Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Kofi is really in trouble

Poor old Kofi. Even his friends are finding him a liability. The shambolic behaviour of the UN in the post-tsunami rescue operation, coming on top of the oil-for-food scandal, stories about its troops’ atrocious behaviour in DR Congo, blatant attempts to intervene in the American elections, complete lack of credibility in Iraq and so on, and so on has not so much raised the question of its future existence, as made it rather more urgent.

There have been various calls for Secretary General Kofi Annan’s resignation as well as more urgent calls for a reform of the structure (the proposals would make it considerably more top-heavy even than it is now, and would preclude the possibility of any decision being taken).

Now comes news of a secret and urgent meeting called in Richard Holbrooke’s apartment on December 5 of last year, where Annan was given a good going over … woops, no, I mean a lot of stern and very useful advice about the need to rescue his career and with it the UN.

Holbrooke had been United States ambassador to the UN under Clinton and is a fully paid up member of the world-wide great and the good. Others who attended the meeting were of the same ilk, though less well known. In other words, these were people who were pro-UN and pro-Annan (or so they said).

Their consolidated opinion was that the SecGen (isn’t it wonderful the way these old expressions come around – Stalin was known as Gensek, short for General Secretary) had squandered the achievements of his first term by being rather cackhanded, arrogant and inflexible in the second one. Better not enquire too closely what those achievements are. The food-for-oil? Inability to sort out anything in the Balkans? Equal inability to sort out anything in DR Congo or Rwanda? I suppose, the staff did not pass formal motions of no confidence in the senior management.

Annan was told sternly that he must change his senior staff. He took that one to heart: Iqbal Riza, his long-term and somewhat incompetent chief of staff has been replaced by Mark Malloch Brown, the British head of the UN Development Programme. Other changes may follow. As an unnamed official has pointed out:
“The secretary general missed an opportunity at the end of the first term to re-energize his top team as an American president would do, for example.”
Ah, but an American president answers to the people. The SecGen of the UN answers to nobody.

The same official added that there were too many people in Annan’s inner circle
“who love to take the potshots at the US without focusing on the essentiality of the US in getting things done”.
Not to mention the essentiality of the US in getting their extremely handsome salaries paid and their very splendid offices and apartments provided.

The SecGen was also instructed to mend his relations with the US administration. He has, in fact, had meetings with Condoleeza Rice but his immediate behaviour after the tsunami, together with the unfortunate initial pronouncement by the Head of Humanitarian Affairs (is this a joke?), Jan Egeland, would indicate that the UN high panjandrums are not good at learning lessons.

The fact is that all these well-meaning people, friends of Kofi (or so they say) are in a cleft stick. They know very well that the problem is a much deeper one than the unfortunate personality of the SecGen. The problem is the UN itself, the position it is trying to arrogate itself, and the clash between its basic principles of democracy, freedom and human rights on the one hand and its membership, most of whom do not recognize any of that, on the other.

Added to which there is the top-heavy bureaucratic inefficiency and tendency to do nothing but have meetings, rush around looking important and see co-ordination of other people’s activity as an adequate reason for a well-paid, well-cushioned existence. The dishonesty and lack of discipline comes on top of all of that.

This whole structure of problems (there are a few more) has become crystallized in the hapless, less than open, arrogant figure of Kofi Annan. Almost certainly the likes of Richard Holbrooke, who cannot possibly feel anything but disdain for the little man, would like to get rid of him in order to salvage the UN. But if he were forced out, that would be tantamount to an admission that the accusations are true. The whole idea of the UN would suffer a body blow. Annan will have to be kept on.

For us, enemies of the tranzis, this is a win-win situation. A tacit admission of guilt, Annan’s resignation would give us a great victory. But if he stays on, it will be even better: Kofi Annan will go on weakening and undermining the institution he adorns. We can just sit back and watch, occasionally getting up to lend a hand with the digging of the giant hole.

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