, which would make interesting read at the U.N. these days: A New York
Times article quotes him as follows: "The scandals and rumored scandals, the incubating ones and the dying ones,
never ended. Whatever moral compass the president was consulting, it was leading him in the wrong direction, and he
lacked the discipline to pull back once he found himself stepping into trouble. Worse, he had been behaving that
way so long that the closets were full of skeletons just waiting to burst out."
NEW UNICEF LEADERSHIP TEAM:
The new Executive Director of UNICEF Ms. Ann M. Veneman and Deputy Director Rima Salah joined in
welcoming diplomats, international officials and representatives of civil society on the occasion of their Executive
Board. Unlike the usual official receptions, it was more like a gathering of friends with a joint commitment to
health, education, equality treatment and protection of every child. Ms. Salah, who had returned from a field
assignment only months before the appointment of the former U.S. cabinet member, made a point of introducing her
new Executive Director in a warm, pleasant and affectionate way. Ms. Veneman took time in chatting with guests,
listening to their suggestions and making her own informal remarks. She made many new friends and gained more supporters
TINA IN GENEVA:
Those who had met Tina Andersen when she joined the U.N. after passing the national exam in Norway
will be happy to know that she is well and working in UNHCR, Geneva. Having served as a somewhat challenged adviser
on gender issues to outgoing Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, Tina is taking her work in stride with her new boss, a
Portuguese politician whom the staff hope will provide good leadership. Tina, who now uses her married name, Tinde, has a
boy aged 5 and a girl aged 11. Her former colleagues in New York look forward to seeing her soon again in the Big
OMAN WOMAN IN WASHINGTON:
The Sultan of Oman in the Gulf has appointed Ms. Hunaina Bin Sultan Bin Ahmed Al-Mughairy as
Ambassador in Washington, D.C. She will be the second Arab female Ambassador after an initial new Iraqi appointment
and the second Oman woman sent abroad. The first was their Ambassador to Holland. The appointment was part of a wide
diplomatic reshuffle which included returning to the home office at least three Ambassadors from key positions abroad.
Incidentally, there is a Hunaina Al-Mughairy in New York. She is the wife of the current Omani Ambassador to the U.N.
and happens to be the sister of our friendly U.N. colleague Lyutha Al-Mughairy. Could she be one and the same person?
Indeed, she is.
WHAT HAPPENED TO NORMAN?
We bumped into Norman on First Avenue. Known to thousands of U.N. staffers by his first name only,
Norman was for years the pillar of the Delegates Dining Room, meeter greeter at national day receptions and maitre
d'hotel par excellence at all U.N. events. With a change of hands on concessions for restaurants within the building,
Norman was relegated to the Staff Cafe where those looking for a limited menu and a quainter atmosphere found refuge
on the third floor. Now we learn there are more changes afoot. We asked Norman who was sipping coffee on a bench
at Hammerskjold Park one afternoon. But he was as discreet as always. What's going on in the staff cafe?
A REAL INTERPRETER:
Those who followed international affairs during the U.S.-Soviet competition will recall a shadow of a
man accompanying all Soviet leaders, from Kruschev to Gorbachev. Observers at the U.N. during that same period will
easily recall the name: Victor Sukhodrev. Brought up in London during the Second World War, the cool and precise
Moscovite was the envy of U.N. interpreters, not only for the access he had to all those heads of state during so
many crucial summits, but because of the authority with which he conducted business. In a recent New York Times
interview, Sukhodrev who is living quietly after retirement did not give away any confidential treasures. He only
admitted that once on a trip to the U.S. with Foreign Secretary Gromyko he stole a bible from a hotel room,
thus violating both Christian and Communist commandments.
FATTER BY 2015:
Although the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 remains clearly elusive, an
unexpected projection for the same years remains on course. According to World Health Organization estimates, the
number of overweight people will increase by half. In the year 2015, the one billion people will become 1.5 billion.
Great news for those of us who know that misery loves company.
OUT OF BEIRUT:
Nejib Friji U.N. Information Officer in Beirut was pulled out, without much notice to the rest of the
staff, on 9 October. Instructions came from the 38th floor to his immediate supervisor Shashi Tharoor, who is himself
fending for his own skin these days. Initially, Friji will be posted to the mission in Western Sahara. He is said to
suffer from a swollen head.
"May the sun rise to meet you. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand."