15 September 2006

SPELLING BEE:

During the Security Council meeting to adopt Resolution 1701, the President, the Foreign Minister of Ghana, had a hard time when first pronouncing the name of the Foreign Minister of Greece. When, after an obvious effort, he managed to welcome and profusely thank Dora Bakoyannis, his microphone heaved a sigh of relief, his own face beamed with a victorious smile as he discreetly exchanged a "high five" with his distinguished neighbour and compatriot, the Secretary General. The Mediterranean lady smiled graciously after realizing that the Ghanian Foreign Minister's name was more difficult than hers. A more challenging name was that of Ghana's U.N. representative Nana Effah-Apenteng.

SINGH SINGING?

Former Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh is mad at everyone and will not take it anymore. He will not be made the scapegoat, he made clear to friends and relatives. He and his enterprising son have been mentioned in the Volcker report on Food-for-Oil and its Indian equivalent. Natwar is letting it be known that he is about to write a book "to reveal all." Whether that is a threat to some or a promise to others we'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, he is already stating that "Paul Volcker himself said he made changes to save U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan from embarrassment; therefore it is clear that the report was doctored." That is, if Annan was doctored out (or in!) -- why not Dr. Singh? Otherwise, he'll sing.

STEPHANIDES REAPPOINTED:

As Joseph Stephanides was abruptly fired with no due process, he was reinstated in a "cordial" arrangement with the Office of the Secretary General. Confident of his innocence, "Brother Joseph" fought tooth and nail against the manner in which he was mistreated and his reputation tarnished. He was possibly the only one mentioned in the Volcker report who was not accused directly or indirectly of making personal financial gain from his handling of the Food-for-Oil. After a year of fierce defense, he was contacted by a very high level Secretariat official and eventually met with another to fix the manner and place of re-instatement. Eventually, on Thursday, 31 August, a Spokesman officially acknowledged the appointment of Joseph Stephanides as head of the Addis Ababa office of the U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. www.unforum.com, which had defended the decent, hard-working, unfairly-treated colleague had known the details of contacts relating to his re-instatement since May, but withheld any reference in the interest of achieving a positive, fair outcome. Just in case anyone tries any ambush, we are fully aware of who called him, what was said, and who followed up. Just to keep it honest, for a change.

LIBANLAIT:

A company producing milk in the Eastern mountains of Lebanon protested that Israeli pilots hit it on purpose, because it took a lucrative UNFIL contract from an Israeli dairy firm. Its manager wanted an investigation to find out whether the offending pilot was in some way related to the company that lost the contract. The company had to suspend 180 of its 250 workers when the processing plant was burned to the ground. However, the cows were not touched.

CLIMATE CHANGE IN CYPRUS:

The Security Council issued a statement on 29 August supporting combined efforts to reach a settlement in Cyprus. It requested quick action to follow up on an agreement reached during a July visit by Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari who managed to gain the confidence of the two parties. A "set of principles" and a "decision by the two leaders" outlined potential steps to move forward to resolve the decades-long conflict. During his July visit USG Gambari, who was honoured by a joint dinner, noted a "climate change" in Cyprus. Let's hope right steps are taken to help the winds of positive change.

KOFI OR GAMBARI?

Cyprus has been on the U.N. agenda for decades and Cypriots follow anything done by our Organization as if it was their personal daily concern. An Annan plan for the Island that was voted overwhelmingly down allowed the varied use of the Secretary General's name. A visit by Under-Secretary General Ibrahim Gambari revived the name game with an obvious difference in the degree of success: positive welcome by all sides and headlines by the media. In a hint of comparison, a cartoon portrayed a waiter asking a customer whether he preferred Coffee or Campari? Another displayed the Nigerian visitor who proudly wore his national dress, surrounded by nationally dressed Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. At least a tentative breakthrough in the mood. But, for how long?

SHRINKING TIMES:

New York Times Bill Keller has indicated that the size of the most influential daily will be shrunk by an inch and a half by next May. That would mean 11% of the paper. With addition of some pages, the general shrinkage will be about 5%. An internal memo referred to increasing cost of printing and that newspapers are losing readers to the Internet. The London Times had gone tabloid a year ago but the quality of reporting by its U.N. correspondent, the irrepressible James Bone remained sterling as ever (James has started his own blog. Very interesting. Look it up through The Times UK). A heated debate among reporters at the gray lady of New York is about writing style: how to present all the news that's fit to print. Not too flowery, not overdone hip; cool but not cold, mature but not old. Where all that would leave its U.N. correspondent Warren Hoge is unclear. He was brought from London to accommodate the current Secretary General.

WHAT DOES ONE DO?

French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné had a cartoon during the war on Lebanon under a heading: "What use is the U.N.?" It pictured a ponderous Kofi Annan telling an aide: "I called Israel and Hezbollah to hold a ceasefire but they did not want to." Then, Annan supposedly commented: "One cannot go against the wish of the people."

PERFUME CRITIC:

The New York Times took one more step in combating trivial journalism. It appointed Chandler Burr (a politically correct name!) as its first full-time perfume critic. As Brigitte Bardot once cautioned: "We may be living in the age of the After-Shave Lotion."

WHERE WAS KOFI?

The baritone voice of Ahmad Fawzi was reverberating through the General Assembly building lobby to be matched by the equally British clipped voice of Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown. They were leading a commemoration of the 19 August terrorist bombing of our U.N. colleagues in Baghdad three years ago. It was a brief solemn occasion with impressive participation by staff and diplomats. No one expected self-promoter Shashi Tharoor to attend, although he had milked the tragedy in the media to the last drop, claiming intimate closeness to our loved ones. The really noted absence was that of the Secretary General. An official communique stated that he had a message on the occasion, without clarifying that he actually was not there. He was around but not really around, we were told. In fact, he was already off on a long weekend in Long Island.

HELMUT'S HELMET:

Our colleague Helmut from W.H.O. Geneva (we actually don't know him) has sent an urgent message advising that helmets can save your life. Not only are they helpful when you parade with your Harley Davidson or challenge traffic on an overworked bike, but at any other time. You never know when you expect company and what they will be carrying along. Perhaps they may have something to throw at you. It also helps in the hurricane season. Plus, you will appear very cool if you can keep your helmet on your head when all around you are losing it. Then you're a man, my friend, and you will look like Rudyard Kipling. Danke, Helmut.

JAY-Z DESIGNS:

Hip-hop artist Jay-Z's visit to U.N. headquarters mid-August was welcomed by the Secretary General in an open photo event. It was described as an indication of how much Mr. Z (or is it Jay?) is committed to highlighting international causes. Turns out that, as always in business, timing was of the essence. The publicized visit -- assisted by Mr. Annan's personal attention -- came while the real Jay-Z, Shawn Carter (that's his name), was launching a new clothing label "aimed at turning an edgy urban fashion brand into a mainstream product." It's about turning those oversized baggy denims into trousers fit to wear in midtown Manhattan, or as someone else explained, it's about being able to wear the same "hip" outfits after you are thirty-something. Apparently, a previous attempt at it by Snoop Dog failed. But Jay-Z is inspired by the success of Diddy (Sean) Combs. He is also gratified by the admiration he received from someone in the Secretary General's circle, but he is so in love with Beyonce. Maybe later.

CLEARING THE DECK:

During the slow days preceding Labour Day weekend, labourers were seen working diligently to dry clean two pieces of artwork on the walls of the Delegates Lounge: the Obregon painting offered by Colombia and the Romanian carpet. Last year, they did the China Wall and the Persian carpet.

A SUMMER EXCHANGE:

  • Are you really innocent?
  • No. Are you?

GUGU FOUND:

We had wondered some time ago where that witty, well-informed Pakistani woman had gone. Although officially she goes by her real name, Ms. Aqha is actually known all over the U.N. system as Gugu. We finally traced her to Geneva, where she is successfully overseeing environmental projects, coordinating work between UNDP and UNEP. We're proud she's doing well and wish her more success.

KEY ACTOR:

Someone around Ian Martin must love the idea of dealing with "key actors." When he was sent to Timor Leste to undo the mess of the Special Representative there, we were told that his role was to explore the situation with "key actors" in the region. Now that he is appointed as Special Representative to a totally different spot, a spokesman stated confidently that good old Ian "will conduct intensive discussions with key actors in Nepal." He will be assisted by a small "multi-disciplinary team;" a term that has become a standard claim to show we really mean business -- as usual! It seems that while actors are taking the roles of U.N. representatives, U.N. representatives are simply taking over as actors -- key actors, of course.

GAZELLE OR ELEPHANT:

As French presidential electoral campaign heats up, speculation grows about frontrunners. The two main parties have not yet agreed on their official candidates, not even whether President Chirac will run again. A new old politician, former Prime Minister Alain Juppe, has re-entered after current Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin declared he will not be running. Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy seems determined to take over. Within the Socialist Party, several male candidates seem to be trailing Ms. Segolene Royal. Instead of gathering behind her, all male hopefuls are indirectly sniping at her, including the father of her four children and the Party's Secretary General Francois Hollande. Ms. Royal looks as if she is gathering support from everywhere. Asked about her male detractors, she quipped that Gazelles run faster than Elephants. She was referring to a well-known French expression that longtime Socialist Party leaders had turned to Elephants.

JANE VS. TARZAN:

Dow Chemical had every reason to celebrate at its debut luncheon at the U.N. on 25 July. Its reputation as a producer and distributor of Agent Orange poison gas was being laundered to a whitewash. While that has been done recently for several other big companies formerly blacklisted by the U.N. for supporting Apartheid (the list has since disappeared!), it was the first time that such a lethal armament manufacturer was given such an open welcome. Interestingly, one of the speakers represented Ted Turner's Foundation for International Partnerships. It is recalled that a major American activist in exposing the dangers of Agent Orange was actress Jane Fonda, Mr. Turner's ex-wife. Should we look for a marriage counselor, or a psychiatrist? Not really. Just look for the P.R. firm that's making money from all this.

WHO FOR W.H.O.?

A dozen candidates are running for the post of Director General World Health Organization (WHO) succeeding the late Dr. Lee Jong-Wook of Korea. The first to announce -- even before the official farewell to Dr. Lee -- was Japanese Shigeru Omi who has no chance as there is already another Japanese head of a U.N. agency in Geneva (ITU), a Director General of UNESCO in Paris and an Under Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs in New York. Another hopeless hopeful is Dr. Karam Karam of Lebanon, who had tried once before while Minister of Health and failed. A Chinese woman from Hong Kong, Ms. Chan Fung Fu-chun (got that?!) hopes to compete with Mexico's Julio Frank, who seems to have an edge, although another Latin American heads the International Labour Organization (ILO). Some claim a turn for Africa, but no candidate has appeared except for a likely name from Mozambique. A Turk, Dr. Turmen, is running; but has little chance while a compatriot heads U.N.D.P. There is also the perennial candidate, Frenchman Bernard Kouchner who, as a Socialist, may not have the fullest support of his current government. That leaves the easy-going and discreet Icelander, David Gunnarsson, who is familiar to the body that matters most -- W.H.O. Executive Board -- that he used to head. Its decision is expected by the first week in November. Meanwhile, nurses and doctors may have to start learning how to pronounce "Reykjavik."

A PAUSE:

There was once a lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

FAREWELL CONCERT:

Arrangements are being made to produce an impressive farewell bash for Kofi Annan in December. A number of artists have been approached. A joint Palestinian Israeli orchestra, initially created by the late Professor Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim will be playing. An initial date is 18 December, depending on potential participants.

STRAW POLLS:

The ambassador of France, who initiated a failed procedure of an early straw poll for candidates to the post of Secretary General in July while he chaired the Security Council, admitted that the experiment "which was useful" is not likely to be followed regularly soon. None was conducted in August. Only when a set of additional names are introduced would the Council look at that question again. As predicted earlier, the campaign will start in earnest end September, beginning October. In September, the Greek ambassador is inclined to have one straw poll to test the waters, after at least one new candidate, Prince Zeid of Jordan, was declared.

FIJIAN FARCE:

A Sri Lankan-born U.K. citizen, who is a member of the European Parliament has been trying since over a year to sneak into the race of candidates for Secretary General. Guess who's encouraging him? An aspirant who thought that undercutting the official Sri Lankan nominee would help his own chances. When all else failed, there was a claim that the wandering soul was officially forwarded by Fiji. However, the Fijian mission distanced itself. He is not Fiji's candidate, "though Fiji may support him." Word around the building is that some Fijians of Indian descent -- some actually residing in Delhi -- helped in trying to pull off that hoax in the belief that it will help their clique's candidate.

A MISSION FOR SHEEP:

While efforts were being made to get international boots on the ground for Southern Lebanon to follow up on Security Council Resolution 1701, an everyday occurrence on the ground confused ceasefire watchers. Two Lebanese shepherds anxious to pursue their livelihood, took their sheep to roam throughout the risky area, with no due regard as to where the lines -- blue or otherwise -- were drawn. When over a 100 sheep crossed Israeli territory on Thursday 17 August, the military and militants prepared for action until they discovered the nature of the mission.

BAKASSI:

If you thought that Kieran Prendergast had left the U.N. last year to take up a professorial assignment, you are half right. Sir Kieran is still around -- somehow. He is the "chairman of the follow-up committee of the Greentree Agreement." And if you really wanted to know, it covers the Bakassi Peninsula. Where? Between Nigeria and Cameroon. In the middle of sunny August there he was, our own Kieran, overseeing a transfer of authority. Nigerian flag down, Cameroon flag up. A peaceful resolution of conflict for everyone in Archibong (that's the capital) to see. A few words were in order. What happened was an accomplishment, a "powerful example," not just for Africa but for the whole world. No such ceremony would conclude before paying tribute to the Secretary General for making it happen. Our friend Kieran always had that understated sense of humour.

RICHARD SYMONDS:

While some thought that Richard Symonds was a quintessential figure of Oxford University and an example of the "generation of Oxford," where he was born, many others who worked with him at varied U.N. field assignments perceived him as a shining model of an international civil servant. He came from a family of distinguished scholars and civil servants. His father Sir Charles and grandfather, Sir Edward Poulton, were noted scientists. His mother's house is now Oxford University's career office. After attending the Dragon and Rugby, he won a scholarship to read history at Corpus Christi College. After a brief stint with British civil service, he found his passion in human development issues through U.N. field assignments. He won admiration everywhere he worked. Mahatma Gandhi liked him so much that he nursed him through a typhoid attack. After retirement, Richard returned to Oxford as a pillar of St. Anthony's College and Queen Elizabeth House. An idealist with a pragmatic approach, Richard Symonds carried his unflinching commitment with him, whether at home or abroad. A hard worker who cared more for the issues than personal advancement, one of his lasting legacies was the original proposal to start a U.N. staff college to train international civil servants -- a proposal which was fought at the time by powerful forces within the Secretariat and some major agencies until they adopted it in an amended format a decade later. Richard was a decent man of courage, integrity, and dignity. May his soul rest in peace.

CBM:

Secretary General Kofi Annan was the main topic of a popular satirical Arabic programme which reverses the name of its TV satellite station MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Corporation). It devoted several sketches of its Friday 8 September show to Mr. Annan's recent visit, opening with his admonishing the accompanying media not to labour too long on the issues of the conflict which he will soon be settling, but to make sure instead that they photograph him enough and record his every word for posterity; another had him telling the media that he was going to a meeting to tell off big powers that they should act to stop the war but comes out of the meeting towing their line; there was one where he arrived in Egypt to a welcome by local guards -- he informed them firmly that they had to disarm but swiftly took off after they started shooting in the air; the other two were too personal for us to mention here.